India's Struggle for Freedom
Two centuries of the history of Indian dependence to British rule begins with the treachery, the intrigue and the farce of the battle of Plassey in 1757. The various storms that had passed over India till then, i.e. foreign attacks, internal dissension or other disasters had affected the upper ranks of Indian society. The results of the British conquest of India were far more widespread. England destroyed the basic framework of Indian society, without signs of general revivification:
The misfortunes imposed on India by the British were far greater than its previous misfortunes. India, ruled by Britain was alienated from its endogenous heritage.
The people of India, however, did not necessarily accept this in a deferential way. Practically from 1760, Indian resistance struggles began against the exploitation and rule of the East India Company. Who were the people who came forward in these resistance struggles? Discontent first burst out among the poorer and working people - tribals, peasants, remnants of the indigenous troops (those who were really peasants in military livery). In many cases, they were given leadership by segments of the dispossessed, old chieftain, nawabi and land holding class. The Nawab of Bengal, Mir Kasim lighted the torch of resistance. Installed at Murshidabad in 1760, he found peasants, weavers, and merchants of Bengal Subah (state) were discontented by East India Company's servant’s oppression. In letters to the Board's president in Calcutta, Vansittart, he wrote that British officials were taking away commodities by force from the peasants and merchants; that they either did not pay just price, or if they did, paid only fractionally; and that the Company's Indian agents behaved as if they themselves were the landholders, landlords or proprietors. The English did not heed Mir Kasim's protest. In 1763 the Nawab promulgated a firman abolishing all internal trade duties in Bengal Subah so that Indian merchants had the opportunity to compete on equal terms with the British merchants, who had, previously, alone enjoyed exemptions from such duties. The result was war between the British and the Nawab. At Buxar (1764) the troops of Mir Kasim, Shuja-ud-daulah, Nawab-Wazir of Awadh and the fugitive Emperor of Delhi, and Shah Alam II were defeated by the British. The Awadh Nawab and Shah Alam II submitted. But Mir Kasim did not accept defeat. With his family he took refuge in the refractory area of Rohilkhand, now in Uttar Pradesh. As long as he lived, he endeavoured to organize forces against the British in India. So he has been correctly called "a defeated but great fighter in India's freedom struggle"
In the first century of Company's rule quite a few princes, Nawabs and landholders of the indigenous principalities took up this torch, supported by common people of those areas. The British rulers could frustrate these resistance movements by deceit, treachery, and force; but this cannot diminish the glory of these resistance movements. Just two representatives among the very many brave men and women of this type of leadership are being mentioned here - Tipu, the Sultan of Mysore, and the princess of Kittur, a small principality in Karnataka.
Haidar Ali and his son Tipu were the main obstacles to the expansion of British Empire in South India. Tipu was trying to modernize the economy of his state and military power and to take help of the French, who, at this time, were enemies of the British. The Governor General Wellesly attacked Tipu's kingdom with a large military force. The British troops occupied the Mysore capital, Seringapatan through a local commander's treachery. Tipu fell on the ramparts, fighting bravely. His anti - British militant heritage was carried on by a son, a grandson and indeed even in the 20th century by his granddaughter's daughter Nurunnesa (Noor Inayet Khan) in the present century.
Kittur was a small principality near Belgaum in Karnataka. When its prince died without a son, the British rulers endeavoured to incorporate the principality within their empire. The widowed princess Channammaresisted, beginning her struggle in 1825.
She was imprisoned after unequal battles by the British, and died in custody. But the resistance did not end. The relay of revolt was carried on by Rayanna who came from a peasant household in Sangoli. The cultivators carried on resistance struggle in the countryside, for three years, only after which could the British troops drown this movement in blood, brutally killing Rayanna, the leader of the revolt.
While some of the indigenous ruling class, who were losing their own power to dominate, were keeping alive resistance to English paramountcy in this way, throughout the country in innumerablescattered localities, the toiling poor were rising up and revolting - people who were cultivators and forest tribal people. Some instances of this may be given.
From the time of the Bengal famine of 1770-71, the toiling peasantry, both Hindus and Muslims, all over north Bengal revolted against oppressive British rule and their revenue collecting agents. Fakirs andSannyasis gave them leadership. Majnu Shah and Bhabani Pathak were prominent among them. These uprisings continued in North Bengal and parts of Central Bengal for about three decades. Even the Governor General of Bengal, Warren Hastings had to admit in his reminiscences that these rebels numbered more than half a lakh, that more than one English officer lost his life, and several English companies were defeated in endeavoring to quell these insurgencies. It took the British at least a decade of burning villages and slaughtering the people before they could suppress the uprisings. At about the same time, in 1783 and 1784 there was a widespread peasant uprising in Rangpur district of north Bengal, which also was not insignificant. Over the entire rarh tract of West Bengal (in the districts of Bankura and Midnapore) Chuarsrevolted for about 30 years till 1799. This revolt began in Dhalbhum in 1767. Its leader was the local chief's nephew Jagannath Dhal (or Dhavaldeva). Captain Morgan's troops were totally defeated trying to crush the uprising. In a secret letter to Governor Verelst in Calcutta, he wrote that practically the whole of Dhalbhum and the Jangle Mahals had been in revolt against British rule. The Chandrakona region of Midnapore was another centre of revolt, where a leader of rebels wasGobardhan Dikpati (or hereditary village boundary guard).
Warren Hastings failed to quell the Chuar uprisings. The district administrator to Bankura wrote in his diary in 1787 that the Chuar revolt was so widespread and fierce that temporarily, the Company's rule had vanished from the district of Bankura. Finally in 1799 the Governor General, Wellesley crushed these uprisings by a pincer attack. An area near Salboni in Midnapore district, in whose mango grove many rebels were hung from trees by the British, is still known by local villagers as "the heath of the hanging upland", Phansi Dangar Math. Some years later under the leadership of Jagabandhu the paymaster or Bakshi (of the infantry of the Puri Raja), there was the well-known widespread Paik or retainer uprising in Orissa. In 1793 the Governor General Cornwallis initiated in the entire Presidency of Bengal a new form of Permanent Settlement of revenue to loyal landlords. This led to misfortunes for the toiling peasantry: in time they would protest against this as well.
Such revolts of the people of the poorer classes did not take place only in Bengal Presidency, but in many parts of India. From 1817 to 1846 these were scattered Bheel uprisings - in Khandesh, Dhar, Malwa and Baglana. The Bheel headmen of the villages generally led these uprisings. One of the leaders of the Bheel revolt of 1825 in Khandesh, Shiurarn was a blacksmith. In 1824 - 25 in the Central India Bundelkhand division of Uttar Pradesh there was a united uprising against British rule by poor peasants, both Muslim and Hindu. One of its leaders was Nana Pandit, another Shaikh Dalla. They were joined by the fugitive rebel leader of the old Nagpur principality Appa Saheb, and a segment of the Pindari raiders. The British could crush this uprising after several years of wanton oppression. But this revolt linger in the strains of a popular song in Bundelkhand: "Below is the earth, above Allah our hope is in Shaikh Dalla"
A similar revolt broke out under the leadership of Jat peasantry in 1824 in the districts Districts of Rohtak and Hisar in the present state of Haryana. The Koli uprising lasted from 1839 till 1845 allover western Gujarat. Revolt broke out in 1845 in the districts of Sawantwadi and Kolhapur in Maharashtra. Ultimately this had to be defeated by the English General Outram.
In the north eastern region of India In the present state of Meghalaya the Khasi revolt was organized by the aboriginal people there from 1829 to 1833. About 10,000 Khasis carried on guerrilla warfare bringing the early British administration of the Khasi Hills to a halt. Only after four years could the English crush the insurgency by burning villages barbarously, and slaying its leader Tiroth Singh.
In the same way, from 1830 to 1833; there were aboriginal uprisings over a wide tract of Chotariagpur's tribal area. Hundreds of thousands ofMundas from Ranchi to Manbhum participated. Thousands of tribal men, women and children were imprisoned at Chaibasa and several were shot by the English. Five thousand square miles were devastated.
One of the most important aboriginal revolts was the Santal uprising of 1855. Sidhu, Kanhu, Bhairo and others led myriads of Santals to a gathering on the Bhagnadiha heath, for deciding to end British rule of their territory and establishing Santal independency. Working people in neighbouring villages such as blacksmiths, potters, weavers and oilpressers gave the SantaIs their active support. They marched towards Calcutta. Conflict broke out. Finally, the British required cannons and muskets to put down this rebellion. Sir W.W. Hunter has written that as long as their drums could be beaten, not one rebellious Santal would surrender. 15 thousand Santals were slaughtered in this rebellion by the British imperialists.
