The Nationalist Movement in Indo-China Vietnam gained formal independence in 1945, before India, but it took another three decades of fighting before the Republic of Vietnam was formed. This chapter on Indo-China will introduce you to one of the important states of the peninsula, namely, Vietnam. Nationalism in Indo-China developed in a colonial context. The knitting together of a modern Vietnamese nation that brought the different communities together was in part the result of colonisation but, as importantly, it was shaped by the struggle against colonial domination. If you see the historical experience of Indo-China in relation to that of India, you will discover important differences in the way colonial empires functioned and the anti-imperial movement developed. By looking at such differences and similarities you can understand the variety of ways in which nationalism has developed and shaped the contemporary world. 1 Emerging from the Shadow of China Indo-China comprises the modern countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (see Fig. 1). Its early history shows many different groups of people living in this area under the shadow of the powerful empire of China. Even when an independent country was established in what is now northern and central Vietnam, its rulers continued to maintain the Chinese system of government as well as Chinese culture. Vietnam was also linked to what has been called the maritime silk route that brought in goods, people and ideas. Other networks of trade connected it to the hinterlands where non-Vietnamese people such as the Khmer Cambodians lived. 1.1 Colonial Domination and Resistance The colonisation of Vietnam by the French brought the people of the country into conflict with the colonisers in all areas of life. The most visible form of French control was military and economic domination but the French also built a system that tried to reshape the culture of the Vietnamese. Nationalism in Vietnam emerged through the efforts of different sections of society to fight against the French and all they represented. Fig. 3 – Francis Garnier, a French officer who led an attack against the ruling Nguyen dynasty, being killed by soldiers of the court. Garnier was part of the French team that explored the Mekong river. In 1873 he was commissioned by the French to try and establish a French colony in Tonkin in the north. Garnier carried out an attack on Hanoi, the capital of Tonkin, but was killed in the fight. French troops landed in Vietnam in 1858 and by the mid-1880s they had established a firm grip over the northern region. After the Franco-Chinese war the French assumed control of Tonkin and Anaam and, in 1887, French Indo-China was formed. In the following decades the French sought to consolidate their position, and people in Vietnam began reflecting on the nature of the loss that Vietnam was suffering.Nationalist resistance developed out of this reflection. Fig. 4 – The Mekong river, engraving by the French Exploratory Force, in which Garnier participated. Exploring and mapping rivers was part of the colonial enterprise everywhere in the world. Colonisers wanted to know the route of the rivers, their origin, and the terrain they passed through. The rivers could then be properly used for trade and transport. During these explorations innumerable pictures and maps were produced. The famous blind poet Ngyuyen Dinh Chieu (1822-88) bemoaned what was happening to his country: I would rather face eternal darkness Than see the faces of traitors. I would rather see no man Than encounter one man’s suffering. I would rather see nothing Than witness the dismembering of the country in decline. 1.2 Why the French thought Colonies Necessary Colonies were considered essential to supply natural resources and other essential goods. Like other Western nations, France also thought it was the mission of the ‘advanced’ European countries to bring the benefits of civilisation to backward peoples. The French began by building canals and draining lands in the Mekong delta to increase cultivation. The vast system of irrigation works – canals and earthworks – built mainly with forced labour, increased rice production and allowed the export of rice to the international market. The area under rice cultivation went up from 274,000 hectares in 1873 to 1.1 million hectares in 1900 and 2.2 million in 1930. Vietnam exported two-thirds of its rice production and by 1931 had become the third largest exporter of rice in the world. This was followed by infrastructure projects to help transport goods for trade, move military garrisons and control the entire region. Construction of a trans-Indo-China rail network that would link the northern and southern parts of Vietnam and China was begun. This final link with Yunan in China was completed by 1910. The second line was also built, linking Vietnam to Siam (as Thailand was then called), via the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. By the 1920s, to ensure higher levels of profit for their businesses, French business interests were pressurising the government in Vietnam to develop the infrastructure further. 1.3 Should Colonies be Developed? Everyone agreed that colonies had to serve the interests of the mother country. But the question was – how? Some like Paul Bernard, an influential writer and policy-maker, strongly believed that the 32 Activity Imagine a conversation between a French coloniser and a Vietnamese labourer in the canal project. The Frenchman believes he is bringing civilization to backward people and the Vietnamese labourer argues against it. In pairs act out the conversation they may have had, using evidence from the text. economy of the colonies needed to be developed. He argued that the purpose of acquiring colonies was to make profits. If the economy was developed and the standard of living of the people improved, they would buy more goods. The market would consequently expand, leading to better profits for French business. Bernard suggested that there were several barriers to economic growth in Vietnam: high population levels, low agricultural productivity and extensive indebtedness amongst the peasants. To reduce rural poverty and increase agricultural productivity it was necessary to carry out land reforms as the Japanese had done in the 1890s. However, this could not ensure sufficient employment. As the experience of Japan showed, industrialisation would be essential to create more jobs. The colonial economy in Vietnam was, however, primarily based on rice cultivation and rubber plantations owned by the French and a small Vietnamese elite. Rail and port facilities were set up to service this sector. Indentured Vietnamese labour was widely used in the rubber plantations. The French, contrary to what Bernard would have liked, did little to industrialise the economy. In the rural areas landlordism spread and the standard of living declined. New words Indentured labour – A form of labour widely used in the plantations from the mid-nineteenth century. Labourers worked on the basis of contracts that did not specify any rights of labourers but gave immense power to employers. Employers could bring criminal charges against labourers and punish and jail them for non-fulfilment of contracts. 2 The Dilemma of Colonial Education French colonisation was not based only on economic exploitation. It was also driven by the idea of a ‘civilising mission’. Like the British in India, the French claimed that they were bringing modern civilisation to the Vietnamese. They took for granted that Europe had developed the most advanced civilisation. So it became the duty of the Europeans to introduce these modern ideas to the colony even if this meant destroying local cultures, religions and traditions, because these were seen as outdated and prevented modern development. Education was seen as one way to civilise the ‘native’. But in order to educate them, the French had to resolve a dilemma. How far were the Vietnamese to be educated? The French needed an educated local labour force but they feared that education might create problems. Once educated, the Vietnamese may begin to question colonial domination. Moreover, French citizens living in Vietnam (called colons) began fearing that they might lose their jobs – as teachers, shopkeepers, policemen – to the educated Vietnamese. So they opposed policies that would give the Vietnamese full access to French education. 2.1 Talking Modern The French were faced with yet another problem in the sphere of education: the elites in Vietnam were powerfully influenced by Chinese culture. To consolidate their power, the French had to counter this Chinese influence. So they systematically dismantled the traditional educational system and established French schools for the Vietnamese. But this was not easy. Chinese, the language used by the elites so far, had to be replaced. But what was to take its place? Was the language to be Vietnamese or French? There were two broad opinions on this question. Some policymakers emphasised the need to use the French language as the medium of instruction. By learning the language, they felt, the Vietnamese would be introduced to the culture and civilisation of France. This would help create an ‘Asiatic France solidly tied to European France’. The educated people in Vietnam would respect French sentiments and ideals, see the superiority of French culture, and work for the French. Others were opposed to French being the only medium of instruction. They suggested that Vietnamese be taught in lower classes and French in the higher classes. The few who learnt French and acquired French culture were to be rewarded with French citizenship. However, only the Vietnamese elite – comprising a small fraction of the population – could enroll in the schools, and only a few among those admitted ultimately passed the school-leaving examination. This was largely because of a deliberate policy of failing students, particularly in the final year, so that they could not qualify for the better-paid jobs. Usually, as many as two-thirds of the students failed. In 1925, in a population of 17 million, there were less than 400 who passed the examination. School textbooks glorified the French and justified colonial rule. The Vietnamese were represented as primitive and backward, capable of manual labour but not of intellectual reflection; they could work in the fields but not rule themselves; they were ‘skilled copyists’ but not creative. School children were told that only French rule could ensure peace in Vietnam: ‘Since the establishment of French rule the Vietnamese peasant no longer lives in constant terror of pirates … Calm is complete, and the peasant can work with a good heart.’ 2.2 Looking Modern The Tonkin Free School was started in 1907 to provide a Western-style education. This education included classes in science, hygiene and French (these classes were held in the evening and had to be paid for separately). The school’s approach to what it means to be ‘modern’ is a good example of the thinking prevalent at that time. It was not enough to learn science and Western ideas: to be modern the Vietnamese had to also look modern. The school encouraged the adoption of Western styles such as having a short haircut. For the Vietnamese this meant a major break with their own identity since they traditionally kept long hair. To underline the importance of a total change there was even a ‘haircutting chant’: Comb in the left hand Scissors in the right, Snip, snip, clip, clip! Watch out, be careful, Drop stupid practices, Dump childish things Speak openly and frankly Study Western customs Activity Imagine you are a student in the Tonkin Free School in 1910. How would you react to: • what the textbooks say about the Vietnamese? • what the school tells you about hairstyles? 2.3 Resistance in Schools Teachers and students did not blindly follow the curriculum. Sometimes there was open opposition, at other times there was silent resistance. As the numbers of Vietnamese teachers increased in the lower classes, it became difficult to control what was actually taught. While teaching, Vietnamese teachers quietly modified the text and criticised what was stated. In 1926 a major protest erupted in the Saigon Native Girls School. A Vietnamese girl sitting in one of the front seats was asked to move to the back of the class and allow a local French student to occupy the front bench. She refused. The principal, also a colon (French people in the colonies), expelled her. When angry students protested, they too were expelled, leading to a further spread of open protests. Seeing the situation getting out of control, the government forced the school to take the students back. The principal reluctantly agreed but warned the students, ‘I will crush all Vietnamese under my feet. Ah! You wish my deportation. Know well that I will leave only after I am assured Vietnamese no longer inhabit Cochinchina.’ Elsewhere, students fought against the colonial government’s efforts to prevent the Vietnamese from qualifying for white-collar jobs. They were inspired by patriotic feelings and the conviction that it was the duty of the educated to fight for the benefit of society. This brought them into conflict with the French as well as the traditional elite, since both saw their positions threatened. By the 1920s, students were forming various political parties, such as the Party of Young Annan, and publishing nationalist journals such as the Annanese Student. Schools thus became an important place for political and cultural battles. The French sought to strengthen their rule in Vietnam through the control of education. They tried to change the values, norms and perceptions of the people, to make them believe in the superiority of French civilisation and the inferiority of the Vietnamese. Vietnamese intellectuals, on the other hand, feared that Vietnam was losing not just control over its territory but its very identity: its own culture and customs were being devalued and the people were developing a master-slave mentality. The battle against French colonial education became part of the larger battle against colonialism and for independence. Some important dates 1802 Nguyen Anh becomes emperor symbolising the unification of the country under the Nguyen dynasty. 1867 Cochinchina (the South) becomes a French colony. 1887 Creation of the Indo-china Union, including Cochinchina, Annam, Tonkin, Cambodia and later, Laos. 1930 Ho Chi Minh forms the Vietnamese Communist Party. 1945 Vietminh start a general popular insurrection. Bao Dai abdicates. Ho Chi Minh declares independence in Hanoi (September 23). 1954 The French army is defeated at Dien Bien Phu. 1961 Kennedy decides to increase US military aid to South Vietnam. 1974 Paris Peace Treaty. 1975 (April 30) NLF troops enter Saigon. 1976 The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is proclaimed. 3 Hygiene, Disease and Everyday Resistance Education was not the only sphere of everyday life in which such political battles against colonialism were fought. In many other institutions we can see the variety of small ways in which the colonised expressed their anger against the colonisers. 