Anti-Colonial Movements and the Birth of Nationalism Notes 10th Social Science

Anti-Colonial Movements and the Birth of Nationalism Notes 10th Social Science

10th Social Science Lesson 13 Notes in English

13. Anti-Colonial Movements and the Birth of Nationalism


  • On 23 June 1757 the Nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-daulah was defeated by the East India Company at the Battle of Plassey. The battle was orchestrated by Robert Clive, commanderin-chief of the East India Company, who managed to get the clandestine support from Mir Jafar, the uncle of Siraj-ud-daulah and the chief of the Nawab’s army.
  • Clive was helped by the Jagat Seths (moneylenders from Bengal) who were aggrieved by Siraj-ud-daulah’s policy.
  • The Battle of Plassey was followed by the plunder of Bengal. Between 1757 and 1760, the company received ₹ 22.5 million from Mir Jafar, who became the new Nawab of Bengal.
  • The same money was later invested to propel the industrial revolution in Britain, which rapidly mechanised the British textile industry.
  • On the other hand, India was led to the path of de-industrialisation and forced to create a market for the products manufactured in Britain. The plunder of India by the East India Company continued for another 190 years.
  • After Plassey, the British adopted a policy of territorial expansion. Soon the remaining parts of the Indian subcontinent came under their control.
  • British brought systemic changes in land revenue administration, army, police, judicial system and other institutions of governance. The early Indian response to colonial exploitation and the colonial political and economic domination consisted of two elements.
  • The response in the late 18th and early 19th century was restorative in nature. Tribal uprisings and peasant rebellions made an attempt to restore the old order.
  • The second response appeared in the second half of the 19th century in the form of Indian nationalism that imagined India as a nation emphasising on a consciousness of unity and national aspiration.
  • In this lesson the story of resistance and a varied range of response against the British rule in the Indian subcontinent from the early and mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century are outlined.
  • In the process the nature of British rule, its policies and administrative apparatus, which adversely affected almost all the sections of the society are analysed.

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Peasant and Tribal Resistance

  • While the urban elite of India was busy responding to the western ideas and rationality by engaging in various socio-religious reform movements, a far more aggressive response to the British rule emerged in rural India. The traditional elite and peasantry along with the tribals revolted.
  • They were not necessarily seeking the removal of British but rather the restoration of the pre-colonial order. The concept of private property rights in land, rigorous collection of land revenue, encroachment of tribal land by the nontribal people, the interference of Christian missionaries in the socio-religious life of the local people were a few of the many issues which added to the sense of resentment against the British.
  • The tribal people, in particular, started looking at them as invaders and encroachers. The fundamental aspect of various tribal and peasant revolts was that all of them tried to eliminate the most immediate and visible cause of their misery.
  • There were nearly a hundred peasant uprisings during British rule. They can be classified into the following categories:

a. Restorative rebellions – Agitation of this type relates to attempts to restore old order and old social relations.

b. Religious Movements – Such agitations were led by religious leaders who fought for the liberation of the local populace by restructuring society on certain religious principles.

c. Social Banditry – The leaders of such movements were considered criminal by the British and the traditional elite but were looked upon by their people as heroes or champions of their cause

d. Mass Insurrection – Usually leaderless and spontaneous uprising.

Changes in the Revenue System

  • The East India Company restructured the Mughal revenue system across India in such a manner that it increased the financial burden on the peasants.
  • There was no widespread system of private ownership of the land in preBritish India.
  • Similarly, zamindars and others who were to collect revenue and remit it to the govt were never given the possession right on land. So the changes introduced by the British in land tenures, significantly altered the agrarian relations.

Subletting of Land

  • The practice of letting out and subletting of land complicated the agrarian relations.
  • The zamindar often sublet land to many subordinate lords who in return collected a fixed amount of revenue from the peasant. This increased the tax burden on the peasants.

Peasant Uprising

Peasant revolts began to erupt in the early 19th century and continued till the very end of British rule in India. Many of these revolts were led by religious leaders, who treated the British rule as an invasion into the socio religious life of the people of India.