The first century of British rule is full of such minor or major peasant and tribal uprisings. Connection between them was difficult as they were internally divisive and scattered in character. Yet they jolted the colonial and feudal exploitative and administrative arrangements of British imperialism. To appease peasant revolt the British also had to make some changes in its apparatus of revenue management. Yet the blood stained experience of rebellions over far-flung Indian regions left deep impressions on the minds of the common people in the regions where the' revolts took place. In the next phase, this created the atmosphere in which the freedom struggle could proceed.
The Wahabi and Faraizi struggles were somewhat different cases of resistance movement during the first century. The revolting Wahabis desired to revive a fundamentalist and purified Islamic religion, cleansed of doctrinal and ethical lapses. Despite this religious garb, the Wahabi movement took on the character of a liberation struggle against foreign British rule. The originator of the Wahabi revolt in India was Saiyad Ahmed Baelvi (1786-1831). His basic teaching was that India had become Dar-ul-Harb or a country inimical to Islam since foreign Britons (with a different religion) ruled it. He proclaimed that the English were the main enemies of India and that the duty of all Wahabis was to extirpate this foreign rule. He wrote to a Maratha leader that it was necessary for Indians to join together to make the land free by driving the British out.
The tide of Wahabi revolt reached Bengal as well. The leader of this revolt in the villages of Swarupnagar and Baduria in the vicinity of Barasat (near Calcutta) was Mil Nisar Ali, alies Titu Mir. Titu Mir was able to build a free zone over a tract where colonial rule was weakened. The Joint Magistrate of Barasat Alexander was defeated by Titu. Finally his bamboo fortification had to be destroyed by cannon, and Titu and 40 others died heroe’s deaths. 800 rebels were imprisoned. Titu's commander Rasul was sentenced to death, the rest to transportation to a penal settlement for life. After this, for many years the British took to suppressing any movements nourished by Muslim popular mass support by labelling them indiscriminately as Wahabi.
The first convicts transported to the Andamans
Islands were the Wahabis. When Lord Mayo, Viceroy of India went to inspect the Andamans in 1872, a Wahabi convict named Sher Ali stabbed Mayo to death. Sher Ali later proudly proclaimed in the courtroom, 'Brother, I have despatched our enemy'. The Judge who sentenced Sher Ali to death was later assassinated by a Wahabi rebel.
The Faraizi movement was similar to that of the Wahabis. In 1842 the Faraizi leader, Dudu Mian procalimed that the proprietor of all land is Allah, men are equal in his eyes, so those of his fellows who revere Allah would no more pay rents to landlords;.they would not sow indigo for planters nor obey foreign rule. Dudu Mian was born in Madaripur subdivision of Faridpur District (now in Bangladesh), his original name was Muhammad Sohain. This aroused enthusiasm among the poor peasants, artisans and other rural working folk.
Dudu Mian was a competent organizer. He divided Bengal into several regions which he called Halkas. About 300 to 400 Faraizis lived in each Halka. There would be one organizer called ustad at the head of each Halka: several thousand of them in Bengal with Dudu, himself at their head. Each Faraizi village was governed by Panchayati arrangements. Each Faraizi was bound on oath to help co-sectaries in case of oppression by white indigo planters and Zamindars.
The Farizi movement spread from Madaripur to Bakharganj. From there, it was disseminated to Dacca, Comilla and Mymensingh on the one hand, and to Jessore and 24 Parganas on the other. A semi-official account would have it that one/sixth of Bengal of those days was influenced by this movement. The planters, Indian landlords and British magistrates felt disturbed. Many Faraizis were arrested. Dudu Mian was imprisoned: he died in prison in 1862.
However, it is a fact that since the Wahabi and Faraizi movements were restricted to Muslims, the movement had certain sectarian limitations. And it need hardly be noted that the British bureaucracy took full advantage of this.
The century-long anti-British government rebellions, divided and scattered as they were, which germinated anti-British consciousness among the peasants and the urban poor, were woven together on a India-wide frame by the sepoys of the Indian Army. In an age which preceded the birth of the working class, these troopers performed the duty of being the vanguard of anti-imperialist liberation struggle. The Wahabi rebels made their support known to the sepoy mutineers Discontent had long been growing among the Indian troopers of the British armed forces in India. In times of war, the Indian sepoys fought in the front ranks, they gave their lives before the rest but they were treated as servile and their pay was half that of the British. On top of this came weird instructions. The Governor-General Barlow ordered in 1806 that Hindu sepoys could not wear the tika on their foreheads that Muslim sepoys would have to shave their beards. And turbans were prohibited. In place of turbans, they would have to wear leather caps, which might have been sewn from cows' or pigs skins. Hindu and Muslim sepoys were enraged. This diktat of the Governor-General was repudiated by Sepoys at Vellore near Madras. The British Commander Colonel Gillespie sentenced the ringleaders to death and sternly suppressed the Vellore Mutiny. But sepoy discontent grew, in 1828; the sepoys were given orders to go by sea to Rangoon to fight in Burma. The sepoys who were quartered in Bengal refused to go. The English Commander-in-Chief, Paget had some sepoys shot and hanged the ringleaders. The mutiny was defeated but the embers of discontent scattered from one cantonment to another.
In 1853, some angry Muslim sepoys tried to kill an English commander near Hyderabad. Local Hindu sepoys refused to arrest them. Lord Dalhousie the Governor-General sternly repressed the rebellion. The Hindu and Muslim sepoys of Hyderabad cantonment were dismissed from service.
In May, 1857, first at Meerut cantonment, then at Delhi, open mutiny broke out among the sepoys. Even before that, on 29 March, 1857, the young sepoy Mangal Pandey had raised the banner of revolt in Barrackpur cantonment near Calcutta. He gave his life. on the gallows. In the bulletin issued by the rebel sepoys in Delhi to the people, they wrote that the land had lost its freedom to the British, the common people were impoverished and destitute, they were tortured by heavy taxes, there was scarcity of food and clothing, and even women's honour was at stake, there was no limit to English oppression how long would Indians submit to this insult, this misery.
The Revolt started in Meerut cantonment on 9 May, 1857; On 11 May the mutineers captured Delhi and proclaimed Bahadur Shah as Emperor of independent India. The flames of rebellion burst out at Lucknow, and then allover the Awadh region. On the 4th June, Kanpur rose in revolt. Gradually the revolt spread from south of the Sutlej to Bihar, from Uttar Pradesh to Central India - i.e. in the entire Hindi-Urdu speaking tract. Where mass revolt did not break out, there also scattered uprisings occurred. In official language, the masses were "disturbed". The foundations of British imperialism were shaken to their roots.
Writing far away, in London, on the basis of reports sent by the British themselves, Karl Marx made the following correct evaluation of the Sepoy Revolt at the end of June, 1857: "This is not a military mutiny but a national revolt".
British commanders or civilian officials who were in India in 1857-1858, have given practically the same estimate. Thornhill writes:
"Within a week of the revolt breaking out, the British Empire was practically at an end"
The historian Kaye wrote the whole of Awadh and Bundelkhand had risen in popular revolt and that beyond the capital, British administration everywhere had fallen like a house of cards. A British magistrate of the Awadh region wrote that wherever there were revolts, there the rebels looted the government treasury, set fire to military barracks, and opened the jail gates' by smashing their locks: The historian Rice Holmes writes: "Dispossessed landlords organized their angry peasantry to drive out the feudal classes supported by the British. The debt ridden, oppressed agriculturists slaughtered usurious moneylenders, against whom their rage had been piling up for many years".
Even in Bengal supposed to be relatively peaceful, there was suppressed anger. Russell, the correspondent of ' The Times' was then in India. In his Diary, published in 1860, he wrote about his journey through Burdwan town in 1857: "In no instance is a friendly glance cast towards the white man's carriage. Oh! That language of the eye! Who can doubt it? Who can misinterpret it?"
The paper 'Payam-i-Azadi' was the mouthpiece of the 1857 Revolt. It was written in one of its editorials:
"The government tries to use Hindus and Muslim against each other. Brothers; don’t place yourselves in this devilish trap. Hindus, Muslim, brothers; Forgetting trivial divisions, join under the same banner in the fight for freedom"
In Awadh, Bihar and Central India, for one year, the rebel troops, the common working people of villages and towns fought with remarkable courage against the British. The British commander Hugh Rose writes that when he was fighting to recapture Jhansi, then countless women and men standing side by side defended the town and as a result he had to storm Jhansi by 'drowning it in rivers of blood'. Charles Ball has left a remarkable eyewitness account of how after losing an arm to a cannonball, the octogenarian rebel leader, Kunwar Singhcounterattacked British troops and repulsed them. It is well known how the heroic princess of Jhansi, Lakshmibai met martyrdom on the battlefield and Tantia Tope trapped in treacherous wiles, smilingly stepped on the gallows.
