Indian Independence Movement Most Important Topic For Exams
The Indian independence movement was a series of activities whose ultimate aim was to end the occupation of the British Empire in India and encompassed activities and ideas aiming to end the East India Company rule (1757–1857) and the British Indian Empire (1857–1947) in the Indian subcontinent. The movement spanned a total of 90 years (1857–1947) considering movement against British Indian Empire. The Indian Independence movement includes both protest(peaceful and non-violent) and militant(violent) mechanisms to root out British Administration from India.
The first organised militant movements were in Bengal, but they later took root in the newly formed Indian National Congress with prominent moderate leaders seeking only their basic right to appear for Indian Civil Service (British India) examinations, as well as more rights, economic in nature, for the people of the soil. The early part of the 20th century saw a more radical approach towards political self-rule proposed by leaders such as the Lal, Bal, Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai. The last stages of the self-rule struggle from the 1920s onwards saw Congress adopt Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s policy of nonviolence and civil disobedience, and several other campaigns. Nationalists like Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, Bagha Jatin preached armed revolution to achieve self-rule. Poets and writers such as Subramania Bharati, Rabindranath Tagore, Muhammad Iqbal, Josh Malihabadi, Mohammad Ali Jouhar, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Kazi Nazrul Islam used literature, poetry and speech as a tool for political awareness. Feminists such as Sarojini Naidu and Begum Rokeya promoted the emancipation of Indian women and their participation in national politics. B. R. Ambedkar championed the cause of the disadvantaged sections of Indian society within the larger self-rule movement. The period of the Second World War saw the peak of the campaigns by the Quit India Movement led by Congress, and the Indian National Army movement led by Subhas Chandra Bose.
The Indian self-rule movement was a mass-based movement that encompassed various sections of society. It also underwent a process of constant ideological evolution. Although the basic ideology of the movement was anti-colonial, it was supported by a vision of independent capitalist economic development coupled with a secular, democratic, republican, and civil-libertarian political structure. After the 1930s, the movement took on a strong socialist orientation, owing to the influence of Bhagat Singh’s demand of Purna Swaraj (Complete Self-Rule). The work of these various movements led ultimately to the Indian Independence Act 1947, which ended the suzerainty in India and the creation of Pakistan. India remained a Dominion of the Crown until 26 January 1950, when the Constitution of India came into force, establishing the Republic of India; Pakistan was a dominion until 1956, when it adopted its first republican constitution. In 1971, East Pakistan declared independence as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
Early British colonialism in India
European traders first reached Indian shores with the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498 at the port of Calicut, in search of the lucrative spice trade. Just over a century later, the Dutch and English established trading outposts on the subcontinent, with the first English trading post set up at Surat in 1613. Over the course of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the British defeated the Portuguese and Dutch militarily, but remained in conflict with the French, who had by then sought to establish themselves in the subcontinent. The decline of the Mughal Empire in the first half of the eighteenth century provided the British with the opportunity to establish a firm foothold in Indian politics. After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, during which the East India Company’s Indian Army under Robert Clive defeated Siraj ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, the Company established itself as a major player in Indian affairs, and soon afterwards gained administrative rights over the regions of Bengal, Bihar and Midnapur part of Orissa, following the Battle of Buxar in 1764. After the defeat of Tipu Sultan, most of South India came either under the Company’s direct rule, or under its indirect political control as part a princely state in a subsidiary alliance. The Company subsequently gained control of regions ruled by the Maratha Empire, after defeating them in a series of wars. The Punjab was annexed in 1849, after the defeat of the Sikh armies in the First (1845–1846) and Second (1848–49) Anglo-Sikh Wars.
English was made the medium of instruction in India’s schools in 1835, and many Indians increasingly disliked British rule. The English tried to impose the Western standards of education and culture on Indian masses, believing in the 18th century superiority of Western culture and enlightenment.
Puli Thevar was one of the opponents of the British rule in India. He was in conflict with the Nawab of Arcot who was supported by the British. His prominent exploits were his confrontations with Marudhanayagam, who later rebelled against the British in the late 1750s and early 1760s. Nelkatumseval the present Tirunelveli Dist of Tamil Nadu state of India was the headquarters of Puli Thevan
Syed Mir Nisar Ali Titumir; 27 January 1782 – 19 November 1831) was an Islamic preacher who led a peasant uprising against the Hindu zamindars, British India during the 19th century. Along with his followers, he built a bamboo fort (Bansher Kella in Bengali) in Narkelberia Village, which passed into Bengali folk legend. After the storming of the fort by British soldiers, Titumir died of his wounds on 19 November 1831.