Farazi Movement

  • Farazi movement launched by Haji Shariatullah in 1818, in the parts of eastern Bengal, advocated the participants to abstain from unIslamic activities.
  • This brought him into direct conflict with the Zamindars and subsequently with British, who favoured the Zamindars to suppress the peasant uprising.
  • After the death of Shariatullah in 1839, the rebellion was led by his son Dudu Mian who called upon the peasants not to pay tax.
  • It gained popularity on a simple doctrine that land and all wealth should be equally enjoyed by the common folk.
  • Dudu Mian laid emphasis on the egalitarian nature of religion and declared that “Land belongs to God”, and collecting rent or levying taxes on it was therefore against divine law.
  • Large numbers of peasants were mobilised through a network of village organisations. There were violent clashes throughout 1840s and 1850s with the zamindars and planters.
  • After the death of Dudu Mian in 1862, the was revived in the 1870s by Noah Mian.

Wahhabi Rebellion in Barasat

  • The Wahhabi rebellion was an antiimperial and antilandlord movement. It originated in and around 1827, in the Barasat region of Bengal. It was led by an Islamic preacher Titu Mir who was deeply influenced by the Wahhabi teachings.
  • He became an influential figure among the predominately Muslim peasantry oppressed under the coercive zamindari system. However, the fact that the majority of zamindars were Hindus, gave this movement an anti-Hindu complexion.
  • On 6 November 1831 the first major attack was launched in the town of Purnea. Titu Mir immediately declared freedom from British rule.
  • Soon there was retaliation from the British and a large number of troops were sent to Narkelberia.
  • Titu Mir along with his 50 soldiers were killed in the struggle. In the end, the peasant rebellion clearly showed an awareness of the power structure in rural society and a strong will to restructure authority.
  • The rebels were quite familiar with the political source of oppression, demonstrated in their actions against the Zamindar houses, their grain stocks, the moneylenders, and the merchants.
  • At times the British state machinery, which came forward to protect these local agents of oppression, was also attacked. These characteristics were reflected in the peasant movements of the 20th century too.

Tribal Uprising

  • Under colonial rule, for the first time in Indian history, government claimed a direct proprietary right over forests.
  • The British rule and its encouragement of commercialisation of forest led to the disintegration of the traditional tribal system.
  • It encouraged the incursion of tribal areas by the non-tribal people such as moneylenders, traders, land-grabbers, and contractors.
  • This led to the widespread loss of adivasi land and their displacement from their traditional habitats.
  • Tribal resistance was therefore, a response against those who either introduced changes in the peaceful tribal life or took undue advantage of the innocence of the tribal people.

Kol Revolt

  • One major tribal revolt, the Kol uprising of 1831-32, took place in Chota Nagpur and Singbhum region of Jharkhand and Orisa, under the leadership of Bindrai and Singhrai.
  • The Raja of Chhota Nagpur had leased out to moneylenders the job of revenue collection. The usury and forcible eviction of tribals from their land led to the resentment of Kols.
  • The initial protest and resistance kols was in the form of plunder, arson and attacks on the properties of outsiders.
  • This was followed by the killing of moneylenders and merchants. The tribal leaders adopted varied methods to spread their message such as the beating of drums and the circulation of arrows accompanied by a warning to all outsiders to leave.
  • Kols organised an insurrection in 1831-32, which was directed against government officers and moneylenders.
  • The Kol rebels took control of the king’s palace. They even succeeded in forming an independent government there.
  • The British suppressed the rebellion with great violence.

Santhal Hool (Insurrection)

  • Santhals, scattered in various parts of eastern India, when forced to move out of their homeland during the process of creation of zamins under Permanent Settlement, cleared the forest area around the Rajmahal Hills.
  • They were oppressed by the local police and the European officers engaged in the railway construction.
  • Pushed out of their familiar habitat, the Santhals were forced to rely on the moneylenders for their subsistence.
  • Soon they were trapped in a vicious circle of debt and extortion. Besides this, Santhals also felt neglected under the corrupt British administration and their inability to render justice to their legitimate grievances.