In 1877, the youthful Rabindranath justly wrote in the 'Bharati' periodical: "Tantia Tope and Kunwar Singh were not merely two petty rebels. If any has to write history, their names will have to be placed along with the great heroes".
"The British imperialists brutally repressed this freedom struggle in India. Many sepoys were tied to the muzzles of cannon, then barbarously blown from guns. Village after village was set a fire. The people of the country were indiscriminately slaughtered all aver North and Central India. Marx wrote: "English commanders have written of widespread rape, beating children to death and burning of villages". The English historian Kaye too wrote "Infuriated English troops bayoneted women, infants and even aid people. They let loose violence in Delhi". Of course, the mast revolutionary among English working class leaders Ernest Janes expressed support far the mutineers and penned his famous poem "Revolt of Hindustan".
The revolt was crushed, but anger against alien domination began tofester among Indians, and it was these seeds which bare revolutionary potential far the future.
About ninety percent of the Indian people lived in villages. The British rulers had made few attempts to diffuse education and knowledge among them. But even if they had to govern India well; they needed an Indian class of English-educated people. The father of the policy of Anglicized education, Macaulay, has openly declared that they had an objective for opening the portals of higher education by means of English education: to create an educated Anglicized class of gentry, staunchly loyal to Western civilization, who would be differentiated from the lives and values of the myriads of their impoverished country folk and loyal to British rule.
In Rabindranath's language: "One group of urbanites gained by this opportunity, education, prestige, wealth. They were the ones to be enlightened, the illuminate. The ones, who learnt English by rote on their school branches, were the ones who learnt to identify educated society as the country at large. It was from that time that there grew in progressively cheerless ill-educated villages, scarcity of water, difficulties of roads, disease, and ignorance".
Consequently, the awakening that took place in the newly enlightened society of India, despite its total contribution, did retain very many limitations. Yet this educated society did not only remain devoted to. England. A section of its next two generations learnt from this Western education, the ideas of freedom, democracy, and the fundamentals of progress. Side by side in their consciousness with infatuation and subordination to British rule, their group developed the first seeds of westernized criticism and protest. In a later period, it was these seeds which took the form of national movement for freedom of the entire country. One section of the wealthy, educated, Indian middle class, looking at the English industrial revolution dreamt of modernizing industrial development far India. This rising bourgeois class of India initially believed that it could fulfill the work of Indian industrialization, with British official collaboration. But the hard knacks of reality made such people, from Dwarkanath Tagore to the late nineteenth century cotton mill owners realize that British imperialism wished essentially to exploit India, and that in the last resort colonialism would never stretch out the hand of India-British cooperation. And, it was from this realization that was spelled out through the subsequent period of freedom struggle the dual aspect of the dialectics of cooperation and conflict, within the Indian bourgeois class and colonialism.
Ramah Ray had been the unquestioned standard bearer of the earliest stage of the trend of awakening of the educated community. He was disturbed by the religious fanaticism, ignorance and superstitions of contemporary leaders of society. After studying Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian tenets deeply, he expressed the opinion that there was fundamental unity in all the religious opinions of the world, that there was no reason for conflict and that this was what the Vedanta stated. So he believed that there should be fraternity among people of all the regains of the world. To propagate this view, he set up an organization in 1828, called the Brahmo Sabha. Later its name was changed toBrahmo Samaj. In connection with its preaching, there also grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai), a similar organization for religious and social reform - the Parthian Same
Reactionary and self-interested leaders of society of those times, who were greedy of the wealth of widowed women, had maintained principally for that reason, the practice of burning on the pyres of their husbands, widows, who were called "Satis" or virtuous women, referring to those submitted death with their deceased husbands. Rammahuncarried on through out his life successful propaganda against this practice. Particularly when, and-hundred: and-fifty years after this, bride torture still remains in India, masquerading under the name of dowry system, then Rammahun's campaign surely appears very significant.
Apart from this, Rammahun's forceful opinions in favor of freedom of the press and of democratic movements all aver the world is an indispensable heritage for the progress of our national movement. Yet the limitation of his ideology can surely be seen in Rammhun's view that the future progress and welfare of the country would come under the aegis of British rule.
In the same period there was another progressive trend among the students of Calcutta's Hindu College. The originator of this trend was the young teacher Henry Louis Vivian Derozio. He was like an elder brother and friend of his students. Among them he tried to arouse feelings of rationalism, patriotism and revolutionary consciousness. His followers are known by the name of 'Young Bengal'. In an essay of 1835 (the year of T.B. Macaulay's 'Education Minute' to the Governor-General-in-Council which advocated Anglicization of higher education) a young student of Hindu College, Calash Chandra Dutt dreamed that a hundred year later an armed popular uprising was taking place against British rule in India. And, another youth, Uday Chand Adhya wrote an essay demanding that the medium of education and official work should be the mother tongue.
Derozio wrote a patriotic poem in English about India, which was translated into Bengali by Rabindranath's eldest brother, Dwijendranath Tagore. It was the Young Bengal group which organized the first political organization in this country, the Bengal British India Society. The bilingual journal of this was the Bengal Spectator.
The influence of Young Bengal was to be seen in the middle of the nineteenth century in the 'Young Bombay party'. Its founder was the school teacher of Bombay, Naoroji Fardunji, and their objective was overall reform of society, and they had a journal called the Rast Gaftar. About the same time, a similar movement was started in Madras byGazulu Lakshminarain Chetty.
But the principal midnineteenth century social reformer of India was definitely Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. He was born on 29 September, 1820 in the village of Birsingha in Medinipur district. Having gained great learning in Bengali and Sanskrit in his youth, he started his teaching career in 1841 at Fort William College in Calcutta, as its Head Pandit. It was he who prepared readers in his mother tongue Bengali for little children - the 'Barnaparichaya', the 'Bodhadaya', the 'Kathamala' the 'Vetalpanchavimsati'. He opened a new vista before the children of Bengal. As an Inspector of the Government School Department., he was able within merely four years to set up twenty model schools for boys and thirty-five for women. It was Vidyasagar who was able to bring girls in this part of the country out of the darkness of the veil into the enlightenment of knowledge.
And yet, the greatest achievement of his life was the initiation of the practice of Hindu widow- remarriage, In those times, girls were married in childhood, and if they were widowed before they could learn what marriage meant, they were still forced to follow various cruel rules of social custom. Vidyasagar entered the fray against this inhuman practice, disregarding all social resentment and abuse. The Widow Remarriage Act was passed in 1855. At this time, the weaving-women of Santipur printed on the borders of their famous hand-woven Saris, the sentence: "Long may live Vidyasagar, blessed with eternal life".Vidyasagar's only son wedded a young widow. Vidyasagar wrote to his brother: 'My son has given me glory". Even in the nineteenth century awakening, examples are scarce of such an idealist and patriot in word and in deed, in social life and in private life.
Peasant revolts flared up after even the brutal repression of 1857. Certain changes were found in the character of these rural resistance movements. From now on in many cases, peasants began to directly struggle for their own demands against the government, foreign landlords, and indigenous landowners and usurers. In 1859-60, popular discontent was widespread over a large tract of central Bengal against the misbehavior of British indigo planters; this is known as the Blue Revolt or Indigo Revolt. Hindu and Muslim peasants gathered together. Even a British member of Parliament of the time has called the barbarous oppression of the British indigo planters and their armed retainers "unimaginably inhuman':
The indigo cultivators’ resistance to them remained undaunted. A section of the educated intelligentsia came forward in their support. Memorable among the latter was Harishchandra Mukherjee and his "Hindoo Patriot’s" role. Dinabandhu Mitra wrote his play "Nil Darpan" or "The Mirror of Indigo" at this time.
Indigo cultivators pretests brake out, after this, from time to time in the nineteenth century - in Jessore in 1883 and in 1889-90, and in Darbhanga and Champaran from 1866 to 1868. In the 'sixties and seventies of the nineteenth century, patriotic Sikhs were organized in the Kuka Revolt. In 1872, the English troops repressed the Kuka rebellion brutally. A British official named Cowan cruelly killed 65 Kukas by blowing them from guns and one young boy of 12 years was killed with sword. The picture of this brutality has been captured in the portrait of a contemporary Russian travelling painter Vereschtchagiin. The leader of this rebellion, Satguru Ram Singh gave up his life in deportation in Rangoon in 1885.
