11 The Making of the National Movement: 1870s-1947 Fig. 1 – Police teargasIn the previous chapters we have looked at: demonstrators during the • The British conquest of territories, and takeover Quit India movement of kingdoms • Introduction of new laws and administrative institutions • Changes in the lives of peasants and tribals • Educational changes in the nineteenth century • Debates regarding the condition of women • Challenges to the caste system • Social and religious reform • The revolt of 1857 and its aftermath • The decline of crafts and growth of industries On the basis of what you have read about these issues, do you think Indians were discontented with British rule? If so, how were different groups and classes dissatisfied? Sovereign – The capacity to act independently without outside interference The Emergence of Nationalism The above-mentioned developments led the people to ask a crucial question: what is this country of India and for whom is it meant? The answer that gradually emerged was: India was the people of India – all the people irrespective of class, colour, caste, creed, language, or gender. And the country, its resources and systems, were meant for all of them. With this answer came the awareness that the British were exercising control over the resources of India and the lives of its people, and until this control was ended India could not be for Indians. This consciousness began to be clearly stated by the political associations formed after 1850, especially those that came into being in the 1870s and 1880s. Most of these were led by English-educated professionals such as lawyers. The more important ones were the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, the Indian Association, the Madras Mahajan Sabha, the Bombay Presidency Association, and of course the Indian National Congress. Note the name, “Poona Sarvajanik Sabha”. The literal meaning of “sarvajanik” is “of or for all the people” (sarva = all + janik = of the people). Though many of these associations functioned in specific parts of the country, their goals were stated as the goals of all the people of India, not those of any one region, community or class. They worked with the idea that the people should be sovereign – a modern consciousness and a key feature of nationalism. In other words, they believed that the Indian people should be empowered to take decisions regarding their affairs. The dissatisfaction with British rule intensified in the 1870s and 1880s. The Arms Act was passed in 1878, disallowing Indians from possessing arms. In the same year the Vernacular Press Act was also enacted in an effort to silence those who were critical of the government. The Act allowed the government to confiscate the assets of newspapers including their printing presses if the newspapers published anything that was found “objectionable”. In 1883, there was a furore over the attempt by the government to introduce the Ilbert Bill. The bill provided for the trial of British or European persons by Indians, and sought equality between British and Indian judges in the country. But when white opposition forced the government to withdraw the bill, Indians were enraged. The event highlighted the racial attitudes of the British in India. The need for an all-India organisation of educated Indians had been felt since 1880, but the Ilbert Bill controversy deepened this desire. The Indian National Congress was established when 72 delegates from all over the country met at Bombay in December 1885. The early leadership – Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, Badruddin Tyabji, W.C. Bonnerji, Surendranath Banerji, Romesh Chandra Dutt, S. Subramania Iyer, among others – was largely from Bombay and Calcutta. Naoroji, a businessman and publicist settled in London, and for a time member of the British Parliament, guided the younger nationalists. A retired British official, A.O. Hume, also played a part in bringing Indians from the various regions together. Source 1 Who did the Congress seek to speak for? A newspaper, The Indian Mirror, wrote in January 1886: The First National Congress at Bombay … is the nucleus of a future Parliament for our country, and will lead to the good of inconceivable magnitude for our countrymen. Badruddin Tyabji addressed the Congress as President in 1887 thus: this Congress is composed of the representatives, not of any one class or community of India, but of all the different communities of India. A nation in the making It has often been said that the Congress in the first twenty years was “moderate” in its objectives and methods. During this period it demanded a greater voice for Indians in the government and in administration. It wanted the Legislative Councils to be made more representative, given more power, and introduced in provinces where none existed. It demanded that Indians be placed in high positions in the government. For this purpose it called for civil service examinations to be held in India as well, not just in London. The demand for Indianisation of the administration was part of a movement against racisim, since most important jobs at the time were monopolised by white Publicist – Someone who publicises an idea by circulating information, writing reports, speaking at meetings Repeal – To undo law; to officially end the validity of something such as a law officials, and the British generally assumed that Indians could not be given positions of responsibility. Since British officers were sending a major part of their large salaries home, Indianisation, it was hoped, would also reduce the drain of wealth to England. Other demands included the separation of the judiciary from the executive, the repeal of the Arms Act and the freedom of speech and expression. Activity• From the beginning the Congress sought to speak for, and in the name of, all the Indian people. Why did it choose to do so? Activity• What problems regarding the early Congress does this comment highlight? The early Congress also raised a number of economic issues. It declared that British rule had led to poverty and famines: increase in the land revenue had impoverished peasants and zamindars, and exports of grains to Europe had created food shortages. The Congress demanded reduction of revenue, cut in military expenditure, and more funds for irrigation. It passed many resolutions on the salt tax, treatment of Indian labourers abroad, and the sufferings of forest dwellers – caused by an interfering forest administration. All this shows that despite being a body of the educated elite, the Congress did not talk only on behalf of professional groups, zamindars or industrialists. The Moderate leaders wanted to develop public awareness about the unjust nature of British rule. They published newspapers, wrote articles, and showed how British rule was leading to the economic ruin of the country. They criticised British rule in their speeches and sent representatives to different parts of the country to mobilise public opinion. They felt that the British had respect for the ideals of freedom and justice, and so they would accept the just demands of Indians. What was necessary, therefore, was to express these demands, and make the government aware of the feelings of Indians. “Freedom is our birthright” By the 1890s many Indians began to raise questions about the political style of the Congress. In Bengal, Maharashtra and Punjab, leaders such as Bepin Chandra Pal, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai were beginning to explore more radical objectives and methods. They criticised the Moderates for their “politics of prayers”, and emphasised the importance of self-reliance and constructive work. They argued that people must rely on their own strength, not on the “good” intentions of the government; people must fight for swaraj. Tilak raised the slogan, “Freedom is my birthright and I shall have it!” In 1905 Viceroy Curzon partitioned Bengal. At that time Bengal was the biggest province of British India and included Bihar and parts of Orissa. The British