The Indian society in the 19th century was caste-ridden, rigid and followed certain evil practices in the name of religion. Many thinkers and reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Sir Saiyyad Ahmed Khan and Narayana Guru fought against the social evils. They were inspired by the modern ideas and education introduced by the British.
They felt that education would help India to become prosperous once again. The British rule in India brought extreme poverty among the Indians. Many died in times of drought and floods. Indian traders and businessmen wanted to start industries on modern lines, but the Europeans were interested in plantations for tea, coffee, indigo and jute. There was a great demand for these in England. The Indians realised that the British were out to destroy their economy and culture.
This led to the formation of associations, institutions, schools, etc., by Indians. The writers began to publish their ideas in the form of newspaper articles. Public meetings were held in different parts of the country to attract the attention of the British rulers to their problems. People thought that freedom from the British rule was a must for solving their problems.
The Indian National Congress
In 1885, A.O. Hume, a retired. ICS officer, founded the Indian National Congress. Its aim was to draw the attention of British rulers towards the difficulties and demands of the Indian people. The first session of the Congress was held on December 28, 1885 in Mumbai with W.C. Bonnerjee as President and A.O. Hume as General Secretary. Seventy-two delegates came from all parts of India to attend the first session. They comprised lawyers, doctors, journalists, landlords and businessmen.
Every year, the session of the Congress was held in a different city. During its first twenty years, the Congress made moderate demands, such as spread of education, reduction in military expenditure, employment of Indians in higher offices and formation of councils both at the centre as well as in the states. Congress had a galaxy of leaders like W.C. Bonnerjee, Dadabhai Naoroji, S.N. Bannerjee, G. Subramaniya Aiyer, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Badruddin Tyabji, Pherozeshah Mehta, M.G. Ranade and Madan Mohan Malaviya.
Some leaders in Congress thought that their moderate ways would not bring any result. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal were among the foremost who opposed the moderate polices. They wanted to involve the masses of India in the struggle for freedom. Tilak declared, ‘Freedom is my birthright and I shall have it’. He wrote many articles against the British Raj in his paper—the Kesari. As a result, he was arrested many times.
Dive and Rule
The mild policies of the Congress led to the rise of militant elements. People began to demand more rights. The Congress became strong and its movement spread even to the common people. The British did not want the Congress to succeed in its aim of uniting the people of India. They made several laws to suppress the freedom movement. Finally, they adopted the policy of divide and rule. They tried to create a riff between the Hindus and the Muslims. They planned to divide Bengal in two parts, for better administration.
The main political aim of the partition decision was to divide the Bengali population and to weaken, the nationalist movement of which Bengal was the most important centre. The British move was also to disrupt Hindu-Muslim unity by convincing upper class Muslims that the newly created province with its Muslim majority was in their interest. However, it only served to arouse and bring in all sections of the people in Bengal into an unprecedented mass movement which soon spread to many other parts of the country. The anti-partition agitation assumed a militant form on 7 August 1905 when thousands of people at a meeting in Kolkata resolved to boycott British goods until the partition proposal was withdrawn. The partition came into force on 16 October 1905. This day was observed as a day of national mourning throughout Bengal. It was during this movement that Swadeshi or use of Indian goods and boycott of British goods became an integral part of the freedom struggle.
The Swadeshi Movement
The Indians rose in open revolt against the partition of Bengal. At a huge public meeting in August 1905, it was decided that British goods would be boycotted. It was named the Swadeshi Movement. Women and students took a leading part in it. The British cloth was burnt in heaps, The Swadeshi movement soon spread to all other parts of the country like Bombay, Poona and Madras. The British rulers could not suppress this movement and finally abolished the scheme to partition Bengal in 1911. The movement actually helped in the establishment of textile mills, banks, hosiery, tobacco, soap factories, etc.
The movement against the partition of Bengal led to a split in the Congress in 1907. The extremists left the party. The extremists started a mass movement to achieve total independence. This crippled the British administration. The young men were ready to make sacrifices for achieving independence. They were called revolutionaries. Revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, Vir Savarkar, Ashfaqullah, Jatin Das, Sukhdev, B.K. Dutt and many others joined the struggle and laid down their lives for the motherland. A fifteen-year old boy, Khudi Ram Bose, was hanged by the British Government.
Some Indians went to other countries of the world to wage a struggle for achieving independence, Madam Cama went to Switzerland, Narendra Nath to Germany and Raja Mahendra Pratap and Maulana Barkatullah to Afghanistan. The Punjabis in America formed the Ghadar Party to help the revolutionary activities in India.
Finally, the British agreed to introduce some reforms, but continued to follow the policy of divide and rule. At this stage, World War I broke out in 1914. Many Indians helped the British government to fight the war. They expected that after the War, the British would give more freedom, but this did not happen, Instead, the British made strict laws to strengthen their hold on India.