3.1 Plague Strikes Hanoi Take the case of health and hygiene. When the French set about creating a modern Vietnam, they decided to rebuild Hanoi. The latest ideas about architecture and modern engineering skills were employed to build a new and ‘modern’ city. In 1903, the modern part of Hanoi was struck by bubonic plague. In many colonial countries, measures to control the spread of disease created serious social conflicts. But in Hanoi events took a peculiarly interesting turn. The French part of Hanoi was built as a beautiful and clean city with wide avenues and a well-laid-out sewer system, while the ‘native quarter’ was not provided with any modern facilities. The refuse from the old city drained straight out into the river or, during heavy rains or floods, overflowed into the streets. Thus what was installed to create a hygienic environment in the French city became the cause of the plague. The large sewers in the modern part of the city, a symbol of modernity, were an ideal and protected breeding ground for rats. The sewers also served as a great transport system, allowing the rats to move around the city without any problem. And rats began to enter the well-cared-for homes of the French through the sewage pipes. What was to be done? 3.2 The Rat Hunt To stem this invasion, a rat hunt was started in 1902. The French hired Vietnamese workers and paid them for each rat they caught. Rats began to be caught in thousands: on 30 May, for instance, 20,000 were caught but still there seemed to be no end. For the Vietnamese the rat hunt seemed to provide an early lesson in the success of collective bargaining. Those who did the dirty work of entering sewers found that if they came together they could negotiate a higher bounty. They also discovered innovative ways to profit from this situation. The bounty was paid when a tail was given as proof that a rat had been killed. So the rat-catchers took to just clipping the tails and releasing the rats, so that the process could be repeated, over and over again. Some people, in fact, began raising rats to earn a bounty. Defeated by the resistance of the weak, the French were forced to scrap the bounty programme. None of this prevented the bubonic plague, which swept through the area in 1903 and in subsequent years. In a way, the rat menace marks the limits of French power and the contradictions in their ‘civilising mission’. And the actions of the rat-catchers tell us of the numerous small ways in which colonialism was fought in everyday life. Discuss What does the 1903 plague and the measures to control it tell us about the French colonial attitude towards questions of health and hygiene? Colonial domination was exercised by control over all areas of private and public life. The French occupied Vietnam militarily but they also sought to reshape social and cultural life. While religion played an important role in strengthening colonial control, it also provided ways of resistance. Let us consider how this happened. Vietnam’s religious beliefs were a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism and local practices. Christianity, introduced by French missionaries, was intolerant of this easygoing attitude and viewed the Vietnamese tendency to revere the supernatural as something to be corrected. From the eighteenth century, many religious movements were hostile to the Western presence. An early movement against French control and the spread of Christianity was the Scholars Revolt in 1868. This revolt was led by officials at the imperial court angered by the spread of Catholicism and French power. They led a general uprising in Box 1 Confucius (551-479 BCE), a Chinese thinker, developed a philosophical system based on good conduct, practical wisdom and proper social relationships. People were taught to respect their parents and submit to elders. They were told that the relationship between the ruler and the people was the same as that between children and parents. Ngu An and Ha Tien provinces where over a thousand Catholics were killed. Catholic missionaries had been active in winning converts since the early seventeenth century, and by the middle of the eighteenth century had converted some 300,000. The French crushed the movement but this uprising served to inspire other patriots to rise up against them. The elites in Vietnam were educated in Chinese and Confucianism. But religious beliefs among the peasantry were shaped by a variety of syncretic traditions that combined Buddhism and local beliefs. There were many popular religions in Vietnam that were spread by people who claimed to have seen a vision of God. Some of these religious movements supported the French, but others inspired movements against colonial rule. One such movement was the Hoa Hao. It began in 1939 and gained great popularity in the fertile Mekong delta area. It drew on religious ideas popular in anti-French uprisings of the nineteenth century. The founder of Hoa Hao was a man called Huynh Phu So. He performed miracles and helped the poor. His criticism against useless expenditure had a wide appeal. He also opposed the sale of child brides, gambling and the use of alcohol and opium. The French tried to suppress the movement inspired by Huynh Phu So. They declared him mad, called him the Mad Bonze, and put him in a mental asylum. Interestingly, the doctor who had to prove him insane became his follower, and finally in 1941, even the French doctors declared that he was sane. The French authorities exiled him to Laos and sent many of his followers to concentration camps. Movements like this always had a contradictory relationship with mainstream nationalism. Political parties often drew upon their support, but were uneasy about their activities. They could neither control or discipline these groups, nor support their rituals and practices. Yet the significance of these movements in arousing anti-imperialist sentiments should not be underestimated. New words Syncretic – Characterised by syncretism; aims to bring together different beliefs and practices, seeing their essential unity rather than their difference Concentration camp – A prison where people are detained without due process of law. The word evokes an image of a place of torture and brutal treatment French colonialism was resisted at many levels and in various forms. But all nationalists had to grapple with one set of questions: What was it to be Modern? What was it to be Nationalist? In order to be modern, was it necessary to regard tradition as backward and reject all earlier ideas and social practices? Was it necessary to consider the ‘West’ as the symbol of development and civilisation, and try and copy the West? Different answers were offered to such questions. Some intellectuals felt that Vietnamese traditions had to be strengthened to resist the domination of the West, while others felt that Vietnam had to learn from the West even while opposing foreign domination. These differing visions led to complex debates, which could not be easily resolved. In the late nineteenth century, resistance to French domination was very often led by Confucian scholar-activists, who saw their world crumbling. Educated in the Confucian tradition, Phan Boi Chau (1867-1940) was one such nationalist. He became a major figure in the anti-colonial resistance from the time he formed the Revolutionary Society (Duy Tan Hoi) in 1903, with Prince Cuong Deas the head. Phan Boi Chau met the Chinese reformer Liang Qichao (1873-1929) in Yokohama in 1905. Phan’s most influential book, The History of the Loss of Vietnam was written under the strong influence and advice of Qichao. It became a widely read bestseller in Vietnam and China and was even made into a play. The book focuses on two connected themes: the loss of sovereignty and the severing of ties with China – ties that bound the elites of the two countries within a shared culture. It is this double loss that Phan laments, a lament that was typical of reformers from within the traditional elite. Other nationalists strongly differed with Phan Boi Chau. One such was Phan Chu Trinh (1871-1926). He was intensely hostile to the monarchy and opposed to the idea of resisting the French with the help of the court. His desire was to establish a democratic republic. Profoundly influenced by the democratic ideals of the West, he did not want a wholesale rejection of Western civilisation. He accepted the French revolutionary ideal of liberty but charged the French for not abiding by the ideal. He demanded that the French set up legal and educational institutions, and develop agriculture and industries. Source A In Japan, Phan Boi Chau and Phan Chu Trinh spent time together, discussing their visions of Vietnamese independence, and debating their differences. This is what Phan Boi Chau later wrote about their discussions: ‘Thereafter over more than ten days, he and I debated time and again, and our opinions were diametrically opposed. That is to say, he wished to overthrow the monarchy in order to create a basis for the promotion of popular rights; I, on the contrary, maintained that first the foreign enemy should be driven out, and after our nation’s independence was restored we could talk about other things. My plan was to make use of the monarchy, which he opposed absolutely. His plan was to raise up the people to abolish the monarchy, with which I absolutely disagreed. In other words, he and I were pursuing one and the same goal, but our means were considerably different.’ Source Discuss What ideas did Phan Boi Chau and Phan Chu Trinh share in common? What did they differ on? New words Republic – A form of government based on popular consent and popular representation. It is based on the power of the people as opposed to monarchy 5.1 Other Ways of Becoming Modern: Japan and China Early Vietnamese nationalists had a close relationship with Japan and China. They provided models for those looking to change, a refuge for those who were escaping French police, and a location where a wider Asian network of revolutionaries could be established. In the first decade of the twentieth century a ‘go east movement’ became popular. In 1907-08 some 300 Vietnamese students went to Japan to acquire modern education. For many of them the primary objective was to drive out the French from Vietnam, overthrow the puppet emperor and re-establish the Nguyen dynasty that had been deposed by the French. These nationalists looked for foreign arms and help. They appealed to the Japanese as fellow Asians. Japan had modernised itself and had resisted colonisation by the West. Besides, its victory over Russia in 1907 proved its military capabilities. Vietnamese students established a branch of the Restoration Society in Tokyo but after 1908, the Japanese Ministry of Interior clamped down on them. Many, including Phan Boi Chau, were deported and forced to seek exile in China and Thailand. Developments in China also inspired Vietnamese nationalists. In 1911, the long established monarchy in China was overthrown by a popular movement under Sun Yat-sen, and a Republic was set up. Inspired by these developments, Vietnamese students organised the Association for the Restoration of Vietnam (Viet-Nam Quan Phuc Hoi). Now the nature of the anti-French independence movement changed. The objective was no longer to set up a constitutional monarchy but a democratic republic. Soon, however, the anti-imperialist movement in Vietnam came under a new type of leadership. 6 The Communist Movement and Vietnamese Nationalism The Great Depression of the 1930s had a profound impact on Vietnam. The prices of rubber and rice fell, leading to rising rural debts, unemployment and rural uprisings, such as in the provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh. These provinces were among the poorest, had an old radical tradition, and have been called the ‘electrical fuses’ of Vietnam – when the system was under pressure they were the first to blow. The French put these uprisings down with great severity, even using planes to bomb demonstrators. In February 1930, Ho Chi Minh brought together competing nationalist groups to establish the Vietnamese Communist (Vietnam Cong San Dang) Party, later renamed the Indo-Chinese Communist Party. He was inspired by the militant demonstrations of the European communist parties. In 1940 Japan occupied Vietnam, as part of its imperial drive to control Southeast Asia. So nationalists now had to fight against the Japanese as well as the French. The League for the Independence of Vietnam (Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh), which came to be known as the Vietminh, fought the Japanese occupation and recaptured Hanoi in September 1945. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed and Ho Chi Minh became Chairman. 6.1 The New Republic of Vietnam The new republic faced a number of challenges. The French tried to regain control by using the emperor, Bao Dai, as their puppet. Faced with the French offensive, the Vietminh were forced to retreat to the hills. After eight years of fighting, the French were defeated in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu. The Supreme French Commander of the French armies, General Henry Navarre had declared confidently in 1953 that they would soon be victorious. But on 7 May 1954, the Vietminh annihilated and captured more than 16,000 soldiers of the French Expeditionary Corps. The entire commanding staff, including a general, 16 colonels and 1,749 officers, were taken prisoner. In the peace negotiations in Geneva that followed the French defeat, the Vietnamese were persuaded to accept the division of the country. North and south were split: Ho Chi Minh and the communists took Source B Declaration of independence The declaration of the new republic began by reaffirming the principles of the declaration of independence of the United States in 1771 and of the French Revolution in 1791 but added that the French imperialists do not follow these principles for they ‘have violated our fatherland and oppressed our fellow citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice. ‘In the field of politics, they have deprived us of all liberties. They have imposed upon us inhuman laws … They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots; they have drowned our uprisings in rivers of blood. ‘They have fettered public opinion; they have practiced obscurantism against our people … ‘For these reasons, we members of the Provisional Government, representing the entire population of Vietnam, declare that we shall henceforth have no connection with imperialist France; that we abolish all the privileges which the French have arrogated to themselves on our territory … ‘We solemnly proclaim to the entire world: Vietnam has the right to be free and independent, and in fact has become free and independent.’ Source New words Obscurantist – Person or ideas that mislead power in the north while Bao Dai’s regime was put in power in the south. This division set in motion a series of events that turned Vietnam into a battlefield bringing death and destruction to its people as well as the environment. The Bao Dai regime was soon overthrown by a coup led by Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem built a repressive and authoritarian government. Anyone who opposed him was called a communist and was jailed and killed. Diem retained Ordinance 10, a French law that permitted Christianity but outlawed Buddhism. His dictatorial Fig. 10 – The French Commander in Indo-China, General Henri Navarre (right).rule came to be opposed by a broad opposition united under Navarre wanted to attack the Vietminh even in their the banner of the National Liberation Front (NLF). remote bases. As a consequence the French opened many fronts of attack and scattered their forces.With the help of the Ho Chi Minh government in the north, Navarre’s plans backfired in the North Eastern Valley of Dien Bien Phu.the NLF fought for the unification of the country. The US Box 2 At Dien Bien Phu the French were outwitted by the Vietminh forces led by General Vo Nguyen Giap. The French Commander, Navarre, had not thought of all the problems he would face in the battle. The valley where French garrisons were located was flooded in the monsoon and the area was covered with bushes, making it difficult to move troops and tanks, or trace the Vietminh anti-aircraft guns hidden in the jungle. From their base in the hills, the Vietminh surrounded the French garrisons in the valley below, digging trenches and tunnels to move without being detected. Supplies and reinforcements could not reach the besieged French garrison, the wounded French soldiers could not be moved, and the French airstrip became unusable because of continuous artillery fire. Dien Bien Phu became a very important symbol of struggle. It strengthened Vietminh conviction in their capacity to fight powerful imperial forces through determination and proper strategy. Stories of the battle were retold in villages and cities to inspire people. Vietminh forces used bicycles and porters to transport supplies. They went through jungles and hidden tracks to escape enemy attacks. Box 3 Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) Little is known about his early life mostly because Minh chose to downplay his personal background and identify himself with the cause of Vietnam. Probably born as Nguyen Van Thanh in Central Vietnam, he studied at French schools that produced leaders such as Ngo Dinh Diem, Vo Nguyen Giap and Pham Van Dong. He briefly taught in 1910, and in 1911, learnt baking and took a job on a French liner on the Saigon-Marseilles run. Minh became an active member of the Commintern, meeting Lenin and other leaders. In May 1941, after 30 years abroad in Europe, Thailand and China, Minh finally returned to Vietnam. In 1943 he took the name Ho Chi Minh (He Who Enlightens). He became president of the Vietnam Democratic Republic. Ho Chi Minh died on 3 September 1969. He led the party successfully for over 40 years, struggling to preserve Vietnamese autonomy. watched this alliance with fear. Worried about communists gaining power, it decided to intervene decisively, sending in troops and arms. 6.2 The Entry of the US into the War US entry into the war marked a new phase that proved costly to the Vietnamese as well as to the Americans. From 1965 to 1972, over 3,403,100 US services personnel served in Vietnam (7,484 were women). Even though the US had advanced technology and good medical supplies, casualties were high. About 47,244 died in battle and 303,704 were wounded. (Of those wounded, 23,014 were listed by the Veterans Administration to be 100 per cent disabled.) This phase of struggle with the US was brutal. Thousands of US troops arrived equipped with heavy weapons and tanks and backed by the most powerful bombers of the time – B52s. The wide spread attacks and use of chemical weapons – Napalm, Agent Orange, and phosphorous bombs – destroyed many villages and decimated jungles. Civilians died in large numbers. The effect of the war was felt within the US as well. Many were critical of the government for getting involved in a war that they saw as indefensible. When the youth were drafted for the war, the anger spread. Compulsory service in the armed forces, however, could be waived for university graduates. This meant that many of those sent to fight did not belong to the privileged elite but were minorities and children of working-class families. The US media and films played a major role in both supporting as well as criticising the war. Hollywood made films in support of the war, such as John Wayne’s Green Berets (1968). This has been cited by many as an example of an unthinking propaganda film that was responsible for motivating many young men to die in the war. Other films were more critical as they tried to understand the reasons for this war. Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) reflected the moral confusion that the war had caused in the US. The war grew out of a fear among US policy-planners that the victory of the Ho Chi Minh government would start a domino effect – communist governments would be established in other countries in the area. They Box 4 Agent Orange: The Deadly Poison Agent Orange is a defoliant, a plant killer, so called because it was stored in drums marked with an orange band. Between 1961 and 1971, some 11 million gallons of this chemical was sprayed from cargo planes by US forces. Their plan was to destroy forests and fields, so that it would be easier to kill if there was no jungle cover for people to hide in. Over 14 per cent of the country’s farmland was affected by this poison. Its effect has been staggering, continuing to affect people till today. Dioxin, an element of Agent Orange, is known to cause cancer and brain damage in children, and, according to a study, is also the cause of the high incidence of deformities found in the sprayed areas. The tonnage of bombs, including chemical arms, used during the US intervention (mostly against civilian targets) in Vietnam exceeds that used throughout the Second World War. underestimated the power of nationalism to move people to action, inspire them to sacrifice their home and family, live under horrific conditions, and fight for independence. They underestimated the power of a small country to fight the most technologically advanced country in the world. New words Napalm – An organic compound used to thicken gasoline for firebombs. The mixture burns slowly and when it comes in contact with surfaces like the human body, it sticks and continues to burn. Developed in the US, it was used in the Second World War. Despite an international outcry, it was used in Vietnam. 6.3 The Ho Chi Minh Trail The story of the Ho Chi Minh trail is one way of understanding the nature of the war that the Vietnamese fought against the US. It symbolises how the Vietnamese used their limited resources to great advantage. The trail, an immense network of footpaths and roads, was used to transport men and materials from the north to the south. The trail was improved from the late 1950s, and from 1967 about 20,000 North Vietnamese troops came south each month on this trail. The trail had support bases and hospitals along the way. In some parts supplies were transported in trucks, but mostly they were carried by porters, who were mainly women. These porters carried about 25 kilos on their backs, or about 70 kilos on their bicycles. Most of the trail was outside Vietnam in neighbouring Laos and Cambodia with branch lines extending into South Vietnam. The US regularly bombed this trail trying to disrupt supplies, but efforts to destroy this important supply line by intensive bombing failed because they were rebuilt very quickly. Roads damaged by bombs were quickly rebuilt. Source C Letters of Mr Do Sam Do Sam was a colonel in the North Vietnamese artillery regiment. He was part of the Tet Offensive started in 1968, to unify North and South Vietnam and win the battle against US. These are extracts from his letters written to his wife from the scene of battle. They show how, in the nationalist imagination, personal love mingles with love for the country and the desire for freedom. Sacrifice appears necessary for happiness. Letter dated 6/1968 ‘You ask me what “you miss most when you think of me?” I miss the environment of our wedding ... I miss the small cozy room with lots of memories. I miss … ‘Right after our wedding I had to again leave to fight in order to protect the coastal areas of our country. What a short time we had before I had to station permanently in the South. The more I think, the more I feel for you; therefore I would have to be more determined to protect the country in order to bring happiness for millions of couples like us … ‘Last night the car kept heading south. This morning I am writing to you sitting on a stone, surrounded by the sound of streams and the rustle of trees, as if they were celebrating our happiness. Looking forward to the day when we can return victoriously. Then we could live in greater happiness, couldn’t we? Wish you good health and miss me always …’ Letter dated 6/1968 ‘Though you are always in my mind I have to focus on my work to contribute to the victory of the ongoing struggle of our nation … ‘I have promised myself that only when the South is liberated and peace and happiness return to the people, only then could I be free to focus on building our own happiness, only then I could be satisfied with our family life …’ -Hung, Dang Vuong, "Những lá thư thời chiến Việt Nam (Letters Written during the War in Vietnam), publication of Hoi nha van (Writers’ Association), 2005. Translation by Nguen Quoc Anh. Source Another way of looking at social movements is to see how they affect different groups in society. Let us see how the roles of women were specified in the anti-imperialist movement in Vietnam, and what that tells us about nationalist ideology. 7.1 Women as Rebels Women in Vietnam traditionally enjoyed greater equality than in China, particularly among the lower classes, but they had only limited freedom to determine their future and played no role in public life. As the nationalist movement grew, the status of women came to be questioned and a new image of womanhood emerged. Writers and political thinkers began idealising women who rebelled against social norms. In the 1930s, a famous novel by Nhat Linh caused a scandal because it showed a woman leaving a forced marriage and marrying someone of her choice, someone who was involved in nationalist politics. This rebellion against social conventions marked the arrival of the new woman in Vietnamese society. 7.2 Heroes of Past Times Rebel women of the past were similarly celebrated. In 1913, the nationalist Phan Boi Chau wrote a play based on the lives of the Trung sisters who had fought against Chinese domination in 39-43 CE. In this play he depicted these sisters as patriots fighting to save the Vietnamese nation from the Chinese. The actual reasons for the revolt are a matter of debate among scholars, but after Phan’s play the Trung sisters came to be idealised and glorified. They were depicted in paintings, plays and novels as representing the indomitable will and the intense patriotism of the Vietnamese. We are told that they gathered a force of over 30,000, resisted the Chinese for two years, and when ultimately defeated, they committed suicide, instead of surrendering to the enemy. Other women rebels of the past were part of the popular nationalist lore. One of the most venerated was Trieu Au who lived in the third century CE. Orphaned in childhood, she lived with her brother. On growing up she left home, went into the jungles, organised a large army and resisted Chinese rule. Finally, when her army was crushed, she drowned herself. She became a sacred figure, not just a martyr who fought for the honour of the country. Nationalists popularised her image to inspire people to action. 7.3 Women as Warriors In the 1960s, photographs in magazines and journals showed women as brave fighters. There were pictures of women militia shooting down planes. They were portrayed as young, brave and dedicated. Stories were written to show how happy they felt when they joined the army and could carry a rifle. Some stories spoke of their incredible bravery in single-handedly killing the enemy – Nguyen Thi Xuan, for instance, was reputed to have shot down a jet with just twenty bullets. Women were represented not only as warriors but also as workers: they were shown with a rifle in one hand and a hammer in the other. Whether young or old, women began to be depicted as selflessly working and fighting to save the country. As casualties in the war increased in the 1960s, women were urged to join the struggle in larger numbers. Many women responded and joined the resistance movement. They helped in nursing the wounded, constructing underground rooms and tunnels and fighting the enemy. Along the Ho Chi Minh trail young volunteers kept open 2,195 km of strategic roads and guarded 2,500 key points. They built six airstrips, neutralised tens of thousands of bombs, transported tens of thousands of kilograms of cargo, weapons and food and shot down fifteen planes. Between 1965 and 1975, of the 17,000 youth who worked on the trail, 70 to 80 per cent were women. One military historian argues that there were 1.5 million women in the regular army, the militia, the local forces and professional teams. 7.4 Women in Times of Peace By the 1970s, as peace talks began to get under way and the end of the war seemed near, women were no longer represented as warriors. Now the image of women as workers begins to predominate. They are shown working in agricultural cooperatives, factories and production units, rather than as fighters. Stories about women showed them eager to join the army. A common description was: ‘A rosy-cheeked woman, here I am fighting side by side with you men. The prison is my school, the sword is my child, the gun is my husband.’ The prolongation of the war created strong reactions even within the US. It was clear that the US had failed to achieve its objectives: the Vietnamese resistance had not been crushed; the support of the Vietnamese people for US action had not been won. In the meantime, thousands of young US soldiers had lost their lives, and countless Vietnamese civilians had been killed. This was a war that has been called the first television war. Battle scenes were shown on the daily news programmes. Many became disillusioned with what the US was doing and writers such as Mary McCarthy, and actors like Jane Fonda even visited North Vietnam and praised their heroic defence of the country. The scholar Noam Chomsky called the war ‘the greatest threat to peace, to national self-determination, and to international cooperation’. The widespread questioning of government policy strengthened moves to negotiate an end to the war. A peace settlement was signed in Paris in January 1974. This ended conflict with the US but fighting between the Saigon regime and the NLF continued. The NLF occupied the presidential palace in Saigon on 30 April 1975 and unified Vietnam. Write in brief Discuss Project Find out about the anti-imperialist movement in any one country in South America. Imagine that a freedom fighter from this country meets a Vietminh soldier; they become friends and talk about their experiences of the freedom struggles in their countries. Write about the conversation they might have. Project