argued for dividing Bengal for reasons of administrative convenience. But what did “administrative convenience” mean? Whose “convenience” did it represent? Clearly, it was closely tied to the interests of British officials and businessmen. Even so, instead of removing the non-Bengali areas from the province, the government separated East Bengal and merged it with Assam. Perhaps the main British motives were to curtail the influence of Bengali politicians and to split the Bengali people. The partition of Bengal infuriated people all over India. All sections of the Congress – the Moderates and the Radicals, as they may be called – opposed it. Large public meetings and demonstrations were organised and novel methods of mass protest developed. The struggle that unfolded came to be known as the Swadeshi movement, strongest in Bengal but with echoes elsewhere too – in deltaic Andhra for instance, it was known as the Vandemataram Movement. Fig. 4 – Thousands joined the demonstrations during the Swadeshi movement Fig. 5 – Lala Lajpat Rai A nationalist from Punjab, he was one of the leading members of the Radical group which was critical of the politics of petitions. He was also an active member of the Arya Samaj. Revolutionary violence The use of violence to make a radical change within society Council – An appointed or elected body of people with an administrative, advisory or representative function Activity• Find out which countries fought the First World War. The Swadeshi movement sought to oppose British rule and encourage the ideas of self-help, swadeshi enterprise, national education, and use of Indian languages. To fight for swaraj, the radicals advocated mass mobilisation and boycott of British institutions and goods. Some individuals also began to suggest that “revolutionary violence” would be necessary to overthrow British rule. The opening decades of the twentieth century were marked by other developments as well. A group of Muslim landlords and nawabs formed the All India Muslim League at Dacca in 1906. The League supported the partition of Bengal. It desired separate electorates for Muslims, a demand conceded by the government in 1909. Some seats in the councils were now reserved for Muslims who would be elected by Muslim voters. This tempted politicians to gather a following by distributing favours to their own religious groups. Meanwhile, the Congress split in 1907. The Moderates were opposed to the use of boycott. They felt that it involved the use of force. After the split the Congress came to be dominated by the Moderates with Tilak’s followers functioning from outside. The two groups reunited in December 1915. Next year the Congress and the Muslim League signed the historic Lucknow Pact and decided to work together for representative government in the country. The Growth of Mass Nationalism After 1919 the struggle against British rule gradually became a mass movement, involving peasants, tribals, students and women in large numbers and occasionally factory workers as well. Certain business groups too began to actively support the Congress in the 1920s. Why was this so? The First World War altered the economic and political situation in India. It led to a huge rise in the defence expenditure of the Government of India. The government in turn increased taxes on individual incomes and business profits. Increased military expenditure and the demands for war supplies led to a sharp rise in prices which created great difficulties for the common people. On the other hand, business groups reaped fabulous profits from the war. As you have seen (Chapter 7), the war created a demand for industrial goods (jute bags, cloth, rails) and caused a decline of imports from other countries into India. So Indian industries expanded during the war, and Indian business groups began to demand greater opportunities for development. The war also lead the British to expand their army. Villages were pressurised to supply soldiers for an alien cause. A large number of soldiers were sent to serve abroad. Many returned after the war with an understanding of the ways in which imperialist powers were exploiting the peoples of Asia and Africa and with a desire to oppose colonial rule in India. Furthermore, in 1917 there was a revolution in Russia. News about peasants’ and workers’ struggles and ideas of socialism circulated widely, inspiring Indian nationalists. The advent of Mahatma Gandhi It is in these circumstances that Mahatma Gandhi emerged as a mass leader. As you may know, Gandhiji, aged 46, arrived in India in 1915 from South Africa. Having led Indians in that country in non-violent marches against racist restrictions, he was already a respected leader, known internationally. His South African campaigns had brought him in contact with various types of Indians: Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and Christians; Gujaratis, Tamils and north Indians; and upper-class merchants, lawyers and workers. Mahatma Gandhi spent his first year in India travelling throughout the country, understanding the people, their needs and the overall situation. His earliest Fig. 6 – Founders of the Natal Congress, Durban, South Africa, 1895 In 1895, along with other Indians, Mahatma Gandhi established the Natal Congress to fight against racial discrimination. Can you identify Gandhiji? He is standing at the centre in the row at the back, wearing a coat and tie. Activity• Find out about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. What is Jallianwala Bagh? What atrocities were committed there? How were they committed? Knighthood – An honour granted by the British Crown for exceptional personal achievement or public service interventions were in local movements in Champaran, Kheda and Ahmedabad where he came into contact with Rajendra Prasad and Vallabhbhai Patel. In Ahmedabad he led a successful millworkers’ strike in 1918.Let us now focus in some detail on the movements organised between 1919 and 1922. The Rowlatt Satyagraha In 1919 Gandhiji gave a call for a satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act that the British had just passed. The Act curbed fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression and strengthened police powers. Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and others felt that the government had no right to restrict people’s basic freedoms. They criticised the Act as “devilish” and tyrannical. Gandhiji asked the Indian people to observe 6 April 1919 as a day of non-violent opposition to this Act, as a day of “humiliation and prayer” and hartal (strike). Satyagraha Sabhas were set up to launch the movement. The Rowlatt Satyagraha turned out to be the first all-India struggle against the British government although it was largely restricted to cities. In April 1919 there were a number of demonstrations and hartals in the country and the government used brutal measures to suppress them. The Jallianwala Bagh atrocities, inflicted by General Dyer in Amritsar on Baisakhi day (13 April), were a part of this repression. On learning about the massacre, Rabindranath Tagore expressed the pain and anger of the country by renouncing his knighthood. During the Rowlatt Satyagraha the participants tried to ensure that Hindus and Muslims were united in the fight against British rule. This was also the call of Mahatma Gandhi who always saw India as a land of all the people who lived in the country – Hindus, Muslims and those of other religions. He was keen that Hindus and Muslims support each other in any just cause. Khilafat agitation and the Non-Cooperation Movement The Khilafat issue was one such cause. In 1920 the British imposed a harsh treaty on the Turkish Sultan or Khalifa. People were furious about this as they had been about the Jallianwala massacre. Also, Indian Muslims were keen that the Khalifa be allowed to retain control over Muslim sacred places in the erstwhile Ottoman Empire. The leaders of the Khilafat agitation, Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, now wished to initiate a full-fledged