Peasant insurgency again flared up in north and east Bengal in the 1870s. The big landlords of this region were very oppressive. They would forcibly take possession of peasant crops and lands at will and however they could; or arbitrarily increase the rates of rent. In 1873, the peasants of Sirajganj subdivision, Pabna District first grouped together against this and then organized non-rent leagues. Poor peasants, Hindu and Muslims united together in this struggle. Their demand was that none would pay enhanced rents: The British government took the side of the landlords. This divided the educated class, but its progressive wing supported the insurgent peasantry. It may be said that this struggle first made the rural areas familiar with techniques of forming peasant leagues and organizing strikes.
In the Deccan at about the same time in the districts of Pune and Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, a fairly widespread peasant insurgencybegan. The peasants of this region would get entrapped in debts to usurious moneylenders in their liability to pay high revenue assessents to the government. They were forced into extremes of poverty. Towards the end of 1874, the Pune and Ahmednagar peasantry first began a social boycott against the moneylenders; this took on the form of popular conflict. They snatched away loan deeds by force and burned them. Frightened by courageous resistance, the police fled away. Infantry, cavalry and artillery troops were sent to crush the peasant revolt. The insurgency was swamped in blood. Progressive intellectuals in Pune and other parts of Maharashtra supported this brave peasant struggle. The indomitable Basudev Phadke came forward to lead the insurgents in armed guerrilla resistance. Phadke was the son of a well-to-do Brahman family of Colaba district in Maharashtra, and he had a government appointment. Distressed by peasant sufferings, he quit his post to organize peasant struggle. For a few months, he placed the British administrators in a quandary. He was then captured and deported to the distant and arid British colony of Aden at the tip of Arabia. In 1883 he died there in prison.
Peasant unrest was expressed in other parts of the country as well. As an example, we may take the Mopala peasants of southern Malabar, who were tormented by their Jenmimasters. From 1835 to 1854 there were at least 22 revolts among them. Mapala revolts also took place 5 times from 1873 to 1880.
The peasants of the Brahmaputra Valley racked by high revenue assessments now took to the path of resistance. They refused to pay revenue enhancements and made determined efforts to resist attempts of penal attachment of lands by the state. Here too the British had to use force in suppressing peasant unrest. Many peasants lost their lives to bullets and bayonets. Also, all over Chhotanagpur in the last decade of the nineteenth century, there broke out the fearless popular revolt under Birsa Munda's leadership. All these peasants had courage, heroism and self-sacrifice in good measure. But it was not possible for them to defeat the British armed with modern weapons with their pitifully limited organization and the lack of support of the urban middle class. What these insurgencies proved was the extent of anticolonial power that lay dormant among the people.
Songs, poems, drama, short stories, etc. have played significant parts in the national movements and resistance struggles of practically all those countries, particularly those under alien rule, where such movements have taken place. There was no exception to this in India.
The first expression of nationalism in our country's literature is to be found in this sort of pride in our past history and this sort of patriotism based on such a historiographical context. Germinating nationalism was actually latent in the words put into the mouths of the Rajput heroes by the poet Rangalal Bandopadhyaya, "In the lack of freedom, who wishes to stay alive, 0, who wishes to stay alive".
It was in Madhusudan Dutts poetry that the first sharp expression of patriotic fervour took place after the initial infatuation of devotion to British rule had passed
"0 Bengal, in your treasury are various jewels; caring not for them, I wandered infatuated for the treasures of others" or "keep this slave in your heart, this entreaty I place at your feet". Satyendranath Tagorewrote the song "Incant the victory of India" for singing as the mass invocation at the Hindu Mela, one of the germinal national organizations. Mirza Ghalib wrote in Urdu stirring, patriotic songs. In Urdu mushairas, very many people used to take part in these emotions, singing out the lines. Many patriotic songs were also written in Marathi. In 1876, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya composed "Bande Mataram". And in 1876, too Dwarkanath Gangopadyaya edited and published the first collection of national songs of this country.
There was a common base note in the vernacular patriotic songs of various regions - Bharatvarsha is our motherland. India's oppression and exploitation has led to so much sorrow, misery and shame. Who is there to end this poverty and shame? Consequently this sort of poetry and songs helped in the development and sharpening of patriotic feelings.
But the most emotion was aroused by dramatic performances of rousing plays in the theatres. The play "Neel Darpan" has already been mentioned. Sivanath Sastri has written that, watching the performance of "Neel Darpan" he used to feel that if there were no weapons close by, and then he would like to tear the British planters to pieces with his bare teeth. The independent-minded Gaikwad, prince of Baroda was deposed in a conspiracy by the British Government.
The young dramatist Amritalal Basu wrote in criticism of this, the play "Heerak-churna" sharply condemning the British administrators. A play "Cha-kar Darpan" was written condemning the oppression of tea plantation managers. The wealthy devotee of the government,Jagadananda Mukherjee toadied to the Prince of Wales (heir-apparent of Queen Victoria) on his visit to India. A satirical playlet was written against him entitled "Gajadananda and the Heir-Apparent". In 1875,Upendranath Das wrote the play "Surendra-Binodini" on the first page of which was written:
"Neither heavenly bliss do I desire, nor the groves of paradise, if, for a moment, can I get freedom".
These plays were enacted in open theatres, and were tremendously appreciated by audiences. This disturbed the British administration. According to the Dramatic Performances Regulation Act of 1876passed by the Viceroy, Lord Northbrook, no play could be performed in an open theatre without the permission of the Police Commissioner.
Many journals and newspapers also played their part in this age in awakening anti-imperialist consciousness. In 1858 the English Viceroy gave the fiat that Indians visiting Government House would have to salute British officials without headgear, unshod and bowing down. The Bengali weekly, "Somprakash" wrote a satirical editorial against this insolent diktat.
The pointed writings in favour of the cultivators at the time of the indigo strike, and against tea planters' oppression, by Harish Mukherjee and Dwarakanath Gangopadhyaya which were published in the Hindoo Patriot and the Sanjibani aroused anti-British feeling among educated society. Similar journals like the "Kesari" and the "Hindu" were published in Maharashtra and in Madras. The secret report of the British intelligence investigation department was that vernacular papers were propagating extreme anger against British rule. In 1878, the Viceroy Lord Lytton muzzled all newspapers by passing a repressive law - the Vernacular Press Act.
It was in 1878 that a Calcutta nationalist organization, the Indian Association first gave the call for all India protest against a repressive law. The day of protest was practiced on 18 April, 1878 in many Indian towns, under the leadership of Surendranath Banerje, then in the nationalist forefront in Bengal. The British policy of repression instead of blighting the seeds of Indian national consciousness, stoked the fuel for the flames of nationalism. The conflict was intensified around the focus of the Ilbert Bill controversy.
Farsighted elements among the British imperialists were scared by the ensemble- discontent and revolt among the Indian poor peasantry on the one hand, the sharp criticism and initial germs of protest among the progressive sections of the middle class intelligentsia against British administration, on the other. Allan Octavian Hume wrote as their representative: India has become a smouldering volcano. A popular outburst will be the consequence of a policy of repression. Instead, accept some demands, channelise the steam of educated class anger by safety valves, and help in forming an appropriate national organization.
In the meanwhile, the leaders of the Indian Association had invited at Calcutta in December 1883 the first meeting of the Indian National Conference. Its second session was also held in Calcutta in 1885. On the other hand, the Bombay nationalists were also feeling the need for an all-India organization. Consequently the Indian National Congress was born in Bombay in 1885.
Two contradictory tendencies were clear in the National Congress from its very birth. One was to maintain British administration in India and make it more liberal and democratic. The approach of supporters of this trend was to pass critical resolutions, carry on propaganda, and petition. Later these people were known as Moderates.
The essential of the other trend was devotion to the goal of self-rule, and struggle for earning Indian self-rule, as well as sacrifice for that goal. Later, the supporters of that trend were known as Extremists.
The proposal for the Partition of Bengal came in this context. First Risley, then the Viceroy, Lord Curzon himself desired to break East Bengal away from Calcutta so as to weaken the rising force of Extremism in Bengal. Risley mentioned in a confidential letter the actual plan of imperialism: "Bengal's strength is in its unity. If this is divided, its strength will also be broken. One of our principal aims is to weaken this unified centre of resistance".
But Bengal did not submissively accept this imperialist game. The Bengal people, Hindu and Muslim alike, confronted it. In a vast concourse at the Town Hall on 7th August, 1905, the anti-Partition movement was initiated. A movement for rescinding the Partition was decided upon. An invitation was given in the ‘Sanjibani’ for the boycott of all foreign commodities and for the use of only indigenous products or Swadeshi.