Nationalism in India

As you have seen, modern nationalism in Europe came to be associated with the formation of nation-states. It also meant a change in people’s understanding of who they were, and what defined their identity and sense of belonging. New symbols and icons, new songs and ideas forged new links and redefined the boundaries of communities. In most countries the making of this new national identity was a long process. How did this consciousness emerge in India?

In India and as in many other colonies, the growth of modern nationalism is intimately connected to the anti-colonial movement. People began discovering their unity in the process of their struggle with colonialism. The sense of being oppressed under colonialism provided a shared bond that tied many different groups together. But each class and group felt the effects of colonialism differently, their experiences were varied, and their notions of freedom were not always the same. The Congress under Mahatma Gandhi tried to forge these groups together within one movement. But the unity did not emerge without conflict.

Fig. 1 – 6 April 1919.

Mass processions on the streets became a common feature during the national movement.

In an earlier textbook you have read about the growth of nationalism in India up to the first decade of the twentieth century. In this chapter we will pick up the story from the 1920s and study the Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience Movements. We will explore how the Congress sought to develop the national movement, how different social groups participated in the movement, and how nationalism captured the imagination of people.

Nationalism in India

Chapter II

1 The First World War, Khilafat and Non-Cooperation

In the years after 1919, we see the national movement spreading to new areas, incorporating new social groups, and developing new modes of struggle. How do we understand these developments? What implications did they have?

First of all, the war created a new economic and political situation. It led to a huge increase in defence expenditure which was financed by war loans and increasing taxes: customs duties were raised and income tax introduced. Through the war years prices increased – doubling between 1913 and 1918 – leading to extreme hardship for the common people. Villages were called upon to supply soldiers, and the forced recruitment in rural areas caused widespread anger. Then in 1918-19 and 1920-21, crops failed in many parts of India, resulting in acute shortages of food. This was accompanied by an influenza epidemic. According to the census of 1921, 12 to 13 million people perished as a result of famines and the epidemic.

New words

Forced recruitment – A process by which the colonial state forced people to join the army

People hoped that their hardships would end after the war was over. But that did not happen.

At this stage a new leader appeared and suggested a new mode of struggle.

1.1 The Idea of Satyagraha

Mahatma Gandhi returned to India in January 1915. As you know, he had come from South Africa where he had successfully fought the racist regime with a novel method of mass agitation, which he called satyagraha. The idea of satyagraha emphasised 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. This could be done by appealing to the conscience of the oppressor. People – including the oppressors – had to be persuaded to see the truth, instead of being forced to accept 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 all Indians.