Non-Cooperation Movement. Gandhiji supported their call and urged the Congress to campaign against “Punjab wrongs” (Jallianwala massacre), the Khilafat wrong and demand swaraj. The Non-Cooperation Movement gained momentum through 1921-22. Thousands of students left government-controlled schools and colleges. Many lawyers such as Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das, C. Rajagopalachari and Asaf Ali gave up their practices. British titles were surrendered and legislatures boycotted. People lit public bonfires of foreign cloth. The imports of foreign cloth fell drastically between 1920 and 1922. But all this was merely the tip of the iceberg. Large parts of the country were on the brink of a formidable revolt. People’s initiatives In many cases people resisted British rule non-violently. In others, different classes and groups, interpreting Gandhiji’s call in their own manner, protested in ways that were not in accordance with his ideas. In either case, people linked their movements to local grievances. Let us look at a few examples. In Kheda, Gujarat, Patidar peasants organised nonviolent campaigns against the high land revenue demand of the British. In coastal Andhra and interior Tamil Nadu, liquor shops were picketed. In the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, tribals and poor peasants staged a number of “forest satyagrahas”, sometimes sending their cattle into forests without paying grazing fee. They were protesting because the colonial state Source 3 Picket – People protesting outside a building or shop to prevent others from entering Mahants – Religious functionaries of Sikh gurdwaras Illegal eviction – Forcible and unlawful throwing out of tenants from the land they rent Fig. 8 – A popular representation of Mahatma Gandhi In popular images too Mahatma Gandhi is often shown as a divine being occupying a place within the pantheon of Indian gods. In this image he is driving Krishna’s chariot, guiding other nationalist leaders in the battle against the British. had restricted their use of forest resources in various ways. They believed that Gandhiji would get their taxes reduced and have the forest regulations abolished. In many forest villages, peasants proclaimed swaraj and believed that “Gandhi Raj” was about to be established. In Sind (now in Pakistan), Muslim traders and peasants were very enthusiastic about the Khilafat call. In Bengal too, the Khilafat-Non-Cooperation alliance gave enormous communal unity and strength to the national movement. In Punjab, the Akali agitation of the Sikhs sought to remove corrupt mahants – supported by the British – from their gurdwaras. This movement got closely identified with the Non-Cooperation Movement. In Assam, tea garden labourers, shouting “Gandhi Maharaj ki Jai”, demanded a big increase in their wages. They left the British-owned plantations amidst declarations that they were following Gandhiji’s wish. Interestingly, in the Assamese Vaishnava songs of the period the reference to Krishna was substituted by “Gandhi Raja”. The people’s Mahatma We can see from the above that sometimes people thought of Gandhiji as a kind of messiah, as someone who could help them overcome their misery and poverty. Gandhiji wished to build class unity, not class conflict, yet peasants could imagine that he would help them in their fight against zamindars, and agricultural labourers believed he would provide them land. At times, ordinary people credited Gandhiji with their own achievements. For instance, at the end of a powerful movement, peasants of Pratapgarh in the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) managed to stop illegal eviction of tenants; but they felt it was Gandhiji who had won this demand for them. At other times, using Gandhiji’s name, tribals and peasants undertook actions that did not conform to Gandhian ideals. Activity• Read Source 4. According to this report, how did people view Mahatma Gandhi? Why do you think they felt that he was opposed to zamindars but not to the government? Why do you think they were in favour of Gandhiji? The happenings of 1922-1929 Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, was against violent movements. He abruptly called off the Non-Cooperation Movement when in February 1922 a crowd of peasants set fire to a police station in Chauri Chaura. Twenty-two policemen were killed on that day. The peasants were provoked because the police had fired on their peaceful demonstration. Once the Non-Cooperation movement was over, Gandhiji’s followers stressed that the Congress must undertake constructive work in the rural areas. Other leaders such as Chitta Ranjan Das and Motilal Nehru argued that the party should fight elections to the councils and enter them in order to influence government policies. Through sincere social work in villages in the mid-1920s, the Gandhians were able to extend their support base. This proved to be very useful in launching the Civil Disobedience movement in 1930. Two important developments of the mid-1920s were the formation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu organisation, and the Communist Party of India. These parties have held very different ideas about the kind of country India should be. Find out about their ideas with the help of your teacher. The revolutionary nationalist Bhagat Singh too was active in this period. The decade closed with the Congress resolving to fight for Purna Swaraj (complete independence) in 1929 under the presidentship of Jawaharlal Nehru. Consequently, “Independence Day” was observed on 26 January 1930 all over the country. The March to Dandi Purna Swaraj would never come on its own. It had to be fought for. In 1930, Gandhiji declared that he would lead a march to break the salt law. According to this law, the state had a monopoly on the manufacture and sale of salt. Mahatma Gandhi along with other nationalists reasoned that it was sinful to tax salt since it is such an essential item of our food. The Salt March related the general desire of freedom to a specific grievance shared by everybody, and thus did not divide the rich and the poor. Gandhiji and his followers marched for over 240 miles from Sabarmati to the coastal town of Dandi where they broke the government law by gathering natural salt found on the seashore, and boiling sea water to produce salt. Active in the national movement since the early 1920s, Naidu was a significant leader of the Dandi March. She was the first Indian woman to become President of the Indian National Congress (1925). Provincial autonomy Capacity of the provinces to make relatively independent decisions while remaining within a federation Peasants, tribals and women participated in large numbers. A business federation published a pamphlet on the salt issue. The government tried to crush the movement through brutal action against peaceful satyagrahis. Thousands were sent to jail. The combined struggles of the Indian people bore fruit when the Government of India Act of 1935 prescribed provincial autonomy and the government announced elections to the provincial legislatures in 1937. The Congress formed governments in 7 out of 11 provinces. In September 1939, after two years of Congress rule in the provinces, the Second World War broke out. Critical of Hitler, Congress leaders were ready to support the British war effort. But in return they wanted that India be granted independence after the war. The British refused to concede the demand. The Congress ministries resigned in protest. Source 5 Veer Lakhan Nayak was hanged Baji Mohammed, President of the Nabrangpur Congress, Orissa in the 1930s, reports: On August 25, 1942 … nineteen people died on the spot in police firing at Paparandi in Nabarangpur. Many died thereafter from their wounds. Over 300 were injured. More than a thousand were jailed in Koraput district. Several were shot or executed. Veer Lakhan Nayak (a legendary tribal leader who defied the British) was hanged. Nayak, Baji tells us, was not worried about being executed, only sad that he would not