In August 1942, Gandhiji launched the Quit India Movement (“Bharat Chhodo Andolan”). A resolution was passed on 8 August 1942 in Bombay by the All India Congress Committee, declaring its demand for an immediate end of British rule. The Congress decided to organize a mass struggle on non-violent lines on the widest possible scale. Gandhiji’s slogan of ‘Do or Die’ (‘Karo ya Maro’) inspired the nation. Every man, women and child began dreaming of a free India.
The government’s response to the movement was quick. The Congress was banned and most of its leaders were arrested before they could start mobilizing the people. The people, however, were unstoppable. There were hartals and demonstrations all over the country. The people attacked all symbols of the British government such as railway stations, law courts and police stations. Railway lines were damaged and telegraph lines were cut. In some places, people even set up their independent government. The movement was most widespread in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Bombay, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Places such as Ballia, Tamluk, Satara, Dharwar, Balasore and Talcher were freed from British rule and the people there formed their own governments.
The British responded with terrible brutality. The army was called out to assist the police. There were lathi-charges and firing at the unarmed demonstrators. Even old men and children were shot dead while taking part in processions. Protestors were arrested and tortured and their homes raided and destroyed. By December 1942, over sixty thousand people had been jailed.
The few leaders who had escaped arrest went into hiding and tried to guide the mass movement. Among them were Jai Prakash Narayan, S M Joshi, Aruna Asaf Ali, Ram Manohar Lohis, Achyut Patwardhan and Smt Sucheta Kripalani.
The Indians suffered greatly throughout the Second World War. There was a terrible famine in Bengal in AD 1943 in which over thirty lakh people died. The government did little to save the starving people.