Bengal was partitioned on the 16th October, 1905 and many Muslims as well as Hindus observed it as a day of mourning. The hartal (strike) was observed in the towns as well as some villages of Bengal. Abstinence from cooked food was practiced in many homes. Thousands of people participated barefoot in mourning processions, with Rabindranath'srecently composed song on their lips: "The life of Bengalees, the minds of Bengalees, brothers and sisters in the homes of all Bengalees, let them be one, let them be one, let them be one, 0 divine Lord".
The tide of Swadeshi spread from, Calcutta to the district headquarters-Barisal, Mymensingh, Medinipur. Even the Moderate Gokhale himself in his Presidential speech to the Varanasi session of Congress had to say that the Bengal Partition was one of the "meanest acts" of British rule in India. Surendranath Banerjee thundered that they would smash British arrogance. Yet the leadership of the movement began to pass into Extremist hands-into those of Bipinchandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh, and outside Bengal, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and others. The students became the life and soul of this movement. The first militant students organization, The anti -circular society, initiated in protest against a Government circular to prevent Swadeshi propaganda in schools joyfully took up the work of organizing boycott of sale of foreign textiles in shops, and hawking bales of Indian made cloth to people's homes while chanting Rajanikanta Sen's "Raise to your heads, 0 brothers, the coarse cotton bestowed on you by the Mother (land)".
The tides of boycott and Swadeshi flowed through Bengal, Maharashtra and the Punjab. In many towns, people held festivals to burn British cloth. Even some washermen vowed not to wash foreign cloth. Sweetmeat vendors took vows not to use British sugar for preparing sweets. Women took to ceremonially breaking bangles and household utensils made from British glass. Great emotional support in arousing this movement for indigenization of production came from the songs of Rabindranath, Dwijendralal Roy, Rajanikanta, Atulprasad Sen and Mukunda Das and the patriotic plays of Kshirodeprasad Vidyavinode and many others.
On the other hand, there was great enthusiasm for the manufacture of various types of Swadeshi commodities. Innumerable indigenous textile factories, match and soap factories sprang up. P.C. Ray organized the famous Bengal Chemical works. Rabindranath busied himself in founding a Swadeshi Bhandar; Jamshedji Tata was able to base his steel factory on merely Swadeshi subscription. Banks and insurance companies grew up through Swadeshi enterprise. V.O. Chidambaram Pillai set up an indigenous steam navigation company at Tuticorin, a port in Tamil Nadu. Tilak and Lajpat Rai broadcast the idea of Swadeshi in Maharashtra and the Punjab. The driving force of Swadeshi in Delhi was Sayed Hyder Reza. In 1921, at the time of composing "Hind Swaraj", Gandhiji too wrote that it was through the boycott movement of 1905 to 1908 that the national movement stepped from the stage of petitioning to that of resistance and struggle. The dissemination of national education was another massive work performed by the Swadeshi movement. The National Council of Education was set up-whose developed form is now Jadavpur University.
While the Swadeshi movement was basically limited to the educated middle class of the towns, it was not completely alien to rural peasantry or urban proletariat. The Extremist leaders realized the importance of organizing workers and peasants within Swadeshi movements, but they failed to link the demand for self-government (Swaraj) with even the minimal anti-landlord or anti-capitalist demands of peasants or workers. If such demands had been voiced, the latter would have enthusiastically joined in the struggle for self-determination of educated society.
Even so, many workers strikes developed in Bengal-among workers in the East India Railway, in the Clive Jute Mills, in Burn Company, and in many neighboring factories. Tilak gave the Bombay workers the call to strike. Chidambaram Pillai had a successful factory strike in Cochin. It was in this age that some trade unions grew in India.
Discontent burst out at this time among indigo cultivators in Champaran, and a decade later, Mahatma Gandhi made this cause his own. There was widespread peasant awakening in Assam and Mymensingh Aswini Kumar Dutt took the leadership of peasant consciousness in Barisal which included Muslims.
A notable section of Muslim citizens also took part in the Swadeshi movement. When students used to hawk Swadeshi cloth on the streets of Calcutta singing partiotic hymns, they were accompanied by Maulavi Liakat Hussain. The barrister, Abdul Rasul chaired the session of the political conference at Barisal in 1906 on which the local Magistrate and police unleashed brutal repression. The Magistrate, Emerson prohibited the raising of the slogan 'Bande Mataram' in any open procession. Disregarding the order, bleeding from lathis, the venerableKrishnakumar Mitra continually went on calling out 'Bande Mataram', many were severely beaten up along with Chittaranjan Guha Thakurtaand the student volunteers. It was about this time, that Abdul Kalam Azad began to preach revolutionary politics through the Urdu paper ‘Al Helal’.
Despite all this glory in the movement for Swaraj and Swadeshi, in which the leadership passed to Extremists it, was not free from serious limitations. The greatest weakness of the Extremists was partiality in their ideology to high caste and the Hindu religion. This proved to be an obstacle to the formation of stable and firm Hindu-Muslim unity. Due to unevenness in social development, the affluent and middle class elements of Indian society were inducted into the framework of Westernized education rather later, and received comparatively less opportunities for government employment and social advancement. As a result, communal grievances piled up. Taking full advantage of this, British imperialism incited communally divisive forces. The All-India Muslim League was formed with the patronage of senior British officials in Dacca (the headquarters of the newly partitioned province of Eastern Bengal and Assam) in 1906.
Of course, it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that the Extremist leaders were all communalists. Many of them dreamt of united Hindu Muslim movements. They also desired to abandon the sterile path of the politics of petitioning and to awaken their country in the way of independence, sacrifice and struggle.
From the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of twentieth century, in different parts of India a segment of fearless youth dreamt of liberating their country folk by armed revolutionary struggle. Two Maharashtrian brothers, Damodar and Vinayak Chapekar assassinated oppressive English officials.
They went to the gallows, followed by a brother of theirs. TheAnushilan Samiti was founded in Bengal in 1902 by the barrister, Pramathanath Mitra. Aurobindo Ghosh joined them from Baroda. Swami Vivekananda's spiritual disciple, Sister Nivedita was an important force in this group. After the imperialist repression of 1906 in Barisal, Jugantar the organ of the revolutionary outlook in Bengal openly noted in its editorial that:
"If the 30 crores of country's population raise their 60 crores of hands aloft in the vow of resistance, then only will this oppression stop. Only force can silence this use of force".
The "Mitra Mela" was organized by the Savarkar brothers of Maharashtra. Madanlal Dhingra, a follower of Savarkar, assassinated in London Curzon Wylie an English official. He courted a martyr's death In her. Paris journal "Talwar" the famous Parsee woman revolutionaryBhikaiji Rustom Cama wrote in firm support of his act in an editorial. Joining the International Socialist Congress of 1907 in Stuttgart, Madame Cama presented the demand for India's freedom the first time in a world gathering.
The revolutionary movement spread to South India. Chidambaram Pillaideclared that full independence was India's objective. In Tinnevelly, a militant strike followed in protest to his arrest. The British Magistrate Ashe gave firing orders: many lives were lost. The revolutionary Vanchi Aiyar took revenge by killing Ashe and evaded arrest by committing suicide. The revolutionary Khudiram Bose was arrested after attempting to shoot the 'Oppressive Magistrate of Bengal Presidency Kingsford, and Khudiram's comrade in arms, Prafulla Chaki committed suicide. Khudiram was hanged and in the villages and towns of Bengal, the immortal story of the way he greeted martyrdom was spread through the lines of the folksong:
"Give me Leave, 0 Mother, let me wander" One of this revolutionary group had committed an act of betrayal. He was daringly shot in the prison itself by Satyendra Basu and Kanailal.
Punjab too had as glorious a place in the revolutionary movement asMaharashtra and Bengal. In particular it spread among the Sikhs.Rashbihari Basu used to act as a go-between with them and the Bengalis. In 1912, on the 12th December, a bomb was hurled at the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge (while he was making his ceremonial entry in British India's new capital of Delhi). The Viceroy was grievously hurt, but recovered. A few revolutionaries were hanged. Rashbihari went underground to carry on revolutionary activities.
The story of this phase will have to be closed with just another event from 1908. When a British Magistrate, following the verdict of British jurymen ordered six years rigorous imprisonment for Tilak, then the Bombay working class came out in the first general strike of Indian national movement. Although many Indian leaders could not follow the significance of this historic event at the time, yet reading the news in exile. Lenin welcomed the revolutionary element in the Indian working class, and noted that the heyday of British imperialists in India was coming to an end.