live to see freedom’s dawn. Baji Mohammad mobilised 20,000 people to join the national struggle. He offered satyagraha many times over. He participated in protests against the Second World War and in the Quit India movement, and served long jail terms. Quit India and Later Mahatma Gandhi decided to initiate a new phase of movement against the British in the middle of the Second World War. The British must quit India immediately, he told them. To the people he said, “do or die” in your effort to fight the British – but you must fight non-violently. Gandhiji and other leaders were jailed at once but the movement spread. It specially attracted peasants and the youth who gave up their studies to join it. Communications and symbols of state authority were attacked all over the country. In many areas the people set up their own governments. The first response of the British was severe repression. By the end of 1943 over 90,000 people were arrested, and around 1,000 killed in police firing. In many areas orders were given to machine-gun crowds from airplanes. The rebellion, however, ultimately brought the Raj to its knees. Towards Independence and Partition Meanwhile, in 1940 the Muslim League had moved a resolution demanding “Independent States” for Muslims in the north-western and eastern areas of the country. The resolution did not mention partition or Pakistan. Why did the League ask for an autonomous arrangement for the Muslims of the subcontinent? From the late 1930s, the League began viewing the Muslims as a separate “nation” from the Hindus. In developing this notion it may have been influenced by the history of tension between some Hindu and Muslim groups in the 1920s and 1930s. More Demonstrators clashed with the police everywhere. Many thousands were arrested, over a thousand killed, many more were injured. Fig. 16 – Maulana Azad with other members at the Congress Working Committee, Sevagram, 1942 Azad was born in Mecca to a Bengali father and an Arab mother. Well-versed in many languages, Azad was a scholar of Islam and an exponent of the notion of wahadat-i-deen, the essential oneness of all religions. An active participant in Gandhian movements and a staunch advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity, he was opposed to Jinnah’s two-nation theory. A veteran nationalist and leader of the Salt Satyagraha in the south, C. Rajagopalachari, popularly known as Rajaji, served as member of the Interim Government of 1946 and as free India’s first Indian Governor-General. Fig. 18 – Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel played an important role in the negotiations for independence during 1945-47 Patel hailed from an impoverished peasant-proprietor family of Nadiad, Gujarat. A foremost organiser of the freedom movement from 1918 onwards, Patel served as President of the Congress in 1931. importantly, the provincial elections of 1937 seemed to have convinced the League that Muslims were a minority, and they would always have to play second fiddle in any democratic structure. It feared that Muslims may even go unrepresented. The Congress’s rejection of the League’s desire to form a joint Congress-League government in the United Provinces in 1937 also annoyed the League. The Congress’s failure to mobilise the Muslim masses in the 1930s allowed the League to widen its social support. It sought to enlarge its support in the early 1940s when most Congress leaders were in jail. At the end of the war in 1945, the British opened negotiations between the Congress, the League and themselves for the independence of India. The talks failed because the League saw itself as the sole spokesperson of India’s Muslims. The Congress could not accept this claim since a large number of Muslims still supported it. Elections to the provinces were again held in 1946. The Congress did well in the “General” constituencies but the League’s success in the seats reserved for Muslims was spectacular. It persisted with its demand for “Pakistan”. In March 1946 the British cabinet sent a three-member mission to Delhi to examine this demand and to suggest a suitable political framework for a free India. This mission suggested that India should remain united and constitute itself as a loose confederation with some autonomy for Muslim-majority areas. But it could not get the Congress and the Muslim League to agree to specific details of the proposal. Partition now became more or less inevitable. Gandhiji’s disciple, a Congress Socialist, and an internationalist, Nehru was a leading architect of the national movement and of free India’s economy and polity. “General”constituencies Election districts with no reservations for any religious or other community After the failure of the Cabinet Mission, the Muslim League decided on mass agitation for winning its Pakistan demand. It announced 16 August 1946 as “Direct Action Day”. On this day riots broke out in Calcutta, lasting several days and resulting in the death of thousands of people. By March 1947 violence spread to different parts of northern India. Many hundred thousand people were killed and numerous women had to face untold brutalities during the Partition. Millions of people were forced to flee their homes. Torn asunder from their homelands, they were reduced to being refugees in alien lands. Partition also meant that India changed, many of its cities changed, and a new country – Pakistan – was born. So, the joy of our country’s independence from British rule came mixed with the pain and violence of Partition. Nationalism in Africa: The case of Ghana The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed the rise of nationalism in many Afro-Asian countries. In many of these, nationalism arose as a part of the anti-colonial struggles for independence. Colonial rule in Africa was dictatorial. Only the “Chiefs” were allowed to rule on behalf of the foreign powers. Alternately, laws affecting Africans were created in all-white legislatures. Africans had no decision-making powers or representation, not until after the Second World War at least. The forcible takeover of land from local owners or users, increased taxation and poor working conditions led to many African protests. In 1957, Ghana, known until then as the Gold Coast, became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence. The freedom movement was led by Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party through strikes, boycotts and mass rallies. In 1951 this party won a huge electoral victory. It opposed the existing system in which the British rulers had allowed the Chiefs to nominate representatives to the legislature. It pressed the British to grant a legislature that contained no nominated or special members and won this demand in 1954. Elections to the new Legislative Council were held in 1956. The Convention People’s Party won these, thus paving the way for the proclamation of an independent nation under the name “Ghana”. Let’s recall 1. Why were people dissatisfied with British rule in the 1870s and 1880s? 2. Who did the Indian National Congress wish to speak for? 3. What economic impact did the First World War have on India? 4. What did the Muslim League resolution of 1940 ask for? Let’s discuss 5. Who were the Moderates? How did they propose to struggle against British rule? 6. How was the politics of the Radicals within the Congress different from that of the Moderates? 7. Discuss the various forms that the Non-Cooperation Movement took in different parts of India. How did the people understand Gandhiji? 8. Why did Gandhiji choose to break the salt law? 9. Discuss those developments of the 1937-47 period that led to the creation of Pakistan. Let’s do 10. Find out how the national movement was organised in your city, district, area or state. Who participated in it and who led it? What did the movement in your area achieve? 11. Find out more about the life and work of any two participants or leaders of the national movement and write a short essay about them. You may choose a person not mentioned in this chapter.