The toughest resistance the Company experienced was offered by Mysore. The Anglo–Mysore Wars were a series of wars fought in over the last three decades of the 18th century between the Kingdom of Mysore on the one hand, and the British East India Company (represented chiefly by the Madras Presidency), and Maratha Confederacyand the Nizam of Hyderabad on the other. Hyder Ali and his successor Tipu Sultan fought a war on four fronts with the British attacking from the west, south and east, while the Marathas and the Nizam’s forces attacked from the north. The fourth war resulted in the overthrow of the house of Hyder Ali and Tipu (who was killed in the final war, in 1799), and the dismantlement of Mysore to the benefit of the East India Company, which won and took control of much of India.
Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja was one of the earliest freedom fighters in India. He was the prince regent of the princely state of Kottiyur or Cotiote in North Malabar, near Kannur, India between 1774 and 1805. He fought a guerrilla war with tribal people from Wynad supporting him. He was caught by the British and his fort was razed to the ground.
Rani Velu Nachiyar (1730–1796), was a queen of Indian Sivaganga from 1760 to 1790. She was the first queen to fight against the British in India. Rani Nachiyar was trained in war match weapons usage, martial arts like Valari, Silambam (fighting using stick), horse riding and archery. She was a scholar in many languages and she had proficiency with languages like French, English and Urdu. When her husband, Muthuvaduganathaperiya Udaiyathevar, was killed by British soldiers and the son of the Nawab of Arcot, she was drawn into battle. She formed an army and sought an alliance with Gopala Nayaker and Hyder Ali with the aim of attacking the British, whom she did successfully fight in 1780. When Rani Velu Nachiyar found the place where the British stored their ammunition, she arranged a suicide attack: a faithful follower, Kuyili, doused herself in oil, set herself alight and walked into the storehouse. Rani Velu Nachiyar formed a woman’s army named “udaiyaal” in honour of her adopted daughter, Udaiyaal, who died detonating a British arsenal. Rani Nachiyar was one of the few rulers who regained her kingdom, and ruled it for ten more years.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman was an eighteenth-century Polygar and chieftain from Panchalankurichi in Tamil Nadu, India who waged a war against the East India Company. He was captured by the British and hanged in 1799 CE. Kattabomman refused to accept the sovereignty of East India Company, and fought against them. Dheeran Chinnamalai was a Kongu chieftain and Palayakkarar from Tamil Nadu who fought against the East India Company. After Kattabomman and Tipu Sultan’s deaths, Chinnamalai sought the help of Marathas and Maruthu Pandiyar to attack the British at Coimbatore in 1800. British forces managed to stop the armies of the allies and hence Chinnamalai was forced to attack Coimbatore on his own. His army was defeated and he escaped from the British forces. Chinnamalai engaged in guerrilla warfare and defeated the British in battles at Cauvery in 1801, Odanilai in 1802 and Arachalur in 1804.
In September 1804, the King of Khordha, Kalinga was deprived of the traditional rights of Jagannath Temple which was a serious shock to the King and the people of Odisha. Consequently, in October 1804 a group of armed Paiks attacked the British at Pipili. This event alarmed the British force. Jayee Rajguru, the chief of Army of Kalinga requested all the kings of the state to join hands for a common cause against the British. Rajguru was killed on 6 December 1806. After Rajguru’s death, Bakshi Jagabandhu commanded an armed rebellion against the East India Company’s rule in Odisha which is known as Paik Rebellion.
The rebellion of 1857
The Indian rebellion of 1857 was a large-scale rebellion in the northern and central India against the British East India Company’s rule. It was suppressed and the British government took control of the company. The conditions of service in the company’s army and cantonments increasingly came into conflict with the religious beliefs and prejudices of the sepoys. The predominance of members from the upper castes in the army, perceived loss of caste due to overseas travel, and rumours of secret designs of the government to convert them to Christianity led to deep discontent among the sepoys. The sepoys were also disillusioned by their low salaries and the racial discrimination practised by British officers in matters of promotion and privileges. The indifference of the British towards leading native Indian rulers such as the Mughals and ex-Peshwas and the annexation of Oudh were political factors triggering dissent amongst Indians. The Marquess of Dalhousie’s policy of annexation, the doctrine of lapse (or escheat) applied by the British, and the projected removal of the descendants of the Great Mughal from their ancestral palace at Red Fort to the Qutb Minaar (near Delhi) also angered some people.