Rallying the moderates and inciting the communalists, the British Government launched an assault on the Indian national movement by passing the 1909 Government of India Act, known as the Morley-Minto Reforms. They conferred the vote on less the 1% of the population, the elected representatives were given no majority in the central or provincial legislative assemblies and what was more, and a communal system of electoral representation was inserted. The Moderates were caught in the trap thus sprung, by and large supporting the 'Reforms' of 1909. The communal Muslim League also welcomed this Act. But voicing the discontented consciousness of youthful society in the country, the Extremist leader Bipin Pal declared that India would not "sell its soul for Morley's mess of pottage".
The First World War broke out in 1914- a struggle of greed between the old imperialist states and rising German imperialism. Displaying remarkable historical prescience Rabindranath wrote the conflict has broken out between one interest and other. Self interest will lead to catastrophe. It was during the First World War that he wrote his penetrating essay in Bengali on 'the roots of war' and his English book Nationalism-which stripped the mask from imperialism. Indian nationalists felt that if they could exert united pressure, then taking advantage of the War, they could make some advances. The supporter of Irish nationalism, Mrs. Annie Besant called for 'Home Rule’ or limited self-government within the framework of British imperialism. Tilak joined her Home Rule League after his release from prison. Meanwhile Congress and the Muslim League signed an accord among themselves at Lucknow in 1916. The Muslim League agreed to support of demand for Home Rule and the Congress accepted separate electorates. But violent revolutionary movement again raised its head. In 1913, in U.S.A - Sohan Singh Bhakna, Taraknath Das, Lala Hardayal
and others formed the 'Ghadr' Party. 'Ghadr' means revolt and it was inscribed in the first issue of the party's paper Ghadr "What is your name? Revolt. What is your work? Revolt. Where will you carry it out? In India. In what will you write the message of revolt? In Blood, not by words"
Many Sikh migrants reached Canada under leadership of Baba Gurdit Singh in the hired Japanese ship, Komagata Maru but were not allowed to disembark. After much suffering, the ship returned towards Calcutta. When British troops attempted to arrest them, conflict broke out with the militant leadership of the travellers at Budge-Budge near Calcutta port on 29 September 1914. 20 travellers lost their lives, more were injured, but Gurdit Singh and some of his comrades-in-arms were able to escape.
Under the leadership of a teacher in the nationalist Muslim college of Deoband, Maulana Obeidullah Sindhi, many young revolutionary Muslims left India for Baluchistan. They set up liberated government in a distant tract there. Later they shifted their headquarters to Kabul. They were joined by Raja Mahendra Pratap and Maulana Barkatullah.Sending secret news to Deoband students, they began to exert influence in favour of Indian revolution. But their ciphered silk handkerchief was intercepted, and the Government started the Silk Letter Conspiracy Case.
And in Bengal, under the leadership of the revolutionary hero,Jatindranath Mukherjee, making contact with the German Government through the Indian Revolutionary Committee at Berlin, there was an attempt to bring arms and ammunitions from Germany and build up a mass uprising in Bengal. But the British intelligence got wind of these plans. At Chashakhanada on the banks of the Burhi Balam River in Balasore District, Jatindranath and four of his comrades-in-arms confronted a large British force in unequal conflict. Chittapriya died in battle, Jatindranath in hospital and two of the heroes hanged.
The plan had been that on the 21st February, 1915, the Indian troops would simultaneously mutiny in North India and also where posted outside India. But the plan was betrayed by traitors to the British.Vishnu Ganesh Pingle was captured with 10 high explosive bombs in cantonment at Meerut. Elsewhere, the Young revolutionary leader,Kartar Singh Sarabha was captured, seven were hanged in the FirstLahore Conspiracy Case and 42 other ghadarites were hanged in Ghadar Conspiracy cases and about 300 were awarded various imprisonments and dozens of them were sent to Cellular Jail Andamans where seven Ghadarites were died facing the brutal treatment of the jail authorities. Rashbihari Bose made a dramatic escape of Japan hoodwinking the British. Indian troops at Singapore had not got news of the failure of the concerted mutiny. After revolt they held out heroically for a week. Many of them faced martyrdom.
In the period of the First World War, many other scattered, limited attempts at armed uprisings were frustrated in India. Jatindranath's right-hand man, Narendranath Bhattacharya was sent to China and Japan, searching for arms. Evading imperialist arrest, he arrived in the U.S.A. with the assumed name of Manabendranath Roy; and journeyed thence to Mexico. Here he accepted Marxist views and was elected Secretary of the Mexican Socialist Party. At Lenin's invitation he travelled to Moscow, to participate in the 1920 Second Congress of theCommunist International.
The revolutionary attempts were shattered indeed, but they scared British imperialism. It endeavored to compromise with moderate nationalists. In August 1917, Montague, the Secretary of State for India announced that after the war ended, India would be given, step by step, responsible self-government. But the Report submitted jointly by Montague and the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford in 1918 represented a mountain giving birth to a mouse. A new Government of India Act appeared in 1919, which was rejected as in adequate, unsatisfactory and disappointing by even the middle-of-the-road National Congress.
Whatever infatuation had been bred in the Indian mind was dispelled by the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code prepared by Mr. Justice Rowlett. At this time, British imperialism was giving leadership in Turkey and the Arab world to dastardly conspiracies against the independence of the whole of West Asia. Anger was growing in the whole of Indian Muslim social consciousness. Combined anger burst out against theRowlett Bill. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who had returned from South Africa, came forward to lead his Satyagrahas in India, and theIndian Khilafat led by Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali came forward in its leadership.
A Hartal of public work stoppage was observed all over India on 6 April, 1919. Many Hindu and Muslims lost their lives to police bullets in Delhi. Two popular leaders, Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Saifuddin Kichlu were arrested in the Punjab. The Amritsar populace vented their angry protests. So on the 13th April, General Dyer ordered a brutal massacre at Jallianwala Bagh. More than a thousand men, women and children were killed or wounded. Martial law was clamped on the Punjab. The English troops caned men and subjected women to assaults on their modesty. Rabindranath in anguish and insult gave up his British honour-the knighthood conferred by the Crown, saying that an honour conferred by imperialism stung him like a thorn. Even the normally peaceful Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India that this satanic government cannot be mended, it must be ended.
Gandhi was elected President of the All-India Khilafat Committee in November, 1919. The proposal for non-violent non-co-operation was practically unanimously accepted at the Nagpur Annual Session of the Congress in December 1920. Having united Congress and the Khilafat movement, Gandhi called on his countrymen to join the non-co-operation movement to gain Swaraj within a year.
An unprecedented mass movement began. The British publicist Valentine Chirol has written that India had reached the threshold of a popular revolution.
Hindu - Muslim unity appeared to have entered a new phase. Popular awakening flooded beyond the urban intelligentsia's limits into the rural areas of India. The peasants of Medinipur decided that they would no more pay revenue to their Union Boards. Peasants in South India, in Guntur, in Krishna and Godavari districts embarked on no rent campaigns. A widespread movement for no-rent started in the U.P. ln Chhotanagpur, many aboriginal tribes people came together in the Tana Bhagat movement. The movement spread to jute mills, railways, and even to the Assam tea gardens. In Andhra Pradesh, in Madras Presidency, the violent Rampa popular uprising broke out under Alluri Sitaram Raju's leadership. Sitaram Raju was martyred: but he lighted the spark of freedom struggle in peasant consciousness. The Moplah Revolt burst out in far southern Malabar against zamidars-usersoppression backed by British imperialism. The imperialists subjected the Moplahs to inhuman tortures. Though it was weakened by communal fanaticism, the Moplah Revolt was indubitably a glorious episode in our national struggle.
Both British imperialism and the national leadership came to realize that the far flung rural society of India was the repository of boundless strength and the demand for Swaraj if channalised into united popular disturbance, would shake British rule to its foundations. The villagers of the Chauri Chaura area of Gorakhpur in U.P. unable to put up with repression of government, set fire to a police station, killing 22 policemen. Pleading that the non-violent movement was deviating from its ideal, Gandhi unilaterally directed that it be called off for the time being Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Motilal Nehru and Lajpat Rai protested against Gandhi's decision. In his Autobiography, Jawaharlal has written that the movement was then advancing on all fronts and they were gaining prestige and success, they were angered by the halting of the movement at such a stage. Subhas Chandra Bose has written that when the people's enthusiasm was at the point of an explosion, then Gandhi by directing a retreat had called for a national disaster. The young organizers of Communist movement believed that when imperialism failed to crush popular revolt with guns, it had to rely on leaders following the path of compromise like Gandhi.