When People Rebel 1857 and After

Our Past-3

Fig. 1 – Sepoys and peasants gather forces for the revolt that spread across the plains of north India in 1857

Policies and the People

In the previous chapters you looked at the policies of the East India Company and the effect they had on different people. Kings, queens, peasants, landlords, tribals, soldiers were all affected in different ways. You have also seen how people resist policies and actions that harm their interests or go against their sentiments.

Nawabs lose their power

Since the mid-eighteenth century, nawabs and rajas had seen their power erode. They had gradually lost their authority and honour. Residents had been stationed in many courts, the freedom of the rulers reduced, their armed forces disbanded, and their revenues and territories taken away by stages.

Many ruling families tried to negotiate with the Company to protect their interests. For example, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi wanted the Company to recognise her adopted son as the heir to the kingdom after the death of her husband. Nana Saheb, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II, pleaded that he be given his father’s pension when the latter died. However, the Company, confident of its superiority and military powers, turned down these pleas.

Awadh was one of the last territories to be annexed. In 1801, a subsidiary alliance was imposed on Awadh, and in 1856 it was taken over. Governor-General Dalhousie declared that the territory was being misgoverned and British rule was needed to ensure proper administration.

The Company even began to plan how to bring the Mughal dynasty to an end. The name of the Mughal king was removed from the coins minted by the Company. In 1849, Governor-General Dalhousie announced that after the death of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the family of the king would be shifted out of the Red Fort and given another place in Delhi to reside in. In 1856, Governor-General Canning decided that Bahadur Shah Zafar would be the last Mughal king and after his death none of his descendants would be recognised as kings – they would just be called princes.

The peasants and the sepoys

In the countryside peasants and zamindars resented the high taxes and the rigid methods of revenue collection. Many failed to pay back their loans to the moneylenders and gradually lost the lands they had tilled for generations.

The Indian sepoys in the employ of the Company also had reasons for discontent. They were unhappy about their pay, allowances and conditions of service. Some of the new rules, moreover, violated their religious sensibilities and beliefs. Did you know that in those days many people in the country believed that if they crossed the sea they would lose their religion and caste? So when in 1824 the sepoys were told to go to Burma by the sea route to fight for the Company, they refused to follow the order, though they agreed to go by the land route. They were severely punished, and since the issue did not die down, in 1856 the Company passed a new law which stated that every new person who took up employment in the Company’s army had to agree to serve overseas if required.

Sepoys also reacted to what was happening in the countryside. Many of them were peasants and had families living in the villages. So the anger of the peasants quickly spread among the sepoys.


Imagine you are a sepoy in the Company army, advising your nephew not to take employment in the army. What reasons would you give?

Responses to reforms

The British believed that Indian society had to be reformed. Laws were passed to stop the practice of sati and to encourage the remarriage of widows. English-language education was actively promoted. After 1830, the Company allowed Christian missionaries to function freely in its domain and even own land and property. In 1850, a new law was passed to make conversion to Christianity easier. This law allowed an Indian who had converted to Christianity to inherit the property of his ancestors. Many Indians began to feel that the British were destroying their religion, their social customs and their traditional way of life.

There were of course other Indians who wanted to change existing social practices. You will read about these reformers and reform movements in Chapter 7.

Fig. 2 – Sepoys exchange news and rumours in the bazaars of north India

Through the Eyes of the People

To get a glimpse of what people were thinking those days about British rule, study Sources 1 and 2.

Source 1

The list of eighty-four rules

Given here are excerpts from the book Majha Pravaas, written by Vishnubhatt Godse, a Brahman from a village in Maharashtra. He and his uncle had set out to attend a yajna being organised in Mathura. Vishnubhatt writes that they met some sepoys on the way who told them that they should not proceed on the journey because a massive upheaval was going to break out in three days. The sepoys said:

the English were determined to wipe out the religions of the Hindus and the Muslims … they had made a list of eighty-four rules and announced these in a gathering of all big kings and princes in Calcutta. They said that the kings refused to accept these rules and warned the English of dire consequences and massive upheaval if these are implemented … that the kings all returned to their capitals in great anger … all the big people began making plans. A date was fixed for the war of religion and the secret plan had been circulated from the cantonment in Meerut by letters sent to different cantonments.

Vishnubhatt Godse, Majha Pravaas, pp. 23-24.

Source 2

“There was soon excitement in every regiment”

Another account we have from those days are the memoirs of Subedar Sitaram Pande. Sitaram Pande was recruited in 1812 as a sepoy in the Bengal Native Army. He served the English for 48 years and retired in 1860. He helped the British to suppress the rebellion though his own son was a rebel and was killed by the British in front of his eyes. On retirement he was persuaded by his Commanding Officer, Norgate, to write his memoirs. He completed the writing in 1861 in Awadhi and Norgate translated it into English and had it published under the title From Sepoy to Subedar.

Here is an excerpt from what Sitaram Pande wrote:

It is my humble opinion that this seizing of Oudh filled the minds of the Sepoys with distrust and led them to plot against the Government. Agents of the Nawab of Oudh and also of the King of Delhi were sent all over India to discover the temper of the army. They worked upon the feelings of sepoys, telling them how treacherously the foreigners had behaved towards their king. They invented ten thousand lies and promises to persuade the soldiers to mutiny and turn against their masters, the English, with the object of restoring the Emperor of Delhi to the throne. They maintained that this was wholly within the army’s powers if the soldiers would only act together and do as they were advised.