  • Around 1854 activities of social banditry led by a person named Bir Singh was reported from different places.
  • These were directed against mahajans and traders. Following this Bir Singh was summoned to the zamindari court, where he was beaten up and humiliated. Bir Singh along with his friends retaliated by committing further dacoities on the mahajans and merchants.
  • The repressive measures only angered the Santhals. In 1855, two Santhal brothers Sidhu and Kanu proclaimed that they had received a divine message from the God, asking them to lead the rebellion.
  • On June 30, 1855 they announced that God has ordered them “to slaughter all the mahajans and daroga, to banish the traders and zamindars and all rich Bengalis from their country…. And to fight all who resisted them, for the bullets of their enemies would be turned into water”.
  • Two Darogas (chief police officers) were killed by the santhal crowd. By July 1855 the rebellion has taken the form of open insurrection against the mahajans, the zamindars and the British officials.
  • They marched with bows, poisoned arrows, axes and swords taking over the Rajmahal and Bhagalpur by proclaiming that the Company rule was about to end. In response villages were raided and properties destroyed by the British.
  • Nearly 15 to 25 thousand rebels were murdered before the insurrection was finally suppressed. These events compelled the British government to restructure their policies towards the tribal people.
  • In 1855 an act was passed to regulate the territories occupied by the Santhals. The Act formed the territory into a separate division called Santhal Pargana division.

Munda Rebellion

  • One of the prominent tribal rebellions of this period occurred in Ranchi, known as Ulugulan rebellion (Great Tumult).
  • The Munda people were familiar with the cooperative or collective farming known as Khuntkatti (joint holding) land system.
  • It was totally eroded by the introduction of private ownership of land and the intrusion of merchants and moneylenders. The Munda people were also forcefully recruited as indentured labourers to work on plantations.
  • The corrupt police, lack of access to justice and the disillusionment with Christian missionaries aggravated the miseries of Munda people. In the 1890s tribal chiefs offered resistance against the alienation of tribal people from their land and imposition of bethbegari or forced labour.
  • The movement received an impetus when Birsa Munda declared himself as the messenger of God. Birsa claimed that he had a prophecy and promised supernatural solutions to the problem of Munda people and the establishment of Birsaite Raj.
  • The Munda leaders utilised the cult of Birsa Munda to recruit more people to their cause. A series of night meetings were held and a revolt was planned. On the Christmas day of 1889, they resorted to violence.
  • Buildings were burnt down and arrows were shot at Christian missionaries and Munda Christian converts.
  • Soon police stations and government officials were attacked. Similar attacks were carried out over the next few months. Finally the resistance was crushed and Birsa Munda was arrested in February 1900 who later died in jail.
  • Birsa Munda became a folk hero who is to this day celebrated in many folk songs. The Munda rebellion prompted the British to formulate a policy on Tribal land.
  • The Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (1908) restricted the entry of non-tribal people into the tribal land.

The Great Rebellion of 1857

  • In 1857, British rule witnessed the biggest challenge to its existence. Initially, it began as a mutiny of Bengal presidency sepoys but later expanded to the other parts of India involving a large number of civilians, especially peasants.
  • The events of 1857–58 are significant for the following reasons:

1. This was the first major revolt of armed forces accompanied by civilian rebellion.

2. The revolt witnessed unprecedented violence, perpetrated by both sides.

3. The revolt ended the role of the East India Company and the governance of the Indian subcontinent was taken over by the British Crown.


Annexation Policy of British India

  • In the 1840s and 1850s, more territories were annexed through two major policies: The Doctrine of Paramountcy.
  • British claimed themselves as paramount, exercising supreme authority. New territories were annexed on the grounds that the native rulers were corrupt and inept. The Doctrine of Lapse.
  • If a native ruler failed to produce a biological male heir to the throne, the territory was to ‘lapse’ into British India upon the death of the ruler.
  • Satara, Sambalpur, parts of the Punjab, Jhansi and Nagpur were annexed by the British through the Doctrine of Lapse.

Insensitivity to Indian Cultural Sentiments

  • There was always a suspicion among the people regarding British intentions. In 1806 the sepoys at Vellore mutinied against the new dress code, which prohibited Indians from wearing religious marks on their foreheads and having whiskers on their chin, while proposing to replace their turbans with a round hat.
  • It was feared that the dress code was part of their effort to convert soldiers to Christianity. Similarly, in 1824, the sepoys at Barrackpur near Calcutta refused to go to Burma by sea, since crossing the sea meant the loss of their caste.
  • The sepoys were also upset with discrimination in salary and promotion. Indian sepoys were paid much less than their European counterparts.
  • They felt humiliated and racially abused by their seniors.