Fig. 2 – Indian workers in South Africa march through Volksrust, 6 November 1913.

Mahatma Gandhi was leading the workers from Newcastle to Transvaal. When the marchers were stopped and Gandhiji arrested, thousands of more workers joined the satyagrahaagainst racist laws that denied rights to non-whites.

Source A__________________________________________________________________________

Mahatma Gandhi on Satyagraha

‘It is said of “passive resistance” that it is the weapon of the weak, but the power which is the subject of this article can be used only by the strong. This power is not passive resistance; indeed it calls for intense activity. The movement in South Africa was not passive but active …

‘ Satyagraha is not physical force. A satyagrahi does not inflict pain on the adversary; he does not seek his destruction … In the use of satyagraha, there is no ill-will whatever.

‘ Satyagraha is pure soul-force. Truth is the very substance of the soul. That is why this force is called satyagraha. The soul is informed with knowledge. In it burns the flame of love. … Non-violence is the supreme dharma …

‘It is certain that India cannot rival Britain or Europe in force of arms. The British worship the war-god and they can all of them become, as they are becoming, bearers of arms. The hundreds of millions in India can never carry arms. They have made the religion of non-violence their own ...’


Read the text carefully. What did Mahatma Gandhi mean when he said satyagraha is active resistance?

After arriving in India, Mahatma Gandhi successfully organised satyagraha movements in various places. In 1917 he travelled to Champaran in Bihar to inspire the peasants to struggle against the oppressive plantation system. Then in 1917, he organised a satyagraha to support the peasants of the Kheda district of Gujarat. Affected by crop failure and a plague epidemic, the peasants of Kheda could not pay the revenue, and were demanding that revenue collection be relaxed. In 1918, Mahatma Gandhi went to Ahmedabad to organise a satyagraha movement amongst cotton mill workers.

1.2 The Rowlatt Act

Emboldened with this success, Gandhiji in 1919 decided to launch a nationwide satyagraha against the proposed Rowlatt Act (1919). This Act had been hurriedly passed through the Imperial Legislative Council despite the united opposition of the Indian members. It gave the government enormous powers to repress political activities, and allowed detention of political prisoners without trial for two years. Mahatma Gandhi wanted non-violent civil disobedience against such unjust laws, which would start with a hartal on 6 April.

Rallies were organised in various cities, workers went on strike in railway workshops, and shops closed down. Alarmed by the popular upsurge, and scared that lines of communication such as the railways and telegraph would be disrupted, the British administration decided to clamp down on nationalists. Local leaders were picked up from Amritsar, and Mahatma Gandhi was barred from entering Delhi. On 10 April, the police in Amritsar fired upon a peaceful procession, provoking widespread attacks on banks, post offices and railway stations. Martial law was imposed and General Dyer took command.

Fig. 3 – General Dyer’s ‘crawling orders’ being administered by British soldiers, Amritsar, Punjab, 1919.

On 13 April the infamous Jallianwalla Bagh incident took place. On that day a large crowd gathered in the enclosed ground of Jallianwalla Bagh. Some came to protest against the government’s new repressive measures. Others had come to attend the annual Baisakhi fair. Being from outside the city, many villagers were unaware of the martial law that had been imposed. Dyer entered the area, blocked the exit points, and opened fire on the crowd, killing hundreds. His object, as he declared later, was to ‘produce a moral effect’, to create in the minds of satyagrahis a feeling of terror and awe.

As the news of Jallianwalla Bagh spread, crowds took to the streets in many north Indian towns. There were strikes, clashes with the police and attacks on government buildings. The government responded with brutal repression, seeking to humiliate and terrorise people: satyagrahis were forced to rub their noses on the ground, crawl on the streets, and do salaam (salute) to all sahibs; people were flogged and villages (around Gujranwala in Punjab, now in Pakistan) were bombed. Seeing violence spread, Mahatma Gandhi called off the movement.

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 organised without bringing the Hindus and Muslims closer together. One way of doing this, he felt, was to take up the Khilafat issue. The First World War had ended with the defeat of Ottoman Turkey. And there were rumours that a harsh peace treaty was going to be imposed on the Ottoman emperor – the spiritual head of the Islamic world (the Khalifa). To defend the Khalifa’s temporal powers, a Khilafat Committee was formed in Bombay in March 1919. A young generation of Muslim leaders like the brothers Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, began discussing with Mahatma Gandhi about the possibility of a united mass action on the issue. Gandhiji saw this as an opportunity to bring Muslims under the umbrella of a unified national movement. At the Calcutta session of the Congress in September 1920, he convinced other leaders of the need to start a non-cooperation movement in support of Khilafat as well as for swaraj.

New words

Boycott – The refusal to deal and associate with people, or participate in activities, or buy and use things; usually a form of protest

1.3 Why Non-cooperation?

In his famous book Hind Swaraj (1909) Mahatma Gandhi declared that British rule was established in India with the cooperation of Indians, and had survived only because of this cooperation. If Indians refused to cooperate, British rule in India would collapse within a year, and swaraj would come.

How could non-cooperation become a movement? Gandhiji proposed that the movement should unfold in stages. It should begin with the surrender of titles that the government awarded, and 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, mobilising popular support for the movement.

New words

Boycott – The refusal to deal and associate with people, or participate in activities, or buy and use things; usually a form of protest

Many within the Congress were, however, concerned about the proposals. They were reluctant to boycott the council elections scheduled for November 1920, and they feared that the movement might lead to popular violence. In the months between September and December there was an intense tussle within the Congress. For a while there seemed no meeting point between the supporters and the opponents of the movement. Finally, at the Congress session at Nagpur in December 1920, a compromise was worked out and the Non-Cooperation programme was adopted.

How did the movement unfold? Who participated in it? How did different social groups conceive of the idea of Non-Cooperation?

Fig. 4 – The boycott of foreign cloth, July 1922.

Foreign cloth was seen as the symbol of Western economic and cultural domination.

2.  Differing Strands within the Movement

The Non-Cooperation-Khilafat Movement began in January 1921. Various social groups participated in this movement, each with its own specific aspiration. All of them responded to the call of Swaraj, but the term meant different things to different people.

2.1 The Movement in the Towns

The movement started with middle-class participation in the cities. Thousands of students left government-controlled schools and colleges, headmasters and 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-Brahmans, felt that entering the council was one way of gaining some power – something that usually only Brahmans had access to.

New words

Picket – A form of demonstration or protest by which people block the entrance to a shop, factory or office

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 from 

Rs 102 crore to Rs 57 crore. In many places merchants and traders refused to trade in foreign goods or finance foreign trade. As the boycott movement spread, and people began discarding imported clothes and wearing only Indian ones, production of Indian textile mills and handlooms went up.

But this movement in the cities gradually slowed down for a variety of reasons. Khadi cloth was often more expensive than mass-produced mill cloth and poor people could not afford to buy it. How then could they boycott mill cloth for too long? Similarly the 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 the 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.


The year is 1921. You are a student in a government-controlled school. Design a poster urging school students to answer Gandhiji’s call to join the Non-Cooperation Movement.

2.2 Rebellion in the Countryside

From the cities, the Non-Cooperation Movement spread to the countryside. It drew into its fold the struggles of peasants and tribals which were developing in different parts of India in the years
after the war.

New words

Begar – Labour that villagers were forced to contribute without any payment


If you were a peasant in Uttar Pradesh in 1920, how would you have responded to Gandhiji’s call for Swaraj? Give reasons for your response.

In Awadh, peasants were led by Baba Ramchandra – a sanyasi who had earlier been to Fiji as an indentured labourer. The movement here was against talukdars and landlords who demanded from peasants exorbitantly high rents and a variety of other cesses. Peasants had to do begar and work at landlords’ farms without any payment. As tenants they had no security of tenure, being regularly evicted so that they could acquire no right over the leased land. The peasant movement demanded reduction of revenue, abolition of begar, and social boycott of oppressive landlords. In many places nai dhobi bandhs were organised by panchayats to deprive landlords of the services of even barbers and washermen. In June 1920, Jawaharlal Nehru began going around the villages in Awadh, talking to the villagers, and trying to understand their grievances. By October, the Oudh Kisan Sabha was set up headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Baba Ramchandra and a few others. Within a month, over 300 branches had been set up in the villages around the region. So when the Non-Cooperation Movement began the following year, the effort of the Congress was to integrate the Awadh peasant struggle into the wider struggle. The peasant movement, however, developed in forms that the Congress leadership was unhappy with. As the movement spread 

in 1921, the houses of talukdars and merchants were attacked, 

bazaars were looted, and grain hoards were taken over. In many places local leaders told peasants that Gandhiji had declared that
no taxes were to be paid and land was to be redistributed among the poor. The name of the Mahatma was being invoked to sanction all action and aspirations.

On 6 January 1921, the police in United Provinces fired at peasants near Rae Bareli. Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to go to the place of firing, but was stopped by the police. Agitated and angry, Nehru addressed the peasants who gathered around him. This is how he later described the meeting:

‘They behaved as brave men, calm and unruffled in the face of danger. I do not know how they felt but I know what my feelings were. For a moment my blood was up, non-violence was almost forgotten – but for a moment only. The thought of the great leader, who by God’s goodness has been sent to lead us to victory, came to me, and I saw the kisans seated and standing near me, less excited, more peaceful than I was – and the moment of weakness passed, I spoke to them in all humility on non-violence – I needed the lesson more than they – and they heeded me and peacefully dispersed.’

Quoted in Sarvapalli Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, Vol. I.