Fig. 3  Rebel sepoys at Meerut attack officers, enter their homes and set fire to buildings

It chanced that about this time the Sarkar sent parties of men from each regiment to different garrisons for instructions in the use of the new rifle. These men performed the new drill for some time until a report got about by some means or the other, that the cartridges used for these new rifles were greased with the fat of cows and pigs. The men from our regiment wrote to others in the regiment telling them about this, and there was soon excitement in every regiment. Some men pointed out that in forty years’ service nothing had ever been done by the Sarkar to insult their religion, but as I have already mentioned the sepoys’ minds had been inflamed by the seizure of Oudh. Interested parties were quick to point out that the great aim of the English was to turn us all into Christians, and they had therefore introduced the cartridge in order to bring this about, since both Mahommedans and Hindus would be defiled by using it.

The Colonel sahib was of the opinion that the excitement, which even he could not fail to see, would pass off, as it had done before, and he recommended me to go to my home.

Sitaram Pande, From Sepoy to Subedar, pp. 162-63. 


1. What were the important concerns in the minds of the people according to Sitaram and according to Vishnubhatt?

2. What role did they think the rulers were playing? What role did the sepoys seem to play?

A Mutiny Becomes a Popular Rebellion

Though struggles between rulers and the ruled are not unusual, sometimes such struggles become quite widespread as a popular resistance so that the power of the state breaks down. A very large number of people begin to believe that they have a common enemy and rise up against the enemy at the same time. For such a situation to develop people have to organise, communicate, take initiative and display the confidence to turn the situation around.

Mutiny  When soldiers as a group disobey their officers in the army

Such a situation developed in the northern parts of India in 1857. After a hundred years of conquest and administration, the English East India Company faced a massive rebellion that started in May 1857 and threatened the Company’s very presence in India. Sepoys mutinied in several places beginning from Meerut and a large number of people from different sections of society rose up in rebellion. Some regard it as the biggest armed resistance to colonialism in the nineteenth century anywhere in the world.

Fig. 4 – The battle in the cavalry lines

On the evening of 3 July 1857, over 3,000 rebels came from Bareilly, crossed the river Jamuna, entered Delhi, and attacked the British cavalry posts. The battle continued all through the night.

Fig. – Postal stamp issued in commemoration of Mangal Pandey

Firangis – Foreigners The term reflects an attitude of contempt.

From Meerut to Delhi

On 29 March 1857, a young soldier, Mangal Pandey, was hanged to death for attacking his officers in Barrackpore. Some days later, some sepoys of the regiment at Meerut refused to do the army drill using the new cartridges, which were suspected of being coated with the fat of cows and pigs. Eighty-five sepoys were dismissed from service and sentenced to ten years in jail for disobeying their officers. This happened on 9 May 1857.

The response of the other Indian soldiers in Meerut was quite extraordinary. On 10 May, the soldiers marched to the jail in Meerut and released the imprisoned sepoys. They attacked and killed British officers. They captured guns and ammunition and set fire to the buildings and properties of the British and declared war on the firangis. The soldiers were determined to bring an end to their rule in the country. But who would rule the land instead? The soldiers had an answer to this question – the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.

The sepoys of Meerut rode all night of 10 May to reach Delhi in the early hours next morning. As news of their arrival spread, the regiments stationed in Delhi also rose up in rebellion. Again british officers were killed, arms and ammunition seized, buildings set on fire. Triumphant soldiers gathered around the walls of the Red Fort where the Badshah lived, demanding to meet him. The emperor was not quite willing to challenge the mighty British power but the soldiers persisted. They forced their way into the palace and proclaimed Bahadur Shah Zafar as their leader.

The ageing emperor had to accept this demand. He wrote letters to all the chiefs and rulers of the country to come forward and organise a confederacy of Indian states to fight the British. This single step taken by Bahadur Shah had great implications.

Fig. 6 – Bahadur Shah Zafar

The Mughal dynasty had ruled over a very large part of the country. Most smaller rulers and chieftains controlled different territories on behalf of the Mughal ruler. Threatened by the expansion of British rule, many of them felt that if the Mughal emperor could rule again, they too would be able to rule their own territories once more, under Mughal authority.

Fig. 7 – Rani Laxmibai

The British had not expected this to happen. They thought the disturbance caused by the issue of the cartridges would die down. But Bahadur Shah Zafar’s decision to bless the rebellion changed the entire situation dramatically. Often when people see an alternative possibility they feel inspired and enthused. It gives them the courage, hope and confidence to act.

The rebellion spreads

After the British were routed from Delhi, there was no uprising for almost a week. It took that much time for news to travel. Then, a spurt of mutinies began.

Regiment after regiment mutinied and took off to join other troops at nodal points like Delhi, Kanpur and Lucknow. After them, the people of the towns and villages also rose up in rebellion and rallied around local leaders, zamindars and chiefs who were prepared to establish their authority and fight the British. Nana Saheb, the adopted son of the late Peshwa Baji Rao who lived near Kanpur, gathered armed forces and expelled the British garrison from the city. He proclaimed himself Peshwa. He declared that he was a governor under Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. In Lucknow, Birjis Qadr, the son of the deposed Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, was proclaimed the new Nawab. He too acknowledged the suzerainty of Bahadur Shah Zafar. His mother Begum Hazrat Mahal took an active part in organising the uprising against the British. In Jhansi, Rani Lakshmibai joined the rebel sepoys and fought the British along with Tantia Tope, the general of Nana Saheb. In the Mandla region of Madhya Pradesh, Rani Avantibai Lodhi of Ramgarh raised and led an army of four thousand against the British who had taken over the administration of her state.