The Revolt

  • The precursor to the revolt was the circulation of rumors about the cartridges of the new Enfield rifle.
  • There was strong suspicion that the new cartridges had been greased with cow and pig fat.
  • The cartridge had to be bitten off before loading (pork is forbidden to the Muslims and the cow is sacred to a large section of Hindus). On 29 March a sepoy named Mangal Pandey assaulted his European officer.
  • His fellow soldiers refused to arrest him when ordered to do so. Mangal Pandey along with others were court-martialled and hanged.
  • This only fuelled the anger and in the following days there were increasing incidents of disobedience.
  • Burning and arson were reported from the army cantonments in Ambala, Lucknow, and Meerut.

Bahadur Shah Proclaimed as Emperor of Hindustan

  • On 11 may 1857 a band of sepoys from Meerut marched to the Red Fort in Delhi. The sepoys were followed by an equally exuberant crowd who gathered to ask the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II to become their leader.
  • After much hesitation he accepted the offer and was proclaimed as the Shahenshah-e-Hindustan (the Emperor of Hindustan). Soon the rebels captured the north-western province and Awadh.
  • As the news of the fall of Delhi reached the Ganges valley, cantonment after cantonment mutinied till, by the beginning of June, British rule in North India, except in Punjab and Bengal, had disappeared.

Civil Rebellion

  • The mutiny was equally supported by an aggrieved rural society of north India. Sepoys working in the British army were in fact peasants in uniform.
  • They were equally affected by the restructuring of the revenue administration. The sepoy revolt and the subsequent civil rebellion in various parts of India had a deep-rooted connection with rural mass.
  • The first civil rebellion broke out in parts of the North-Western provinces and Oudh. These were the two regions from which the sepoys were predominately recruited.
  • A large number of Zamindars and Taluqdars were also attracted to the rebellions as they had lost their various privileges under the British government.
  • The talukdar–peasant collective was a common effort to recover what they had lost.
  • Similarly, artisans and handicrafts persons were equally affected by the dethroning of rulers of many Indian states, who were a major source of patronage.
  • The dumping of British manufactures had ruined the Indian handicrafts and thrown thousands of weavers out of employment.
  • Collective anger against the British took the form of a people’s revolt.

Prominent Fighters against the British

  • The mutiny provided a platform to aggrieved kings, nawabs, queens, and zamindars to express the anti-British anger.
  • Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the last Peshwa Baji Rao II, provided leadership in he Kanpur region.
  • He had been denied pension by the Company. Similarly, Begum Hazrat Mahal in Lucknow and Khan Bahadur in Bareilly took the command of their respective territories, which were once ruled either by them or by their ancestors Another such significant leader was Rani Lakshmi Bai, who assumed the leadership in Jhansi.
  • In her case Dalhousie, the Governor General of Bengal had refused her request to adopt a son as her successor after her husband died and the kingdom was annexed under the Doctrine of Lapse.
  • Rani Lakshmi Bai battled the mighty British Army until she was defeated. Bahadur Shah Jafar, Kunwar Singh, Khan Bahadur, Rani Lakshmi Bai and many others were rebels against their will, compelled by the bravery of the sepoys who had defied the British authority.

Suppression of Rebellion

  • By the beginning of June 1857, the Delhi, Meerut, Rohilkhand, Agra, Allahabad and Banaras divisions of the army had been restored to British control and placed under martial law.
  • The British officers were given the power to judge and take the life of Indians without due process of law. William Howard Russell, the correspondent of the London Times, who was in India in 1858, met an officer who was a part of the column that under Colonel Neill’s orders marched from Allahabad to Kanpur.
  • The officer reported that ‘in two days, 42 men were hanged on the roadside, and a batch of 12 men was executed because their faces were turned the wrong way when they were met on the march.
  • ’ Even boys who had playfully flaunted rebel colours and beaten a tom-tom were not spared. Every Indian who appeared in sight was shot or hung on the trees that lined the road; villages were burnt….