In 1928, Vallabhbhai Patel led the peasant movement in Bardoli, a taluka in Gujarat, against enhancement of land revenue. Known as the Bardoli Satyagraha, this movement was a success under the able leadership of Vallabhbhai Patel. The struggle was widely publicised and generated immense sympathy in many parts of India.

Source B______________________________________________________________________

Mahatma Gandhi on Satyagraha

On 6 January 1921, the police in United Provinces fired at peasants near Rae Bareli. Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to go to the place of firing, but was stopped by the police. Agitated and angry, Nehru addressed the peasants who gathered around him. This is how he later described the meeting:

‘They behaved as brave men, calm and unruffled in the face of danger. I do not know how they felt but I know what my feelings were. For a moment my blood was up, non-violence was almost forgotten – but for a moment only. The thought of the great leader, who by God’s goodness has been sent to lead us to victory, came to me, and I saw the kisans seated and standing near me, less excited, more peaceful than I was – and the moment of weakness passed, I spoke to them in all humility on non-violence – I needed the lesson more than they – and they heeded me and peacefully dispersed.’

Quoted in Sarvapalli Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, Vol. I.

Tribal peasants interpreted the message of Mahatma Gandhi and the idea of swaraj in yet another way. In the Gudem Hills of Andhra Pradesh, for instance, a militant guerrilla movement spread in the early 1920s – not a form of struggle that the Congress could approve. Here, as in other forest regions, the colonial government had closed large forest areas, preventing people from entering the forests to graze their cattle, or to collect fuelwood and fruits. This enraged the hill people. Not only were their livelihoods affected but they felt that their traditional rights were being denied. When the government began forcing them to contribute begar for road building, the hill people revolted. The person who came to lead them was an interesting figure. Alluri Sitaram Raju claimed that he had a variety of special powers: he could make correct astrological predictions and heal people, and he could survive even bullet shots. Captivated by Raju, the rebels proclaimed that he was an incarnation of God. Raju talked of the greatness of Mahatma Gandhi, said he was inspired by the Non-Cooperation Movement, and persuaded people to wear khadi and give up drinking. But at the same time he asserted that India could be liberated only by the use of force, not non-violence. The Gudem rebels attacked police stations, attempted to kill British officials and carried on guerrilla warfare for achieving swaraj. Raju was captured and executed in 1924, and over time became a folk hero.

2.3 Swaraj in the Plantations

Workers too had their own understanding of Mahatma Gandhi and the notion of swaraj. For plantation workers in Assam, freedom meant the right to move freely in and out of the confined space in which they were enclosed, and it meant retaining a link with the village from which they had come. Under the Inland Emigration Act of 1859, plantation workers were not permitted to leave the tea gardens without permission, and in fact they were rarely given such permission. When they heard of the Non-Cooperation Movement, thousands of workers defied the authorities, left the plantations and headed home. They believed that Gandhi Raj was coming and everyone would be given land in their own villages. They, however, never reached their destination. Stranded on the way by a railway and steamer strike, they were caught by the police and brutally beaten up


Find out about other participants in the National Movement who were captured and put to death by the British. Can you think of a similar example from the national movement in Indo-China (Chapter 2)?

The visions of these movements were not defined by the Congress programme. They interpreted the term swaraj in their own ways, imagining it to be a time when all suffering and all troubles would be over. Yet, when the tribals chanted Gandhiji’s name and raised slogans demanding ‘Swatantra Bharat’, they were also emotionally relating to an all-India agitation. When they acted in the name of Mahatma Gandhi, or linked their movement to that of the Congress, they were identifying with a movement which went beyond the limits of their immediate locality.

Fig. 5 – Chauri Chaura, 1922.

At Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur, a peaceful demonstration in a bazaar turned into a violent clash with the police. Hearing of the incident, Mahatma Gandhi called a halt to the Non-Cooperation Movement.


3 Towards Civil Disobedience

In February 1922, Mahatma Gandhi decided to withdraw the Non-Cooperation Movement. He felt the movement was turning violent in many places and satyagrahis needed to be properly trained before they would be ready for mass struggles. Within the Congress, some leaders were by now tired of mass struggles and wanted to participate in elections to the provincial councils that had been set up by the Government of India Act of 1919. They felt that it was important to oppose British policies within the councils, argue for reform and also demonstrate that these councils were not truly democratic. C. R. Das and Motilal Nehru formed the Swaraj Party within the Congress to argue for a return to council politics. But younger leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose pressed for more radical mass agitation and for full independence.

Lala Lajpat Rai was assaulted by the British police during a peaceful demonstration against the Simon Commission. He succumbed to injuries that were inflicted on him during the demonstration.

In such a situation of internal debate and dissension two factors again shaped Indian politics towards the late 1920s. The first was the effect of the worldwide economic depression. Agricultural prices began to fall from 1926 and collapsed after 1930. As the demand for agricultural goods fell and exports declined, peasants found it difficult to sell their harvests and pay their revenue. By 1930, the countryside was in turmoil.

Against this background the new Tory government in Britain constituted a Statutory Commission under Sir John Simon. Set up in response to the nationalist movement, the commission was to look into the functioning of the constitutional system in India and suggest changes. The problem was that the commission did not have a single Indian member. They were all British.

Fig. 6 – Meeting of Congress leaders at Allahabad, 1931.

Apart from Mahatma Gandhi, you can see Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (extreme left), Jawaharlal Nehru (extreme right) and Subhas Chandra Bose (fifth from right).

When the Simon Commission arrived in India in 1928, it was greeted with the slogan ‘Go back Simon’. All parties, including the Congress and the Muslim League, participated in the demonstrations. In an effort to win them over, the viceroy, Lord Irwin, announced in October 1929, a vague offer of ‘dominion status’ for India in an unspecified future, and a Round Table Conference to discuss a future constitution. This did not satisfy the Congress leaders. The radicals within the Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose, became more assertive. The liberals and moderates, who were proposing a constitutional system within the framework of British dominion, gradually lost their influence. In December 1929, under the presidency of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Lahore Congress formalised the demand of ‘Purna Swaraj’ or full independence for India. It was declared that 26 January 1930, would be celebrated as the Independence Day when people were to take a pledge to struggle for complete independence. But the celebrations attracted very little attention. So Mahatma Gandhi had to find a way to relate this abstract idea of freedom to more concrete issues of everyday life.

The Independence Day Pledge, 26 January 1930

‘We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it. The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. We believe, therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj or Complete Independence.’

Source C______________________________________________________________________

The Independence Day Pledge, 26 January 1930

‘We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it. The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. We believe, therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj or Complete Independence.’

3.1 The Salt March and the Civil Disobedience Movement

Mahatma Gandhi found in salt a powerful symbol that could unite the nation. On 31 January 1930, he sent a letter to Viceroy Irwin stating eleven demands. Some of these were of general interest; others were specific demands of different classes, from industrialists to peasants. The idea was to make the demands wide-ranging, so that all classes within Indian society could identify with them and everyone could be brought together in a united campaign. The most stirring of all was the demand to abolish the salt tax. Salt was something consumed by the rich and the poor alike, and it was one of the most essential items of food. The tax on salt and the government monopoly over its production, Mahatma Gandhi declared, revealed the most oppressive face of British rule.

Mahatma Gandhi’s letter was, in a way, an ultimatum. If the demands were not fulfilled by 11 March, the letter stated, the Congress would launch a civil disobedience campaign. Irwin was unwilling to negotiate. So Mahatma Gandhi started his famous salt march accompanied by 78 of his trusted volunteers. The march was over 240 miles, from Gandhiji’s ashram in Sabarmati to the Gujarati coastal town of Dandi. The volunteers walked for 24 days, about 10 miles a day. Thousands came to hear Mahatma Gandhi wherever he stopped, and he told them what he meant by swaraj and urged them to peacefully defy the British. On 6 April he reached Dandi, and ceremonially violated the law, manufacturing salt by boiling sea water.

This marked the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement. How was this movement different from the Non-Cooperation Movement? People were now asked not only to refuse cooperation with the British, as they had done in 1921-22, but also to break colonial laws. Thousands in different parts of the country broke
the salt law, manufactured salt and demonstrated in front of government salt factories. As the movement spread, foreign cloth was boycotted, and liquor shops were picketed. Peasants refused to pay revenue and chaukidari taxes, village officials resigned, and in many places forest people violated forest laws – going into Reserved Forests to collect wood and graze cattle.

Fig. 7 – The Dandi march.

During the salt march Mahatma Gandhi was accompanied by 78 volunteers. On the way they were joined by thousands.

Worried by the developments, the colonial government began arresting the Congress leaders one by one. This led to violent clashes in many palaces. When Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a devout disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, was arrested in April 1930, angry crowds demonstrated in the streets of Peshawar, facing armoured cars and police firing. Many were killed. A month later, when Mahatma Gandhi himself was arrested, industrial workers in Sholapur attacked police posts, municipal buildings, lawcourts and railway stations – all structures that symbolised British rule. A frightened government responded with a policy of brutal repression. Peaceful satyagrahis were attacked, women and children were beaten, and about 100,000 people were arrested.

Fig. 8 – Police cracked down on satyagrahis, 1930.

In such a situation, Mahatma Gandhi once again decided to call off the movement and entered into a pact with Irwin on 5 March 1931. By this Gandhi-Irwin Pact, Gandhiji consented to participate in a Round Table Conference (the Congress had boycotted the first Round Table Conference) in London and the government agreed to release the political prisoners. In December 1931, Gandhiji went to London for the conference, but the negotiations broke down and he returned disappointed. Back in India, he discovered that the government had begun a new cycle of repression. Ghaffar Khan and Jawaharlal Nehru were both in jail, the Congress had been declared illegal, and a series of measures had been imposed to prevent meetings, demonstrations and boycotts. With great apprehension, Mahatma Gandhi relaunched the Civil Disobedience Movement. For over a year, the movement continued, but by 1934 it lost its momentum.