In December, 1922, at Gaya Session of the Congress, the President, Deshbandhu C.R.Das proposed a new strategy. Take part in government sponsored elections even if we are in a minority in the Reformed Legislative Assemblies; wreck the farce of the British Reform Act from within. Gandhi's followers did not support the idea. So Chitta Ranjan, Srinivas Ayyangar, Motilal Nehru and others formed a new party theSwarajya Party. Coming to a pact or electoral understanding with nationalist Muslims in Bengal, the Swarajya party was victorious. It was able by continual disruption within the Bengal Legislature to make it difficult for the ministerial group composed of British and Indian loyalists to carry on administration.
Meanwhile the seeds of Socialist and Communist movements had begun to sprout. M.N. Roy and few Indian revolutionaries established anIndian Communist Party in October 1920 in far off Tashkent. The nationalist Muslim Muhajirin who had left their country, journeyed at the end of the War to Soviet Russia, many were attracted by Communism. When they began to return home, some of them were arrested and in 1922 the British-rulers began the Peshawar Bolshevik Conspiracy case. A South Indian working class leader Singaravelu Chettiar was the first to proclaim that he was a Communist at a Congress session at Gaya in 1922. Actually in the previous year, in the Ahmedabad Congress of 1921, the demand for complete Independence had been raised by Hasrat Mohani and Swami Kumarananda who were later on to accept the Communist ideology. Even earlier than that, in Bombay in 1920 the united popular organization of the Indian working class- the All India Trade Union Congress- had been born. Giving his presidential address at Lahore in 1923, the Deshbandhu said: The Swaraj which we are fighting for will be for 98% of the people. In the meanwhile not only M.N. Roy, but also Abani Mukherjee, Birendranath Chattopadhyaya, Dr. Bhupendranath Dutta, Fazl Elahi Kurban, Dalip Singh Gill and many other revolutionaries resident in foreign lands had accepted the communist ideolgy; they now began to try and spread it in India. Frightened by this, the imperialists arrested the Communist organizers in Calcutta, Bombay and Kanpur and began the Kanpur Bolshevik Conspiracy Case of 1924. The results of repression often had the reverse of what is expected. Many revolutionary youth were attracted by Communism: in 1925 December in Kanpur meeting the Communist Party of India was set up, with the Bombay cotton mill labour organizer,S.V. Ghate as its Secretary.
The revolutionaries also revived their efforts. A new Hindustan Republican Army was established: it was later called the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army. Its leaders were Chandrasekhar Azad andSardar Bhagat Singh.
In U.P. in 1925, focusing round these revolutionary efforts came to theKakori Conspriracy Case. Four revolutionaries were hanged,Ramprasad Bismil, Roshan Singh, Ashfaqulla and Rajen Lahiri. Many revolutionaries were arrested in the Dakshineswar Bomb Case in Bengal.
In the meanwhile, the British Government had announced that for the purpose of initiating fresh reforms, a Commission under the leadership of Sir John Simon was to come to India. The Indian national movement was unanimous in declaring the boycott of the Simon Commission(which was all white): popular discontent again swirled through the whole of India. Wherever the Simon Commission went, there were public work closures and black flags demonstrations with "Go Back Simon" cries greeting it.
The anti-Simon demonstrations were viciously attacked by the police. In 1928 in Lahore, the veteran nationalist leader Lala Lajpat Rai was fatally injured by police lathis. He died a few days later. Sardar Bhagat Singh and his friends took vengeance for his death by shooting the responsible police officer, Saunders. Bhagat Singh was able to flee underground.
From 1927 strike actions were widespread and sharp all over India. In Bombay, under the leadership of the Communist-organized Girni Kamgar Union, there was a general strike lasting for a few months in 1928; and violent industrial strikes and tension in the railways and jute mills of Bengal. This brought a new revolutionary force into the forefront of the national movement.
Storm warnings sounded in the Calcutta Session of the Congress in the 1928. The question arose – what was the objective of the national movement complete Independence or Dominion Status? Gandhi and the old guard leaders were in favour of Dominion Status. Subhas Chandra and Jawaharlal, the armed revolutionaries and the Communists were in favour of complete Independence. Gandhi’s proposal was victorious by a small majority. But the very next day, a fiery procession of half a lakh of workers led by Communists and Leftists arrived at the Congress Session to make their support for the complete Independence resolution known. The official historian of the Congress, Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya has written that this was the most significant event of the 1928, Calcutta Congress. In January 1929, in a speech to the Central Legislative Assembly, the Viceroy Lord Irwin said that he was concerned at the spread of Communist ideas in India. Seven weeks later on the 20th March as a result of India-wide searches by the Police, thirty one Communists and Left working class leaders were arrested and the historic Meerut Conspiracy case was started. This case lasted for four years and British imperialism made a determined attempt to bring a rift between the nationalist movement and the Communist movement. But this conspiracy was foiled. On the one hand the Communist prisoners used the Court Room dock appropriately to explicate the nature of imperialist exploitation and to spread information about facts and perspectives on popular revolution. On the other hand, the national movement too stood beside the Meerut prisoners. As a result, the Meerut Conspiracy Case helped in creating popularity for Communist ideology, particularly among the revolutionary youth of the country.
Three of the Meerut Conspiracy case accused were English Communists and Leftists. They too firmly stood beside their Indian comrades and were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment. There were worldwide demands for freeing the Meerut prisoners from the most honoured scientist of the world Albert Einstein, and the French intellectual Romain Rolland, to the British Trade Union Congress.
The second Lahore Conspiracy case was started in 1929. In defence of the dignity and honour of political detenues Bhagat Singh, Batukeswar Dutt, Jatin Das and other prisoners went on hunger strike. The Government was ultimately forced to accept the detenues demand for appropriate treatment in prison: but Jatin Das passed away after 63 days hunger strike. Subhas Chandra Bose brought his body by train from Lahore to Calcutta. Innumerable people thronged the railway station en route stood to pay respect to the body. They must have taken a vow to end imperial servitude.
In this fiery situation in 1929, the resolution for complete independence was accepted at the Lahore Congress. On the 26th January 1930, Independence Day was observed all over the country. The pledge for not resting till complete Independence was gained was taken by unfurling the national flag. From 1930 began the Civil Disobedience Movement for demanding complete Independence. Gandhi ji embarked on his Dandi March, with hand-picked volunteers, who would defy the British laws prohibiting common manufacture of salts in India. But, all over the country, women and men in their thousands took part in thisSatyagraha, determinedly putting up with indescribable tortures and beatings at the hands of the police detailed for stopping salt manufacture.
An unprecedented popular uprising took place in the northwest Frontier Province of India in the land of the Pathans, sparked off by Red-Shirt volunteers, led by the "Frontier Gandhi" Abdul Ghaffar Khan who called for freedom. The frightened British authorities used Garhwali troops to repress urban discontent. The idea of some officials was to start Hindu Muslim tension by using Hindu Garhwali troops to fire at Muslim Pathan crowds. At Peshawar on the 23rd April 1930, a British Commander ordered Garhwalis to open fire on a Pathan demonstration. A non-commissioned officer, Chandra Singh Garhwali threw down his rifle. Other Garhwalis followed suit. Groups of Pathans embraced the Garhwali troops in joy. A Calcutta newspaper wrote that Peshawar had changed hands. Chandra Singh and others were given savage sentences.
Gandhi was arrested at the beginning of May 1930. There were widespread protests all over India. Workers in Sholapur where there were many cotton workers and Railway employees spontaneously rose to drive out the English authorities and hoist the flag of freedom. After three or four days many troops were brought from Bombay to drown in blood the unarmed popular uprising of Sholapur. Four leaders of the revolt were hanged. By militantly defeating the strength of British power and by taking power for however brief a period; the revolutionary working class of Sholapur began a new chapter of the national movement.
A few days before that on India's Eastern frontier, under the leadership of Surya Sen (known affectionately as Masterda) some revolutionaries on 18th April, 1930 occupied the Chittagong armoury and the principal Government offices. The British senior officers fled to ships anchored at sea. Declaring Chittagong to be independent, the revolutionaries retreated to the nearby Jalalabad range. There, on the 22nd April, fifty or sixty revolutionaries were attacked by a few hundred English and Gurkha troops. About one hundred troops and twelve revolutionaries lost their lives. Then the revolutionaries came down from the hill under cover of darkness, and went underground. A year later, some revolutionaries under the leadership of the heroic maiden, Pritilata Wadedar
attacked the Chittagong European Club at Pahartali. Pritilata embraced martyrdom. All over India in respect and astonishment rose the feeling: fortunate indeed is Chittagong. In the jail of Hijli (where the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur is now housed) English jailors fired on defenseless revolutionary prisoners. In reply revolutionary in Medinipur shot down in open daylight, one by one, three successive English magistrates. In the Bengal Government's life centre Writer's Buildings; the revolutionaries by carrying out a daring raid through the corridors could spread terror within the fortress of imperialism.