The final spark was provided by the rumoured use of tallow (from cows) and lard (pig fat) in the newly introduced Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle cartridges. Soldiers had to bite the cartridges with their teeth before loading them into their rifles, and the reported presence of cow and pig fat was religiously offensive to both Hindu and Muslim soldiers.
Mangal Pandey, a 29-year-old sepoy, was believed to be responsible for inspiring the Indian sepoys to rise against the British. Pandey revolted against his army regiment for protection of the cow, considered sacred by Hindus. In the first week of May 1857, he killed a higher officer in his regiment at Barrackpore for the introduction of the rule. He was captured and was sentenced to death when the British took back control of the regiment. On 10 May 1857, the sepoys at Meerut broke rank and turned on their commanding officers, killing some of them. They reached Delhi on 11 May, set the company’s toll house on fire, and marched into the Red Fort, where they asked the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah II, to become their leader and reclaim his throne. The emperor was reluctant at first, but eventually agreed and was proclaimed Shehenshah-e-Hindustan by the rebels. The rebels also murdered much of the European, Eurasian, and Christian population of the city.
Revolts broke out in other parts of Oudh and the North-Western Provinces as well, where civil rebellion followed the mutinies, leading to popular uprisings. The British were initially caught off-guard and were thus slow to react, but eventually responded with force. The lack of effective organisation among the rebels, coupled with the military superiority of the British, brought a rapid end to the rebellion. The British fought the main army of the rebels near Delhi, and after prolonged fighting and a siege, defeated them and retook the city on 20 September 1857. Subsequently, revolts in other centres were also crushed. The last significant battle was fought in Gwalior on 17 June 1858, during which Rani Lakshmibai was killed. Sporadic fighting and guerrilla warfare, led by Tatya Tope, continued until spring 1859, but most of the rebels were eventually subdued.
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 was a major turning point in the history of modern India. While affirming the military and political power of the British, it led to significant change in how India was to be controlled by them. Under the Government of India Act 1858, the Company was deprived of its involvement in ruling India, with its territory being transferred to the direct authority of the British government. At the apex of the new system was a Cabinet minister, the Secretary of State for India, who was to be formally advised by a statutory council; the Governor-General of India (Viceroy) was made responsible to him, while he in turn was responsible to the government. In a royal proclamation made to the people of India, Queen Victoria promised equal opportunity of public service under British law, and also pledged to respect the rights of the native princes. The British stopped the policy of seizing land from the princes, decreed religious tolerance and began to admit Indians into the civil service (albeit mainly as subordinates). However, they also increased the number of British soldiers in relation to native Indian ones, and only allowed British soldiers to handle artillery. Bahadur Shah was exiled to Rangoon, Burma, where he died in 1862.
In 1876, in a controversial move Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli acceded to the Queen’s request and passed legislation to give Queen Victoria the additional title of Empress of India. Liberals in Britain objected that the title was foreign to British traditions.
Rise of organized movements
The decades following the Rebellion were a period of growing political awareness, manifestation of Indian public opinion and emergence of Indian leadership at both national and provincial levels. Dadabhai Naoroji formed the East India Association in 1867 and Surendranath Banerjee founded the Indian National Association in 1876. Inspired by a suggestion made by A.O. Hume, a retired British civil servant, seventy-two Indian delegates met in Bombay in 1885 and founded the Indian National Congress. They were mostly members of the upwardly mobile and successful western-educated provincial elites, engaged in professions such as law, teaching and journalism. At its inception, the Congress had no well-defined ideology and commanded few of the resources essential to a political organisation. Instead, it functioned more as a debating society that met annually to express its loyalty to the British Raj and passed numerous resolutions on less controversial issues such as civil rights or opportunities in government (especially in the civil service). These resolutions were submitted to the Viceroy’s government and occasionally to the British Parliament, but the Congress’s early gains were slight. “Despite its claim to represent all India, the Congress voiced the interests of urban elites; the number of participants from other social and economic backgrounds remained negligible.” However, this period of history is still crucial because it represented the first political mobilisation of Indians, coming from all parts of the subcontinent and the first articulation of the idea of India as one nation, rather than a collection of independent princely states.
The influence of socio-religious groups such as Arya Samaj (started by Swami Dayanand Saraswati) and Brahmo Samaj (founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others) became evident in pioneering reforms of Indian society. The work of men like Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai, Subramanya Bharathy, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Rabindranath Tagore and Dadabhai Naoroji, as well as women such as the Scots–Irish Sister Nivedita, spread the passion for rejuvenation and freedom. The rediscovery of India’s indigenous history by several European and Indian scholars also fed into the rise of nationalism among Indians.