3.2 How Participants saw the Movement

Let us now look at the different social groups that participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement. Why did they join the movement? What were their ideals? What did swaraj mean to them?

In the countryside, rich peasant communities – like the Patidars of Gujarat and the Jats of Uttar Pradesh – were active in the movement. Being producers of commercial crops, they were very hard hit by the trade depression and falling prices. As their cash income disappeared, they found it impossible to pay the government’s revenue demand. And the refusal of the government to reduce the revenue demand led to widespread resentment. These rich peasants became enthusiastic supporters of the Civil Disobedience Movement, organising their communities, and at times forcing reluctant members, to participate in the boycott programmes. For them the fight for swaraj was a struggle against high revenues. But they were deeply disappointed when the movement was called off in 1931 without the revenue rates being revised. So when the movement was restarted in 1932, many of them refused to participate.

The poorer peasantry were not just interested in the lowering of the revenue demand. Many of them were small tenants cultivating land they had rented from landlords. As the Depression continued and cash incomes dwindled, the small tenants found it difficult to pay their rent. They wanted the unpaid rent to the landlord to be remitted. They joined a variety of radical movements, often led by Socialists and Communists. Apprehensive of raising issues that might upset the rich peasants and landlords, the Congress was unwilling to support ‘no rent’ campaigns in most places. So the relationship between the poor peasants and the Congress remained uncertain.

Box 1________________________________________________________________________

‘To the altar of this revolution we have brought our youth as incense’

Many nationalists thought that the struggle against the British could not be won through non-violence. In 1928, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA) was founded at a meeting in Ferozeshah Kotla ground in Delhi. Amongst its leaders were Bhagat Singh, Jatin Das and Ajoy Ghosh. In a series of dramatic actions in different parts of India, the HSRA targeted some of the symbols of British power. In April 1929, Bhagat Singh and Batukeswar Dutta threw a bomb in the Legislative Assembly. In the same year there was an attempt to blow up the train that Lord Irwin was travelling in. Bhagat Singh was 23 when he was tried and executed by the colonial government. During his trial, Bhagat Singh stated that he did not wish to glorify ‘the cult of the bomb and pistol’ but wanted a revolution in society:

‘Revolution is the inalienable right of mankind. Freedom is the imprescriptible birthright of all. The labourer is the real sustainer of society … To the altar of this revolution we have brought our youth as incense, for no sacrifice is too great for so magnificent a cause. We are content. We await the advent of revolution. Inquilab Zindabad!’

What about the business classes? How did they relate to the Civil Disobedience Movement? During the First World War, Indian merchants and industrialists had made huge profits and become powerful (see Chapter 5). Keen on expanding their business, they now reacted against colonial policies that restricted business activities. They wanted protection against imports of foreign goods, and a rupee-sterling foreign exchange ratio that would discourage imports. To organise business interests, they formed the Indian Industrial and Commercial Congress in 1920 and the Federation of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FICCI) in 1927. Led by prominent industrialists like Purshottamdas Thakurdas and
G. D. Birla, the industrialists attacked colonial control over the Indian economy, and supported the Civil Disobedience Movement when it was first launched. They gave financial assistance and refused to buy or sell imported goods. Most businessmen came to see swaraj as a time when colonial restrictions on business would no longer exist and trade and industry would flourish without constraints. But after the failure of the Round Table Conference, business groups were no longer uniformly enthusiastic. They were apprehensive of the spread of militant activities, and worried about prolonged disruption of business, as well as of the growing influence of socialism amongst the younger members of the Congress.

Some important dates


Distressed UP peasants organised by Baba Ramchandra. 

April 1919

Gandhian hartal against Rowlatt Act; Jallianwala Bagh massacre. 

January 1921

Non-Cooperation and Khilafat movement launched. 

February 1922

Chauri Chaura; Gandhiji withdraws Non-Cooperation movement. 

May 1924

Alluri Sitarama Raju arrested ending a two-year armed tribal struggle. 

December 1929

Lahore Congress; Congress adopts the demand for ‘Purna Swaraj’.


Ambedkar establishes Depressed Classes Association. 

March 1930

Gandhiji begins Civil Disobedience Movement by breaking salt law at Dandi.

March 1931

Gandhiji ends Civil Disobedience Movement. 

December 1931

Second Round Table Conference.


Civil Disobedience re-launched.

The industrial working classes did not participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement in large numbers, except in the Nagpur region. As the industrialists came closer to the Congress, workers stayed aloof. But in spite of that, some workers did participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement, selectively adopting some of the ideas of the Gandhian programme, like boycott of foreign goods, as part of their own movements against low wages and poor working conditions. There were strikes by railway workers in 1930 and dockworkers in 1932. In 1930 thousands of workers in Chotanagpur tin mines wore Gandhi caps and participated in protest rallies and boycott campaigns. But the Congress was reluctant to include workers’ demands as part of its programme of struggle. It felt that this would alienate industrialists and divide the anti-imperial forces.

Fig. 9 – Women join nationalist processions.

During the national movement, many women, for the first time in their lives, moved out of their homes on to a public arena. Amongst the marchers you can see many old women, and mothers with children in their arms.

Another important feature of the Civil Disobedience Movement was the large-scale participation of women. During Gandhiji’s salt march, thousands of women came out of their homes to listen to him. They participated in protest marches, manufactured salt, and picketed foreign cloth and liquor shops. Many went to jail. In urban areas these women were from high-caste families; in rural areas they came from rich peasant households. Moved by Gandhiji’s call, they began to see service to the nation as a sacred duty of women. Yet, this increased public role did not necessarily mean any radical change in the way the position of women was visualised. Gandhiji was convinced that it was the duty of women to look after home and hearth, be good mothers and good wives. And for a long time the Congress was reluctant to allow women to hold any position of authority within the organisation. It was keen only on their symbolic presence.


Why did various classes and groups of Indians participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement?

3.3 The Limits of Civil Disobedience

Not all social groups were moved by the abstract concept of swaraj. One such group was the nation’s ‘untouchables’, who from around the 1930s had begun to call themselves dalit or oppressed. For long the Congress had ignored the dalits, for fear of offending the sanatanis, the conservative high-caste Hindus. But Mahatma Gandhi declared that swaraj would not come for a hundred years if untouchability was not eliminated. He called the ‘untouchables’ harijan, or the children of God, organised satyagraha to secure them entry into temples, and access to public wells, tanks, roads and schools. He himself cleaned toilets to dignify the work of the bhangi (the sweepers), and persuaded upper castes to change their heart and give up ‘the sin of untouchability’. But many dalit leaders were keen on a different political solution to the problems of the community. They began organising themselves, demanding reserved seats in educational institutions, and a separate electorate that would choose dalit members for legislative councils. Political empowerment, they believed, would resolve the problems of their social disabilities. Dalit participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement was therefore limited, particularly in the Maharashtra and Nagpur region where their organisation was quite strong.

Fig. 10 – Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad at Sevagram Ashram, Wardha, 1935.

Dr B.R. Ambedkar, who organised the dalits into the Depressed Classes Association in 1930, clashed with Mahatma Gandhi at
the second Round Table Conference by demanding separate electorates for dalits. When the British government conceded Ambedkar’s demand, Gandhiji began a fast unto death. He believed that separate electorates for dalits would slow down the process of their integration into society. Ambedkar ultimately accepted Gandhiji’s position and the result was the Poona Pact of September 1932.
It gave the Depressed Classes (later to be known as the Schedule Castes) reserved seats in provincial and central legislative councils, but they were to be voted in by the general electorate. The dalit movement, however, continued to be apprehensive of the Congress-led national movement.

Some of the Muslim political organisations in India were also lukewarm in their response to the Civil Disobedience Movement. After the decline of the Non-Cooperation-Khilafat movement, a large section of Muslims felt alienated from the Congress. From the mid-1920s the Congress came to be more visibly associated with openly Hindu religious nationalist groups like the Hindu Mahasabha. As relations between Hindus and Muslims worsened, each community organised religious processions with militant fervour, provoking Hindu-Muslim communal clashes and riots in various cities. Every riot deepened the distance between the two communities.

The Congress and the Muslim League made efforts to renegotiate an alliance, and in 1927 it appeared that such a unity could be forged. The important differences were over the question of representation in the future assemblies that were to be elected. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, one of the leaders of the Muslim League, was willing to give up the demand for separate electorates, if Muslims were assured reserved seats in the Central Assembly and representation in proportion to population in the Muslim-dominated provinces (Bengal and Punjab). Negotiations over the question of representation continued but all hope of resolving the issue at the All Parties Conference in 1928 disappeared when M.R. Jayakar of the Hindu Mahasabha strongly opposed efforts at compromise.

When the Civil Disobedience Movement started there was thus an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust between communities. Alienated from the Congress, large sections of Muslims could not respond to the call for a united struggle. Many Muslim leaders and intellectuals expressed their concern about the status of Muslims as a minority within India. They feared that the culture and identity of minorities would be submerged under the domination of a Hindu majority.

