The idea of Satyagraha
Mahatma Gandhi returned to India in January 1915. As you know he had come from South Africa when he had successfully fought the racist regime with a novel method of mass agitation, which he called Satyagraha. The idea of Satyagraha emphasized the power of truth and the need to search for truth. It suggested that if the cause was true, if the struggle was against injustice, then physical force was not necessary to fight the oppressor. Without seeking vengeance or being aggressive a Satyagrahi could win the battle through non-violence. Appealing to the conscience of the oppressor could do this. People – including the oppressors – had to be persuaded to see the truth instead of being forced to accept the truth through the use of violence. By this struggle, truth was bound to ultimately triumph. Mahatma Gandhi believed that this dharma of non-violence could unite the Indians.
After arriving in India, Mahatma Gandhi successfully organized Satyagraha movements in various places. In 1916, he went to Chamaparan in Bihar to inspire peasants to struggle against oppressive plantation system. Then in 1917, a struggle was organized to support peasants of Kheda district in Gujarat, affected by crop failure and a plague epidemic. In 1918, he went to Ahmadabad to organize a movement amongst the cotton mill workers.
The Rowlatt Act
Emboldened by these successes, in 1919 Gandhi decided to launch a nation wide satyagraha against the proposed Rowlatt Act. This act had been hurriedly passed through the Imperial Legislative Council despite the united opposition of the Indian members. It gave the government many powers to repress the political activities and allowed detention of political prisoners without trial for two years. Mahatma Gandhi wanted non-violent civil disobedience against such unjust laws that would start with a hartal on 6 April.
Rallies were organized in various cities; workers went on a strike in railway workshops and shops closed down.
While the Rowlatt Satyagraha had been a widespread movement it was still limited mostly to cities and towns. Mahatma Gandhi now felt the need to launch a more broad based movement in India but he was certain that no such movement could be organized without bringing Hindus and Muslims closer together. A younger generation of Muslim leaders likes the brothers Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali began discussing with Mahatma Gandhi about the possibility if a united mass action on this issue. Gandhi saw this as an opportunity to bring Muslims under the umbrella of a unified national movement. At the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress, 1920, he convinced other leaders of the need to start a non-cooperation movement.
Gandhi proposed that the movements should unfold in stages.
· It should begin with the surrender of titles given by the government .
· Then a boycott of civil services, army, police, courts and legislative councils, schools and foreign goods.
· Then, in case the government used repression, a full civil disobedience campaign would be launched.
Through the summer of 1920, Mahatma Gandhi and Shaukat Ali toured extensively, mobilizing popular support for the movement.
The Non-Cooperation Khilafat movement began in January 1921. Various social groups participated in it, each with its own specific aspiration.
The movement started with middle class participation in cities. Thousands of students left government control schools and colleges, teachers resigned and lawyers gave up their legal practices. The council elections were boycotted in most provinces except Madras where the justice party, the party of the Non Brahmins felt that entering the council was one way of gaining some power - something that usually only Brahmans had access to.
The effects of Non Cooperation on the economic front were more dramatic. Foreign goods were boycotted, liquor shops picketed, and foreign cloth burnt in huge bonfires. The import of foreign cloth halved between 1921 and 1922, its value dropping dramatically. Production of Indian goods went up.
But this movement in the cities gradually slowed down for many reasons. Khadi cloth was often more expensive than mass produced mill cloth and poor people could not afford to buy it. Similarly, boycott of British institutions posed a problem. For the movement to be successful, alternative Indian institutions had to be set up so that they could be used in place of British ones. These were slow to come up so students and teachers began trickling back to government schools and lawyers joined back work in government courts.
In June 1920, Jawaharlal Nehru began going around villages in Awadh, talking to the villagers and trying to understand their grief. So, when the non-cooperation began the following year, the effort of the congress was to integrate the Awadh peasant struggle into a wider struggle. However it developed in forms that the congress leadership was unhappy with. The name of the Mahatma was being invoked to sanction all action and aspirations. Mahatma Gandhi said this movement inspired him and he asserted that India could be liberated only by the use of force.
Salt was something the rich and poor consumed equally. So the tax on salt was to be evaded by the Indians. Mahatma Gandhi on 11 March started his famous salt march with 78 other volunteers. The march was over 240 miles from Gandhiji’s ashram in Sabarmati to the coastal town of Dandi. The volunteers walked for 24 days. On 6 April he reached Dandi and violated the salt law manufacturing salt by boiling seawater.
This was the beginning of Civil Disobedience Movement. People were now asked to refuse cooperation with the British and break colonial laws. Thousands broke the salt law in front of government salt factories. Peasants refused to pay the revenue and taxes, village officials resigned and forest laws were violated with people going into reserved forests to collect wood and graze cattle. This resulted in the arrest of many important congress leaders. In May 1930, Mahatma Gandhi himself was arrested due to which all structures that symbolized British rule were attacked. An important feature of this movement was the large-scale participation of women. They participated in protest marches, manufactured salt and picketed foreign cloth and liquor shops. Moved by Gandhiji’s call they began to see service to the nation as a sacred duty of women.
Quit India Movement
On 8th August 1942, due to the failure of the Cripps Mission, Gandhiji launched the Quit India Movement. This was the last mass movement organized by Gandhiji with the famous slogan of ‘Do or die’. However, the Britishers still did not grant anything even near independence for India. In 1945, the Cabinet Mission was sent to India, which also was not accepted. In 1947, the Mountbatten Plan was accepted which proposed the creation of Pakistan, a Muslim dominated country as a separate nation from India after independence. Pakistan attained its independence on 14th August 1947 and India on 15th August 1947. Thus, without any bloodshed, war or violence, India could achieve independence with the weapon of Satyagraha.
India and the Contemporary World II
Quit India Movement
Civil Disobedience Movement
Depiction of protest against Rowlatt Act