Causes of Failure

  • There is hardly any evidence to prove that the rebellion of 1857 was organised and planned. It was spontaneous.
  • However, soon after the siege of Delhi, there was an attempt to seek the support of the neighboring states.
  • Besides a few Indian states, there was a general lack of enthusiasm among the Indian princes to participate in the rebellion. The Indian princes and zamindars either remained loyal or were fearful of British power.
  • Many a time they acted as a fifth column. Those involved in the rebellion were left with either little or no sources of arms and ammunition.
  • The emerging English-educated middle class too did not support the rebellion. One of the important reasons for the failure of the rebellion was the absence of a central authority.
  • There was no common agenda that united the individuals and the aspirations of the Indian princes and the various other feudal elements fighting against the British. In the end, the rebellion was brutally suppressed by the British army.
  • The rebel leaders were defeated due to the lack of weapons, organisation, discipline, and betrayal by their aides. Delhi was captured by the British troops in late 1857. Bahadur Shah was captured and transported to Burma.

India Becomes a Crown Colony

  • The British were shocked by the events of 1857. The British Parliament adopted the Indian Government Act, in November 1858, and India was pronounced as one of the many crown colonies to be directly governed by the Parliament.
  • The responsibility was given to a member of the cabinet, designated as the Secretary of State for India.
  • The transfer of power from the East India Company to the British Crown also meant that there was a regular parliamentary review of Indian affairs.

Changes in the Administration

  • British rule and its policies underwent a major overhaul after 1857. British followed a cautious approach to the issue of social reform.
  • Queen Victoria proclaimed to the Indian people that the British would not interfere in traditional institutions and religious matters. It was promised that Indians would be absorbed in government services.
  • Two significant changes were made to the structure of the Indian army. The number of Indians was significantly reduced. Indians were restrained from holding important ranks and position.
  • The British took control of the artillery and shifted their recruiting effort to regions and communities that remained loyal during 1857.
  • For instance, the British turned away from Rajputs, Brahmins and North Indian Muslims and looked towards non-Hindu groups like the Gorkhas, Sikhs,and Pathans.
  • British also exploited the caste, religious, linguistic and regional differences in the Indian society through what came to be known as “Divide and Rule” policy.

Peasant Revolts under Crown

Indigo Revolt 1859-60

  • Before synthetic dyes were created, natural indigo dye was highly valued by cloth makers around the world. Many Europeans sought to make their fortunes by becoming indigo planters in India.
  • They employed peasants to grow the indigo, which was processed into dye at the planters factories.
  • The dye was then exported to Europe. By the early 19th century, India supplied the vast majority of the indigo to Britain. The system was oppressive. The peasants were forced to grow the crop. The British planter gave the cultivator a cash advance to help pay for the rent of the land and other costs.
  • This advance needed to be repaid with interest. The planters forced the peasant grow indigo, rather than food crops.
  • At the end of the season, the planters paid the cultivators low prices for their indigo.
  • Moreover, the small amount the peasant earned was not enough to pay back the cash advance with interest. So they fell into debt.
  • However, the peasants again would be forced to enter into another contract to grow indigo. The peasants were never able to clear their debts. Debts were often passed from father to son.
  • The Indigo Revolt began in 1859. The rebellion began as a strike, as the peasants of a village in Bengal’s Nadia district refused to grow any more indigo. The movement quickly spread to the other indigo-growing districts of Bengal. The revolt then turned violent.
  • The peasants, both Hindu and Muslim, participated in the revolt, and women— armed with pots and pans—fought alongside the men. Indian journalists in Calcutta wrote articles about the brutality of the planters. The 1860 play Nil Darpan (“Mirror of the Indigo”) by Dina Bandhu Mitra, did much to draw attention in India and Europe to the plight of the indigo growers. The indigo industry quickly declined in Bengal.
  • By the end of the 19th century, the demand for natural indigo dye began to decline worldwide, as man-made blue dyes came into use.

Deccan Riots 1875

  • After the transfer of power to the Crown, deindustrialisation forced workers out of the land.
  • Heavy taxation ruined agriculture. Famine deaths increased. The first recorded incident of rioting against the moneylenders in the Deccan was in May 1875, in Supa a village near Poona.
  • Similar cases of riots were reported from close to 30 villages in Poona and Ahmadnagar.
  • The rioting was directed mostly at the Gujarat moneylenders. Under British rule peasants were forced to pay revenue directly to the government.
  • Also, under a new law moneylenders were allowed to attach the mortgaged land of the defaulters and auction it off.
  • This resulted in a transfer of lands from the cultivators to the non-cultivating classes. Trapped in the vicious cycle of debt and unable to pay the outstanding amount the peasant was forced to abandon cultivation.