Fig. 8 – As the mutiny spread, British officers were killed in the cantonments


1. Why did the Mughal emperor agree to support the rebels?

2. Write a paragraph on the assessment he may have made before accepting the offer of the sepoys.

Fig. 9 – A portrait of Nana Saheb

Fig. 10 – A portrait of Vir Kunwar Singh

The British were greatly outnumbered by the rebel forces. They were defeated in a number of battles. This convinced the people that the rule of the British had collapsed for good and gave them the confidence to take the plunge and join the rebellion. A situation of widespread popular rebellion developed in the region of Awadh in particular. On 6 August 1857, we find a telegram sent by Lieutenant Colonel Tytler to his Commander-in-Chief expressing the fear felt by the British: “Our men are cowed by the numbers opposed to them and the endless fighting. Every village is held against us, the zamindars have risen to oppose us.”

Many new leaders came up. For example, Ahmadullah Shah, a maulvi from Faizabad, prophesied that the rule of the British would come to an end soon. He caught the imagination of the people and raised a huge force of supporters. He came to Lucknow to fight the British. In Delhi, a large number of ghazis or religious warriors came together to wipe out the white people. Bakht Khan, a soldier from Bareilly, took charge of a large force of fighters who came to Delhi. He became a key military leader of the rebellion. In Bihar, an old zamindar, Kunwar Singh, joined the rebel sepoys and battled with the British for many months. Leaders and fighters from across the land joined the fight.

The Company Fights Back

Unnerved by the scale of the upheaval, the Company decided to repress the revolt with all its might. It brought reinforcements from England, passed new laws so that the rebels could be convicted with ease, and then moved into the storm centres of the revolt. Delhi was recaptured from the rebel forces in September 1857. The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar was tried in court and sentenced to life imprisonment. He and his wife Begum Zinat Mahal were sent to prison in Rangoon in October 1858. Bahadur Shah Zafar died in the Rangoon jail in November 1862.

Fig. 11 – British forces attack the rebels who had occupied the Red Fort (on the right) and Salimgarh Fort in Delhi (on the left)

Fig. 12– The siege train reaches Delhi

The British forces initially found it difficult to break through the heavy fortification in Delhi. On 3 September 1857 reinforcements arrived – a 7- mile-long siege train comprising cartloads of canons and ammunition pulled by elephants.

Fig. 13 – Postal stamp Essued in commemoration of Tantia Tope


Make a list of places where the uprising took place in May, June and July 1857.

The recapture of Delhi, however, did not mean that the rebellion died down after that. People continued to resist and battle the British. The British had to fight for two years to suppress the massive forces of popular rebellion.

Lucknow was taken in March 1858. Rani Lakshmibai was defeated and killed in June 1858. A similar fate awaited Rani Avantibai, who after initial victory in Kheri, chose to embrace death when surrounded by the British on all sides. Tantia Tope escaped to the jungles of central India and continued to fight a guerrilla war with the support of many tribal and peasant leaders. He was captured, tried and killed in April 1859.

Fig. 14 – British troops blow up Kashmere Gate to enter Delhi

Just as victories against the British had earlier encouraged rebellion, the defeat of rebel forces encouraged desertions. The British also tried their best to win back the loyalty of the people. They announced rewards for loyal landholders would be allowed to continue to enjoy traditional rights over their lands. Those who had rebelled were told that if they submitted to the British, and if they had not killed any white people, they would remain safe and their rights and claims to land would not be denied. Nevertheless, hundreds of sepoys, rebels, nawabs and rajas were tried and hanged.


Fig. 15 – British forces capture the rebels near Kanpur

Notice the way the artist shows the British soldiers valiantly advancing on the rebel forces.

The British had regained control of the country by the end of 1859, but they could not carry on ruling the land with the same policies any more.

Given below are the important changes that were introduced by the British.

1. The British Parliament passed a new Act in 1858 and transferred the powers of the East India Company to the British Crown in order to ensure a more responsible management of Indian affairs. A member of the British Cabinet was appointed Secretary of State for India and made responsible for all matters related to the governance of India. He was given a council to advise him, called the India Council. The Governor-General of India was given the title of Viceroy, that is, a personal representative of the Crown. Through these measures the British government accepted direct responsibility for 
ruling India.

2. All ruling chiefs of the country were assured that their territory would never be annexed in future. They were allowed to pass on their kingdoms to their heirs, including adopted sons. However, they were made to acknowledge the British Queen as their Sovereign Paramount. Thus the Indian rulers were to hold their kingdoms as subordinates of the British Crown.

3. It was decided that the proportion of Indian soldiers in the army would be reduced and the number of European soldiers would be increased. It was also decided that instead of recruiting soldiers from Awadh, Bihar, central India and south India, more soldiers would be recruited from among the Gurkhas, Sikhs and Pathans.

4. The land and property of Muslims was confiscated on a large scale and they were treated with suspicion and hostility. The British believed that they were responsible for the rebellion in a big way.

5. The British decided to respect the customary religious and social practices of the people in India.

6. Policies were made to protect landlords and zamindars and give them security of rights over their lands.

Thus a new phase of history began after 1857.


Fig. 16 – Some important centres of the Revolt in North India

The Khurda Uprising – A Case Study

Much before the event of 1857, there had taken place another event of a similar nature at a place called Khurda in 1817. Here, it would be instructive for us to study that event and reflect on how resentment against the colonial policies of the British had been building up since the beginning of the 19 th century in different parts of the country.

Khurda, a small kingdom built up in the late 16th century in the south-eastern part of Odisha, was a populous and well-cultivated territory consisting of 105 garhs, 60 large and 1109 small villages at the beginning of the 19th century. Its king, Raja Birakishore Dev had to earlier give up the possession of four parganas, the superintendence of the Jagannath Temple and the administration of fourteen garjats (Princely States) to the Marathas under compulsion. His son and successor, Mukunda Dev II was greatly disturbed with this loss of fortune. Therefore, sensing an opportunity in the Anglo-Maratha conflict, he had entered into negotiations with the British to get back his lost territories and the rights over the Jagannath Temple. But after the occupation of Odisha in 1803, the British showed no inclination to oblige him on either score. Consequently, in alliance with other feudatory chiefs of Odisha and secret support of the Marathas, he tried to assert his rights by force. This led to his deposition and annexation of his territories by the British. As a matter of consolation, he was only given the rights of management of the Jagannath Temple with a grant amounting to a mere one-tenth of the revenue of his former estate and his residence was fixed at Puri. This unfair settlement commenced an era of oppressive foreign rule in Odisha, which paved the way for a serious armed uprising in 1817.