Source D______________________________________________________________________

In 1930, Sir Muhammad Iqbal, as president of the Muslim League, reiterated the importance of separate electorates for the Muslims as an important safeguard for their minority political interests. His statement is supposed to have provided the intellectual justification for the Pakistan demand that came up in subsequent years. This is what he said:

‘I have no hesitation in declaring that if the principle that the Indian Muslim is entitled to full and free development on the lines of his own culture and tradition in his own Indian home-lands is recognised as the basis of a permanent communal settlement, he will be ready to stake his all for the freedom of India. The principle that each group is entitled to free development on its own lines is not inspired by any feeling of narrow communalism … A community which is inspired by feelings of ill-will towards other communities is low and ignoble. I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religions and social institutions of other communities. Nay, it is my duty according to the teachings of the Quran, even to defend their places of worship, if need be. Yet I love the communal group which is the source of life and behaviour and which has formed me what I am by giving me its religion, its literature, its thought, its culture and thereby its whole past as a living operative factor in my present consciousness …

‘Communalism in its higher aspect, then, is indispensable to the formation of a harmonious whole in a country like India. The units of Indian society are not territorial as in European countries … The principle of European democracy cannot be applied to India without recognising the fact of communal groups. The Muslim demand for the creation of a Muslim India within India is, therefore, perfectly justified…

‘The Hindu thinks that separate electorates are contrary to the spirit of true nationalism, because he understands the word “nation” to mean a kind of universal amalgamation in which no communal entity ought to retain its private individuality. Such a state of things, however, does not exist. India is a land of racial and religious variety. Add to this the general economic inferiority of the Muslims, their enormous debt, especially in the Punjab, and their insufficient majorities in some of the provinces, as at present constituted and you will begin to see clearly the meaning of our anxiety to retain separate electorates.’


Read the Source D carefully. Do you agree with Iqbal’s idea of communalism? Can you define communalism in a different way?

4. The Sense of Collective Belonging

Fig. 11 – Bal Gangadhar Tilak, an early-twentieth-century print.

Notice how Tilak is surrounded by symbols of unity. The sacred institutions of different faiths (temple, church, masjid) frame the central figure.

Nationalism spreads when people begin to believe that they are all part of the same nation, when they discover some unity that binds them together. But how did the nation become a reality in the minds of people? How did people belonging to different communities, regions or language groups develop a sense of collective belonging?

This sense of collective belonging came partly through the experience of united struggles. But there were also a variety of cultural processes through which nationalism captured people’s imagination. History and fiction, folklore and songs, popular prints and symbols, all played a part in the making of nationalism.

Fig. 12 – Bharat Mata, Abanindranath Tagore, 1905.

Notice that the mother figure here is shown as dispensing learning, food and clothing. The mala in one hand emphasises her ascetic quality.

Abanindranath Tagore, like Ravi Varma before him, tried to develop a style of painting that could be seen as truly Indian.

The identity of the nation, as you know (see Chapter 1), is most often symbolised in a figure or image. This helps create an image with which people can identify the nation. It was in the twentieth century, with the growth of nationalism, that the identity of India came to be visually associated with the image of Bharat Mata. The image was first created by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. In the 1870s he wrote ‘Vande Mataram’ as a hymn to the motherland. Later it was included in his novel Anandamath and widely sung during the Swadeshi movement in Bengal. Moved by the Swadeshi movement, Abanindranath Tagore painted his famous image of Bharat Mata (see Fig. 12). In this painting Bharat Mata is portrayed as an ascetic figure; she is calm, composed, divine and spiritual. In subsequent years, the image of Bharat Mata acquired many different forms, as it circulated in popular prints, and was painted by different artists (see Fig. 14). Devotion to this mother figure came to be seen as evidence of one’s nationalism.

Ideas of nationalism also developed through a movement to revive Indian folklore. In late-nineteenth-century India, nationalists began recording folk tales sung by bards and they toured villages to gather folk songs and legends. These tales, they believed, gave a true picture of traditional culture that had been corrupted and damaged by outside forces. It was essential to preserve this folk tradition in order to discover one’s national identity and restore a sense of pride in one’s past. In Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore himself began collecting ballads, nursery rhymes and myths, and led the movement for folk revival. In Madras, Natesa Sastri published a massive four-volume collection of Tamil folk tales, The Folklore of Southern India. He believed that folklore was national literature; it was ‘the most trustworthy manifestation of people’s real thoughts and characteristics’.

Fig. 13 – Jawaharlal Nehru, a popular print.

Nehru is here shown holding the image of Bharat Mata and the map of India close to his heart. In a lot of popular prints, nationalist leaders are shown offering their heads to Bharat Mata. The idea of sacrifice for the mother was powerful within popular imagination.

Fig. 14a – Bharat Mata.

This figure of Bharat Mata is a contrast to the one painted by Abanindranath Tagore. Here she is shown with a trishul, standing beside a lion and an elephant – both symbols of power and authority.

As the national movement developed, nationalist leaders became more and more aware of such icons and symbols in unifying people and inspiring in them a feeling of nationalism. During the Swadeshi movement in Bengal, a tricolour flag (red, green and yellow) was designed. It had eight lotuses representing eight provinces of British India, and a crescent moon, representing Hindus and Muslims. By 1921, Gandhiji had designed the Swaraj flag. It was again a tricolour (red, green and white) and had a spinning wheel in the centre, representing the Gandhian ideal of self-help. Carrying the flag, holding it aloft, during marches became a symbol of defiance.

Another means of creating a feeling of nationalism was through reinterpretation of history. By the end of the nineteenth century many Indians began feeling that to instill a sense of pride in the nation, Indian history had to be thought about differently. The British saw Indians as backward and primitive, incapable of governing themselves. In response, Indians began looking into the past to discover India’s great achievements. They wrote about the glorious developments in ancient times when art and architecture, science and mathematics, religion and culture, law and philosophy, crafts and trade had flourished. This glorious time, in their view, was followed by a history of decline, when India was colonised. These nationalist histories urged the readers to take pride in India’s great achievements in the past and struggle to change the miserable conditions of life under British rule.

These efforts to unify people were not without problems. When the past being glorified was Hindu, when the images celebrated were drawn from Hindu iconography, then people of other communities felt left out.


Look at Figs. 12 and 14. Do you think these images will appeal to all castes and communities?
Explain your views briefly.

Source E_______________________________________________________________________

‘In earlier times, foreign travellers in India marvelled at the courage, truthfulness and modesty of the people of the Arya vamsa; now they remark mainly on the absence of those qualities. In those days Hindus would set out on conquest and hoist their flags in Tartar, China and other countries; now a few soldiers from a tiny island far away are lording it over the land of India.’

Tarinicharan Chattopadhyay, Bharatbarsher Itihas (The History of Bharatbarsh), vol. 1, 1858.


A growing anger against the colonial government was thus bringing together various groups and classes of Indians into a common struggle for freedom in the first half of the twentieth century. The Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi tried to channel people’s grievances into organised movements for independence. Through such movements the nationalists tried to forge a national unity. But as we have seen, diverse groups and classes participated in these movements with varied aspirations and expectations. As their grievances were wide-ranging, freedom from colonial rule also meant different things to different people. The Congress continuously attempted to resolve differences, and ensure that the demands of one group did not alienate another. This is precisely why the unity within the movement often broke down. The high points of Congress activity and nationalist unity were followed by phases of disunity and inner conflict between groups.

In other words, what was emerging was a nation with many voices wanting freedom from colonial rule.

Fig. 14b Women’s procession in Bombay during the Quit India Movement

Quit India Movement

The failure of the Cripps Mission and the effects of World War II created widespread discontentment in India. This led Gandhiji to launch a movement calling for complete withdrawal of the British from India. The Congress Working Committee, in its meeting in Wardha on 14 July 1942, passed the historic ‘Quit India’ resolution demanding the immediate transfer of power to Indians and quit India. On 8 August 1942 in Bombay, the All India Congress Committee endorsed the resolution which called for a non-violent mass struggle on the widest possible scale throughout the country. It was on this occasion that Gandhiji delivered the famous ‘Do or Die’ speech. The call for ‘Quit India’ almost brought the state machinery to a standstill in large parts of the country as people voluntarily threw themselves into the thick of the movement. People observed hartals, and demonstrations and processions were accompanied by national songs and slogans. The movement was truly a mass movement which brought into its ambit thousands of ordinary people, namely students, workers and peasants. It also saw the active participation of leaders, namely, Jayprakash Narayan, Aruna Asaf Ali and Ram Manohar Lohia and many women such as Matangini Hazra in Bengal, Kanaklata Barua in Assam and Rama Devi in Odisha. The British responded with much force, yet it took more than a year to suppress the movement.

Write in brief

1. Explain:

a) Why growth of nationalism in the colonies is linked to an anti-colonial movement.

b) How the First World War helped in the growth of the National Movement in India.

c) Why Indians were outraged by the Rowlatt Act.

d) Why Gandhiji decided to withdraw the Non-Cooperation Movement.

2. What is meant by the idea of satyagraha?

3. Write a newspaper report on:

a) The Jallianwala Bagh massacre

b) The Simon Commission

4. Compare the images of Bharat Mata in this chapter with the image of Germania

in Chapter 1.


1. List all the different social groups which joined the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1921. Then choose any three and write about their hopes and       struggles to show why they joined the movement.

2. Discuss the Salt March to make clear why it was an effective symbol of resistance against colonialism.

3. Imagine you are a woman participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement. Explain what the experience meant to your life.

4. Why did political leaders differ sharply over the question of separate electorates?


Find out about the anti-colonial movement in Indo-China. Compare and contrast India’s national movement with the ways in which Indo-China became independent.

RELOAD if chapter isn't visible.