The Foundation of Indian National Congress (1870 – 1885)

Rise of Nationalism

  • The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence of national political consciousness among a new social class of English educated Indians.
  • The Indian intelligentsia played a critical role in generating a national consciousness by exposing a large number of people to the idea of nation, nationalism and various democratic aspirations.
  • They articulated modern notions of citizenship, the idea of the state, civil society, human rights, equality before the law, liberty, the distinction between public and private, sovereignty, democracy and so on.
  • The flourishing of print media both in the vernacular and in English played a significant role in circulating such ideas.
  • Even though they were numerically small they had a national character and capacity to establish contacts on an all India scale. They were working as lawyers, journalists, government employees, teachers or doctors.
  • They took the initiative to float political outfits, such as Madras Native Association (1852) East India Association (1866), Madras Mahajana Sabha (1884), Poona Sarvajanik Sabha (1870), The Bombay Presidency Association (1885) and many others.
  • The British directed their policies to trample on the aspirations of Indians, who were exposed to English education and Western ideas and therefore had strong belief in modern values and institutions.
  • However, the national consciousness in the late 19thcentury was also rooted in a glorification and celebration of Indian past, in which various religious and cultural symbols were used to kindle the patriotic zeal among the people.

Economic Critique of Colonialism

  • One of the most significant contributions of early Indian nationalists was the formulation of an economic critique of colonialism. India was economically subjugated and transformed into a supplier of raw material to the British industries.
  • Simultaneously it became a market to dump English manufactures and for the investment of British capital.
  • So the colonial economy was a continuous transfer of resources from India to Britain without any favourable returns back to India. This is called “the drain of wealth”. Dadabhai Naoroji, Justice Ranade, and Romesh Chandra Dutt, played a significant role in making this criticism about colonial economy.
  • They clearly understood that the prosperity of the British lay in the economic and political subjugation of India.
  • They concluded that colonialism was the main obstacle to the Indian’s economic development.

Objectives and Methods

The formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 was intended to establish an all India organisation. It was the culmination of attempts by groups of educated Indians politically active in three presidencies: Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. A.O. Hume lent his services to facilitate the formation of the Congress. Womash Chandra Banarjee was the first President (1885) Indian National Congress. The first session of the Indian National Congress was held on 28 December 1885. The early objectives were to develop and consolidate sentiments of national unity; but also professed loyalty to Britain. The techniques included appeals, petitions and delegations to Britain, all done within a constitutional framework. Some of the key demands were the following:

  • creation of legislative councils at provincial and central level
  • increasing the number of elected members in the legislative council
  • separating judicial and executive functions
  • reducing military expenditure
  • reduction of Home Charges
  • extension of trial by jury
  • holding civil services exams in India as well as in England.
  • police reforms
  • reconsideration of forest laws
  • promotion of Indian industries and an end to unfair tariffs and excise duties.

These show the vast gap between the interests of the upper sections of Indian society and the large mass of common people.

Question of Poverty

According to the early Congress leaders the economic exploitation of India was the primary reason for the abysmal and the growing poverty of India. Therefore, early Indian nationalists advocated industrialisation.

Militant Nationalism

  • The methods of moderate leaders failed to yield any substantive change in the British attitude towards the moderate demands of early Indian nationalists. They were criticised by a group of leaders known as “extremists”.
  • Instead of prayers and petitions, these militants were more focused on self-help and the use of religious symbols to bridge the gap between the elite and the masses.
  • The partition of Bengal gave a fillip to those who were advocating militant direct action programmes to fight the exploitative British policies.

Partition of Bengal

  • In 1899, Lord Curzon was appointed the Viceroy of India. Instead of engaging with the nationalist intelligentsia for handling the problem of famine and plague, Curzon resorted to repressive measures to undermine the idea of local self-government, autonomy of higher educational institutions and gag the press.
  • Partition of Bengal in 1905 was the most unpopular of all. The partition led to widespread protests all across India, starting a new phase of the Indian national movement.
  • The idea of partition was devised to suppress the political activities against the British rule in Bengal by creating a Hindu-Muslim divide.