As the movement grew, the English Government's oppression also over-stepped its own bounds. Official estimates themselves have it that within a year 60,000 volunteers were sentenced to imprisonment. Pattabhi Sitaramayya in his book "History of the National Congress" has written that in 1930-31, only within 10 months, 10,000 men, women and children were imprisoned. But the movement could not be stopped only by order of imprisonment. So indiscriminate lathicharges, brutal physical torture and firing on unarmed groups followed. The press was censored from printing this news.
But the movement, instead of being crushed began to take on the character of a popular uprising. In England, ‘The Spectator' wrote that if there had been no troops in Bombay, the Government would have fallen within a day. The British merchants were greatly hurt by the movement to boycott British commodities. In their distress, they joined Indian merchants to demand that there should be a compromise with the Indian national leaders on the basis of Dominion Status.
To curb this popular revolt, a compromise with Gandhi and the Congress leaders was sought. The national leadership was worried by the tides of popular uprising. Gandhi criticized the Sholapur revolt and the "indiscipline" of the Garhwali troops in Peshawar. On the 5th May, 1931, the Viceroy Irwin and Gandhi together signed a truce. Within a fortnight, the foremost revolutionary Bhagat Singh was hanged alongwith his two comrades Shivram Hari Rajguru and Sukhdev. In protest there was heard all over India a new slogan "Inquilab Zindabad" (Long live revolution). The tumuliuous youthful society raised the Hindi slogan "What did the youth get? The hanging of Bhagat Singh". Yet the Karachi Congress accepted the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Gandhi arrived in England for the Round Table conference, but had to return empty handed. The movement went on for quite some time more. Then in 1934 the Congress working committee unconditionally withdrew The Civil Disobedience Movement and two months later by a declaration the Government proscribed the Communist Party of India. According to the Government of India Act of 1935, provincial elections were announced for 1937. Before that in 1936 in the Lucknow Congress special Session, Jawaharlal Nehru in his presidential address announced that freedom was India's first objective, after which socialism would be necessary for eradicating poverty in the country. The National Congress would also have to join the worldwide movement against Fascism and Imperialism.
The Leftists in the country announced their support for Jawaharlal. They included the recently organized Congress Socialist Party, the followers of M.N. Roy and the Communists. The All India Kisan Sabhaand the All-India Students Federation were built up. The Indian national movement made its support known for the imperiled democracy of Spain, and for China, devastated though unvanquished by Japanese attacks. Rabindranath himself was the Chairman of the Committee for the support of Spanish democracy. Jawaharlal Nehru journeyed to the battle fields of Spain to express his solidarity. The Marathi Communist,Bal Mukund Huddad fought rifle in hand in the International Brigade. A five member medical mission was sent to succour China: one of its members Dr. Dwarakanath Kotnis accepted martyrdom on Chinese soil.
Congress candidates were elected amidst great enthusiasm in most Provinces in the 1937 election. Hopes were aroused that all detenues would be released. Revolutionary prisoners in the Andaman Islands went on hunger strike on the demand for freedom. There was a largeprocession of students in Calcutta on the basis of the demand for freeing the prisoners. Rabindranath himself blessed their effort. Only ten percent of the detenues were not released. But the Chittagong rebels, Bhagat Singh's comrades and some others remained in prison.
Subhas Chandra Bose was elected Congress President at Haripura in 1938. At the Tripuri Congress, defeating the Rightist candidate Pattabhi Sitaramayya, and with the support of the combined left, Subhas Chandra was once again elected President. The Right Congress elements forced Subhas out of this position. Subhas Chandra organized a new left grouping, the Forward Bloc. With Sub has support, the Congress socialists, Royists and Communists built up the Left Consolidation Committee. At this time came the second World War. The British Government began large scale arrests of communists and Leftists. The Congress leadership too was not left alone. On 22 June, 1941, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. On the 7th December, Japan declared war on England and the United States of America. Practically the whole of the Europe was then under the heel of Hitlerite Germany. Japan brought South-East Asia under its grip.
At this time came the Second World War. The British Government began large-scale arrests of Communists and Leftists. The Congress leadership too was not left alone. on 22 June, 1941, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. On the 7th December, Japan declared war on England and the United States of America. Practically the whole of Europe was then under the heel of Hitlerite Germany. Japan brought South-East Asia under its grip.
In this moment of crisis, the authorities released the Congress leadership from prison. Sir Stafford Cripps was sent by the British Cabinet to carryon discussions in this country. But the Cripps Mission was unsuccessful. Gandhiji rejected the Cripps proposals as "a post-dated cheque on a Crashing bank". On 8th August, 1942 in the All-India Congress Committee meeting, Gandhiji announced his fateful new strategy:
"Karenge ya Marenge (we will do or die) British, quit India"
Popular uprisings once again rocked various parts of India for a few months. Work closures and general strikes, uprooting of rail tracks, blowing up many bridges, took place. British authority broke down temporarily in Satara, Ballia, Azamgarh, Darbhanga, Parts of Contai and Tamluk: and popular initiative dreamt of building independent government. Deep roots grew in the popular consciousness that British government could be ended: this created the ground for popular uprising in post-war India.
Hundreds of women children were martyred in the unforgettable "Quit India" popular uprising Matangini Hazra, Kanaklata Barua (of Assam), Hemu Kalani (of Sind)" Lakshman Nayak (of Orissa), Srishkumar (of Gujarat), Said Akbar (of the NWFP) and others have become immortal.
Under the leadership of Communist-led peasant discontent in Malabar, four peasants of Kayyur village were arrested. They were hanged by British imperialism in 1943. They went to the gallows with the call "Long live the Revolution" on their lips.
In the meanwhile in 1940, the Muslim league passed its Pakistan Resolution. Widespread propaganda was carried out during the War and after it for Pakistan.
In 1941, Subhas Chandra was detained under house arrest. He dramatically fled from there to Kabul and then went by a circuitous route to Germany. From there, he was taken to Japan. In October 1943, he formally established the Azad Hind Sarkar (the national India Government) and organized the Azad Hind Fauj - a militant representation of Hindu-Muslim unity. The fearless armed struggle of the Indian National Army under the direction of Netaji Subhas opened new dimensions in the Indian national movement. Though ultimately defeated in battle, they were able to raise The Indian national flag before Kohima in Nagaland: this did inspire their countrymen.
The war came to an end. Anti-imperialist mass uprisings broke out all over South-East Asia. Unprecedented popular unrest too was felt in India. In Calcutta, on 21 November, 1945, and again on Rashid Ali Day in February, 1946, students, workers and citizens, Hindus and Muslims jointly called for freeing undertriaI I.N.A. officers by a general strike, barricades were raised in the city's streets, and in the industrial suburbs. Many young people were martyred 'Rameswar, Salam and many others.
A wave of unrest lapped across the armed forces. The Royal Indian Navy ratings mutinied in Bombay and Karachi. They came into armed conflict with the British authorities. The organized working class went on strike in solidarity with the naval mutineers. Three hundred workers and naval mutineers were killed, eminent among them the Communist woman leader, Kamal Dhonde.
Widespread popular movements took place in the rural areas and in the Princely States. A crore of Hindu, Muslim, Harijans, Adivasis and poor peasants raised the struggle for Tebhaga in the Bengal villages. In Travancore, in protests against the government of the reactionary Diwan, the heroes of Punnapra-VayaJar lost their lives in popular revolt.Shaikh Abdulla led the popular movement against the princely authorities in Kashmir. In Hyderabad, the unforgettable armed struggle in Telengana against Nizam's rule started at this time. Imperialism rattled at the popular uprising, began to hurriedly close its ranks with the national leaders. A Cabinet Mission arrived with proposals to give India complete independence. But in whose hands could power be transferred—to united India or to a truncated India and to Pakistan? Violent dissension broke out over this question. British imperialism stoked communally divisive forces. On the 16th August, 1946, the bloodstained fratricidal conflict which began in Calcutta, reached its fulfillment in the 2nd June Mount Batten Declaration about the partition of India.
On the 15th August 1947 came the long-awaited freedom of India. But among all the joy remained the anguish of the operation performed on the motherland, breaking it into two moieties. Yet freedom did come. The sprouts of freedom bloomed in the soil soaked by the blood of thousands of martyrs who had fallen in the century and a half long fight for it. We have presented here an exceptionally abbreviated account of that freedom struggle as it traversed the tracks of a difficult path, rising or falling at times, so that the new and future generations of India can make some sense out of the freedom, won by blood, which is gift of their heritage.
(Source - India’s Struggle for Freedom – An Album Published by the Department of Information & Cultural Affairs, Government of West Bengal 1987)
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