Soon after taking over Khurda, the British followed a policy of resuming service tenures. It bitterly affected the lives of the ex-militia of the state, the Paiks. The severity of the measure was compounded on account of an unreasonable increase in the demand of revenue and also the oppressive ways of its collection. Consequently, there was large scale desertion of people from Khurda between 1805 and 1817. Yet, the British went for a series of short-term settlements, each time increasing the demands, not recognising either the productive capacity of the land or the paying capacity of the ryots. No leniency was shown even in case of natural calamities, which Odisha was frequently prone to. Rather, lands of defaulters were sold off to scheming revenue officials or speculators from Bengal.

The hereditary Military Commander of the deposed king, Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mahapatra Bhramarabar Rai or Buxi Jagabandhu as he was popularly known, was one among the dispossessed land-holders. He had in effect become a beggar, and for nearly two years survived on voluntary contributions from the people of Khurda before deciding to fight for their grievances as well as his own. Over the years, what had added to these grievances were (a) the introduction of sicca rupee (silver currency) in the region, (b) the insistence on payment of revenue in the new currency, (c) an unprecedented rise in the prices of food-stuff and salt, which had become far-fetched following the introduction of salt monopoly because of which the traditional salt makers of Odisha were deprived of making salt, and (d) the auction of local estates in Calcutta, which brought in absentee landlords from Bengal to Odisha. Besides, the insensitive and corrupt police system also made the situation worse for the armed uprising to take a sinister shape.

The uprising was set off on 29 March 1817 as the Paiks attacked the police station and other government establishments at Banpur killing more than a hundred men and took away a large amount of government money. Soon its ripples spread in different directions with Khurda becoming its epicenter. The zamindars and ryots alike joined the Paiks with enthusiasm. Those who did not, were taken to task. A ‘no-rent campaign’ was also started. The British tried to dislodge the Paiks from their entrenched position but failed. On 14 April 1817, Buxi Jagabandhu, leading five to ten thousand Paiks and men of the Kandh tribe seized Puri and declared the hesitant king, Mukunda Dev II as their ruler. The priests of the Jagannath Temple also extended the Paiks their full support.

Seeing the situation going out of hand, the British clamped Martial Law. The King was quickly captured and sent to prison in Cuttack with his son. The Buxi with his close associate, Krushna Chandra Bhramarabar Rai, tried to cut off all communications between Cuttack and Khurda as the uprising spread to the southern and the north-western parts of Odisha. Consequently, the British sent Major-General Martindell to clear off the area from the clutches of the Paiks while at the same time announcing rewards for the arrest of Buxi jagabandhu and his associates. In the ensuing operation hundreds of Paiks were killed, many fled to deep jungles and some returned home under a scheme of amnesty. Thus by May 1817 the uprising was mostly contained.

However, outside Khurda it was sustained by Buxi Jagabandhu with the help of supporters like the Raja of Kujung and the unflinching loyalty of the Paiks until his surrender in May 1825. On their part, the British henceforth adopted a policy of ‘leniency, indulgence and forbearance’ towards the people of Khurda. The price of salt was reduced and necessary reforms were made in the police and the justice systems. Revenue officials found to be corrupt were dismissed from service and former land-holders were restored to their lands. The son of the king of Khurda, Ram Chandra Dev III was allowed to move to Puri and take charge of the affairs of the Jagannath Temple with a grant of rupees twenty-four thousand.

In sum, it was the first such popular anti-British armed uprising in Odisha, which had far reaching effect on the future of British administration in that part of the country. To merely call it a ‘Paik Rebellion’ will thus be an understatement.


For a Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace

Fig. 11 – Taiping army meeting their leader

While the revolt was spreading in India in 1857, a massive popular uprising was raging in the southern parts of China. It had started in 1850 and could be suppressed only by the mid-1860s. Thousands of labouring, poor people were led by Hong Xiuquan to fight for the establishment of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. This was known as the Taiping Rebellion.

Hong Xiuquan was a convert to Christianity and was against the traditional religions practised in China such as Confucianism and Buddhism. The rebels of Taiping wanted to establish a kingdom where a form of Christianity was practised, where no one held any private property, where there was no difference between social classes and between men and women, where consumption of opium, tobacco, alcohol, and activities like gambling, prostitution, slavery, were prohibited.

The British and French armed forces operating in China helped the emperor of the Qing dynasty to put down the Taiping Rebellion.


Let’s imagine

Imagine you are a British officer in Awadh during the rebellion. What would you do to keep your plans of fighting the rebels a top secret.

Let’s recall

1. What was the demand of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi that was refused by the British?

2. What did the British do to protect the interests of those who converted to Christianity?

3. What objections did the sepoys have to the new cartridges that they were asked to use?

4. How did the last Mughal emperor live the last years of his life?

Let’s discuss

Fig. 17 – Ruins of the Residency in Lucknow

In June 1857, the rebel forces began the siege of the Residency. A large number of British women, men and children had taken shelter in the buildings there. The rebels surrounded the compound and bombarded the building with shells. Hit by a shell, Henry Lawrence, the Chief Commissioner of Awadh, died in one of the rooms that you see in the picture. Notice how buildings carry the marks of past events.

5. What could be the reasons for the confidence of the British rulers about their position in India before May 1857?

6. What impact did Bahadur Shah Zafar’s support to the rebellion have on the people and the ruling families?

7. How did the British succeed in securing the submission of the rebel landowners of Awadh?

8. In what ways did the British change their policies as a result of the rebellion of 1857?

Let’s do

9. Find out stories and songs remembered by people in your area or your family about San Sattavan ki Ladaai. What memories do people cherish about the great uprising?

10. Find out more about Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. In what ways would she have been an unusual woman for her times?

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