Hindu–Muslim Divide

  • It was openly stated that the objective of partition was to curtail Bengali influence and weaken the nationalist movement.
  • By placing Bengal under two administrative units Curzon reduced the Bengali – speaking people to a linguistic minority in a divided Bengal.
  • Curzon assured Muslims that in the new province of East Bengal Muslims would enjoy a unity, which they never enjoyed since the days of the Mughals.
  • Instead of dividing the Bengali people along the religious line partition united them. The growth of regional language newspapers played a role in building a sense of proud Bengali identity.

Anti- Partition Movement

  • The leaders of both the groups – extremist and moderate – were critical of partition. Initially, the objective of the anti-partition campaign was limited to changing the public opinion in England. So they protested through prayers, press campaigns, petitions, and public meetings.
  • However, despite widespread protest, partition of Bengal was announced on 19 July 1905. With the failure to annul the partition moderate leaders were forced to rethink their strategy and look for new techniques of protest.
  • The boycott of British goods was one such method. However, the agenda of Swadeshi Movement was still restricted to secure an annulment of partition and the moderates were very much against utilising the campaign to start a full-fledged passive resistance.
  • The militant nationalists, on the other hand, were in favour of extending the movement beyond Bengal and to initiate a full-scale mass struggle.
  • The day Bengal was officially partitioned – 16 Oct 1905 – was declared as a day of mourning. Thousands of people took bath in the Ganga and marched on the streets of Calcutta singing Bande Mataram

Boycott and Swadeshi Movement in Bengal (1905–1911)

Boycott and swadeshi were always interlinked to each other and part of the wider plan to make India self-sufficient. Four major trends can be discerned during the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal.

1. The Moderate Trend – Faith in British rule and their sense of justice and democratic practice. The moderate leaders were not ready to wrest power from British in one single movement and therefore Boycott and Swadeshi Movement was of limited significance to them.

2. Constructive Swadeshi – Rejected the selfdefeating modest approach of moderates and focused on self-help through swadeshi industries, national schools, arbitration courts and constructive programmes in the villages. It remained non-political in nature.

3. Militant Nationalism – A section of Indian nationalists who had little patience for the non-political constructive programmes. They ridiculed the idea of self-help and were more focused on a relentless boycott of foreign goods.

4. Revolutionary terrorism – A far more radical response to the British rule in India was to fight British with violent methods. British officials who were anti-swadeshi or repressive towards the native population were targeted. It also marked the shift from the mass-based movement to individual action.

Constructive Swadeshi

  • The constructive programmes largely stressed upon self-help. It focused on building alternative institutions of self-governance that would operate free of British control
  • It also laid emphasis on the need of selfstrengthening of the people which would help in creating a worthy citizen for the political agitation.
  • Swadeshi shops sprang all over the place selling textiles, handlooms, soaps, earthenware, match and leather goods.

Passive Resistance

  • From 1906 the Swadeshi Movement took a turn where the repeal of partition was no longer on the agenda.
  • For many leaders, the movement was to be utilized for propagating the idea of the political independence or Swaraj across India.
  • Under this new direction, the swadeshi programme included four points: boycott of foreign goods, boycott of government schools and colleges, courts, titles and government services, development of Swadeshi industries, national schools, recourse to armed struggle if British repression went beyond the limits of endurance.
  • The method of passive resistance had no practical utility in a situation where there is a ruthless and mighty administration on the side and on the other the militarily weaker people.
  • Resistance in such a situation can be provided through relentless non-cooperation and disobedience.

Militant Nationalism

Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab, Bala Gangadhar Tilak of Maharashtra and Bipin Chandra Pal of Bengal were three prominent leaders during the Swadeshi period and were referred to as Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate. Punjab, Bengal, and Maharashtra emerged as the hotbed of militant nationalism during the Swadeshi Movement. In South India Tuticorin became the most important location of Swadeshi activity with the launch of a Swadeshi Steam Navigation company by V.O. Chidambaranar.

Swaraj or Political Independence

  • One of the common goals of the extremist leaders was to achieve Swaraj or Self Rule. However, the leaders differed on the meaning of Swaraj.
  • For Tilak Swaraj was the attainment of complete autonomy and total freedom from foreign rule.
  • Unlike the moderates who were critical of the reckless revolutionaries, militant nationalists were sympathetic towards the extremists.
  • However, the political murders and individual acts of terrorism were not approved by the militant leaders.
  • The British brutally crushed the Swadeshi Movement by jailing prominent leaders for long spells of imprisonment. Revolutionaries were hanged to death. The press was crushed.