Rise of Indian nationalism (1885–1905)
By 1900, although the Congress had emerged as an all-India political organisation, it did not have the support of most Indian Muslims. Attacks by Hindu reformers against religious conversion, cow slaughter, and the preservation of Urdu in Arabic script deepened their concerns of minority status and denial of rights if the Congress alone were to represent the people of India. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan launched a movement for Muslim regeneration that culminated in the founding in 1875 of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh (renamed Aligarh Muslim University in 1920). Its objective was to educate wealthy students by emphasising the compatibility of Islam with modern western knowledge. The diversity among India’s Muslims, however, made it impossible to bring about uniform cultural and intellectual regeneration.
The nationalistic sentiments among Congress members led to the movement to be represented in the bodies of government, to have a say in the legislation and administration of India. Congressmen saw themselves as loyalists, but wanted an active role in governing their own country, albeit as part of the Empire. This trend was personified by Dadabhai Naoroji, who went as far as contesting, successfully, an election to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, becoming its first Indian member.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the first Indian nationalist to embrace Swaraj as the destiny of the nation. Tilak deeply opposed the then British education system that ignored and defamed India’s culture, history and values. He resented the denial of freedom of expression for nationalists, and the lack of any voice or role for ordinary Indians in the affairs of their nation. For these reasons, he considered Swaraj as the natural and only solution. His popular sentence “Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it” became the source of inspiration for Indians.
In 1907, the Congress was split into two factions: The radicals, led by Tilak, advocated civil agitation and direct revolution to overthrow the British Empire and the abandonment of all things British. The moderates, led by leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji and Gopal Krishna Gokhale, on the other hand wanted reform within the framework of British rule. Tilak was backed by rising public leaders like Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai, who held the same point of view. Under them, India’s three great states – Maharashtra, Bengal and Punjab shaped the demand of the people and India’s nationalism. Gokhale criticised Tilak for encouraging acts of violence and disorder. But the Congress of 1906 did not have public membership, and thus Tilak and his supporters were forced to leave the party.
But with Tilak’s arrest, all hopes for an Indian offensive were stalled. The Congress lost credibility with the people. A Muslim deputation met with the Viceroy, Minto (1905–10), seeking concessions from the impending constitutional reforms, including special considerations in government service and electorates. The British recognised some of the Muslim League’s petitions by increasing the number of elective offices reserved for Muslims in the Indian Councils Act 1909. The Muslim League insisted on its separateness from the Hindu-dominated Congress, as the voice of a “nation within a nation”.
The Ghadar Party was formed overseas in 1913 to fight for the Independence of India with members coming from the United States and Canada, as well as Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Members of the party aimed for Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim unity against the British.
The temperance movement in India became aligned with Indian nationalism under the direction of Mahatma Gandhi, who saw alcohol as a foreign importation to the culture of the subcontinent.
Partition of Bengal, 1905
In July 1901, Lord Curzon, the Viceroy and Governor-General (1899–1905), ordered the partition of the province of Bengal supposedly for improvements in administrative efficiency in the huge and populous region. However, the Indians viewed the partition as an attempt by the British to disrupt the growing national movement in Bengal and divide the Hindus and Muslims of the region. The Bengali Hindu intelligentsia exerted considerable influence on local and national politics. The partition outraged Bengalis. Not only had the government failed to consult Indian public opinion, but the action appeared to reflect the British resolve to divide and rule. Widespread agitation ensued in the streets and in the press, and the Congress advocated boycotting British products under the banner of swadeshi, or indigenous industries. A growing movement emerged, focussing on indigenous Indian industries, finance, and education, which saw the founding of National Council of Education, the birth of Indian financial institutions and banks, as well as an interest in Indian culture and achievements in science and literature. Hindus showed unity by tying Rakhi on each other’s wrists and observing Arandhan (not cooking any food). During this time, Bengali Hindu nationalists like Sri Aurobindo, Bhupendranath Datta, and Bipin Chandra Pal began writing virulent newspaper articles challenging legitimacy of British rule in India in publications such as Jugantar and Sandhya, and were charged with sedition. Brahmabhandav Upadhyay, a Hindu newspaper editor who helped Tagore establish his school at Shantiniketan, was imprisoned and the first to die in British custody in the twentieth-century struggle for self-rule. The movement also witnessed violent revolutionary movement for Indian independence, notable revolutionary being Khudiram Bose, who planted bombs near British government officials and police stations. Due to his activities against the British, he was arrested and hanged. At the time of his hanging, he was 18 years, 8 months 8 days old, making him one of the youngest revolutionaries in India.
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