Home Rule Movement (1916–1918)

  • The Indian national movement was revived and also radicalised during the Home Rule Movement (1916-1918), led by Lokamanya Tilak and Annie Besant. World War I and Indian’s participation in it was the background for the Home Rule League.
  • When Britain declared war against Germany in 1914, the moderate and liberal leadership extended their support to the British cause.
  • It was hoped that, in return, the British government would give self-government after the war.
  • Indian troops were sent to several theatres of World War. But the British administration remained non-committal to such goals.
  • What was seen as a British betrayal to the Indian cause of self-government led to a fresh call for a mass movement to pressurise the British government.

Towards Charting a Common Path

  • The 1916 Annual Session of Congress began with two significant developments. One, moderate leaders Pherozeshah Mehta and Gokhale, two main voices of opposition against the militant faction, had died in 1915.
  • The rising popularity of Annie Besant was the other factor which compelled the moderates to put up a common front against the colonial government. In the Lucknow session of Indian National Congress (1916), it was decided to admit the militant faction into the party.
  • Tilak set up the first Home Rule League in April 1916. In September 1916, after repeated demands of her impatient followers, Annie Besant decided to start the Home Rule League without the support of Congress.
  • Both the leagues worked independently. The Home Rule Leagues were utilised to carry extensive propaganda through, press, speeches, public meetings, lectures, discussions and touring in favour of self-government.
  • They succeeded in enrolling young people in large numbers and extending the movement to the rural areas.
  • The Home Rule Movement in India borrowed much of its principles from the Irish Home Rule Movement.

Objectives of the Home Rule Movement

  • To attain self-government within the British Empire by using constitutional means.
  • To obtain the status of dominion, a political position accorded later to Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand.
  • To use non-violent constitutional methods to achieve their goals.

Lucknow Pact (1916)

  • The Home Rule Movement and the subsequent reunion of moderate and the militant nationalists opened the possibility of fresh talks with the Muslims.
  • Under the Lucknow Pact (1916), the Congress and the Muslim League agreed that there should be self-government in India as soon as possible.
  • In return, the Congress leadership accepted the concept of separate electorate for Muslims.

British Response

  • The response of the government of British India to the Home Rule Movement was not consistent.
  • Initially it stated that there should be reform to accommodate more Indians in local administrative bodies.
  • As the demand for Swaraj was raised by Tilak and Annie Besant that gained popularity, the British used the same old ploy to isolate the leaders by repressing their activities.
  • In 1919 the British government announced the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms which promised gradual progress of India towards self-government.
  • This caused deep disappointment to Indian nationalists. In a further blow the government enacted what was called the Rowlatt Act which provided for arbitrary arrest and strict punishment.

More to know:

1. I mean by self-government that the country shall have a government by councils, elected by the people, elected with the power of the purse and the government is responsible to the house…. India should demand self-government not based on loyalty to the British government or as a reward for her services in the war but as a right based on the principle of national self-determination. — Annie Besant (in September 1915)

2. According to Anthropologist Kathlene Gough British rule brought … disruption and suffering among the peasantry which was more prolonged and widespread than had occurred in Mughal times. Ranajit Guha writes, ‘agrarian disturbances in many forms and on scales ranging from local riots to war-like campaigns spread over many districts were endemic throughout the first three quarters of British rule until the very end of the nineteenth century.’

3. The siege of Kanpur was an important episode in the rebellion of 1857. The besieged Company forces and civilians in Kanpur were unprepared for an extended siege and surrendered to rebel forces under Nana Sahib, in return for a safe passage to Allahabad. The boats in which they were proceeding were burned and most of the men were killed, including British Commander of Kanpur Major General Hugh Wheeler.

4. ‘Tribes’ who are they?

The modern usage of word tribe in India restricts the definition to distinguish them (tribes) from the rest of the Indian society, a stratified system based on caste. Often the term is misused to refer to isolated groups. Tribes in India were and are very much part of the Indian society. They in fact have acted for long as part of Indian peasantry subsisting through shifting cultivation.

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