75 Years of Independence: How India Fought for Freedom From The British Raj

© AP Photo / James A. MillsFILE - In this file photo dated 1931, Mahatma Gandhi talks to a crowd in India. Israel’s national library has unearthed an 80-year-old handwritten letter that Gandhi sent a Jewish official upon the outbreak of World War II.
FILE - In this file photo dated 1931, Mahatma Gandhi talks to a crowd in India. Israel’s national library has unearthed an 80-year-old handwritten letter that Gandhi sent a Jewish official upon the outbreak of World War II.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.08.2022
India is observing Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of independence from the British, who left the country after 346 years of exploitation of resources; first as the British East India Company until 1857, and then under the British Crown Rule.
The British rule over India was established in 1858, a year after a massive, yet unsuccessful mutiny broke out against the British East India Company, which functioned as a sovereign power on behalf of the British Crown.
Decades of interference and economic exploitation by the East India Company resulted in mass discontent among rulers of Indian states, sepoys, zamindars (landlords), peasants, traders, artisans, and religious leaders. The discontent escalated into a violent fight led by the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar-II. However, the revolt fizzled out for a number of reasons, including the lack of a single unifying motivation among the fighters.
The celebrated late historian RC Majumdar observes that between 1770 and 1857, the East India Company suppressed peasant revolts, tribal uprisings, and military revolts such as the Vellore Mutiny in 1806.
In 1858, the British Parliament liquidated the East India Company and transferred its functions to the British Crown. The British established control over half of India by ousting the rulers, and the remaining half - comprising more than 500 native princely states - chose to pledge their allegiance to the British Crown by accepting the proclamation of 1858 by Queen Victoria that assured them of the continuation of their rights under the Raj.

These native princely states covered 48 percent of the country's total land mass and accounted for 28 percent of its population. The British viewed these princely states as allies in curbing nationalist tendencies in India.

Besides these princely states, a large group of elites also sought ways to take part in the administration under the Raj. The elites raising their voice against the British Raj later became part of the Indian National Congress, which was established by British civil servant Allan Octavian Hume in 1885.
"There were two parallel movements underway against British rule. One was led by a group of elites who later became part of the Indian National Congress when it was established by AO Hume in 1885. The other was people who opposed imperialism and actively participated in various uprisings since 1770," Pawan Sharma, professor at Meerut University, told Sputnik.
Lala Lajpat Rai, who died in 1928, was a prominent freedom fighter and a member of the Hindu reform group, Arya Samaj, and joined several other extremist leaders in the belief that the Indian National Congress was a British conspiracy to be used as a buffer organization between the British government and the Indian public.
In the second half of the 19th century, nationalist sentiments were gaining momentum in Indian society, and Professor Sharma says it was linked to activities carried out by cultural and social organizations.

"Indians had lost the sense of pride over their culture, their past, under foreign rulers. After the British established their political and economic control over large parts of India, it disrupted the old way of life, including social and religious spheres. The religious people intervened to stir the consciousness of the masses and because there were hundreds of thousands of them, they had considerable impact," Professor Sharma of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) told Sputnik.

Professor Sharma said that the first armed rebellion against the British East India Company was carried out by monks in 1760, three years after the British won Bengal in the Battle of Plassey.
Dasnami Naga monks led the fight on several occasions, beginning in 1770, but their contribution has not been adequately documented. In 1771, 150 unarmed monks were killed under orders of British colonial administrator Warren Hastings.
"Dasnami monks participated in the uprising of 1857. In the following years, Hindu monks actively took part in various activities aimed at nation-building," Professor Sharma added.
Despite the occasional use of brutal force by the Raj, nationalist sentiments among Indians kept growing. During the First World War, the British government in India enacted a series of repressive emergency powers intended to combat subversive activities.
The turning point in India's freedom struggle came in March 1919, when the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, 1919 - popularly known as the Rowlatt Act - was passed by the Imperial Legislative Council, giving the police sweeping powers to arrest and incarcerate anyone suspected of terrorist activities without trial for up to two years.
Protests erupted across north India, primarily in Punjab, against the act, resulting in the killing of several people on 10 April 1919. This triggered a mass peaceful protest on 13 April. In response, the British forces started firing at protesters, even as they tried to flee, killing hundreds of people in what has become known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Britain still hasn't issued an apology for the massacre.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a joint press briefing with his Nepal's counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba (not pictured) after the exchange of agreements ceremony at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi on April 2, 2022. - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.04.2022
PM Modi, Rahul Gandhi Pay Tribute to Victims of 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
Jallianwala Bagh prompted Mahatma Gandhi - now referred to as the Father of the Nation - to organize his first act of large-scale civil disobedience, the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22), with an eye to compelling the British to grant Indians self-governance. However, the call to refuse to cooperate with the British administration was met with violence, causing Gandhi to call off the movement.
The use of force by the British sparked anger among the country's youths, resulting in the emergence of revolutionary leaders like Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad.
On 8 April 1929, 22-year-old Singh threw a bomb at the Central Legislative Assembly at Delhi from the visitors' gallery and raised pro-revolutionary slogans.

"Revolution is an inalienable right of mankind. Freedom is an imperishable birthright of all. Labor is the real sustainer of society," said Singh, whose words inspired thousands to join the independence movement. He was hanged on 23 March 1931, along with his two revolutionary friends, in a case related to the killing of a British officer.

Sensing the public sentiments and having come under pressure from revolutionaries and extremist leaders, in 1930, the moderate Indian National Congress declared that complete independence from the British rule was the sole aim of the freedom struggle.
Gandhi launched the Salt Protest on 12 March 1930, and broke the Salt Law on 6 April 1930, 48 years after a tax was imposed on salt-making from seawater. The government arrested around 60,000 people.
The movement brought the Indian freedom struggle under the spotlight of western media. This was also the first time women took part in large numbers in the freedom struggle. The mass movement created pressure on the British rule, prompting the British to sit down at the negotiating table with Gandhi on "equal terms" and agree to several demands of the Indian National Congress, including independent elections in the provinces.
In 1936-37, under the Government of India Act 1935, the British conducted the first provincial elections in which the Indian National Congress won by majority.

The Final Battle

Britain wanted to gain India's support in the Second World War as Japan's invasion drove the British out of Burma (now Myanmar), the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaya (now Malaysia) by the first months of 1942. Bengal, the most industrialized province under British rule, was also at risk of an attack by Japan.
The British Crown sent the "Cripps Mission" led by Richard Stafford Cripps in March and April 1942 to obtain the crucial Indian support. However, talks between the Cripps Mission and the Indian National Congress failed as the British government proposed "dominion status" instead of complete independence for India.

The Indian National Congress leader Gandhi said that Cripps' offer of "dominion status" after the war was a "post-dated cheque drawn on a failing bank."

After the failure of the Cripps Mission, the Indian National Congress launched the "Quit India" movement and gave a call of "do or die" to the people.
The British moved swiftly to suppress the movement, arresting more than 100,000 people, including Gandhi and other political leaders. About 10,000 civilians, including women and children, were killed in police firings and baton charging.
The sentiments against the British were so strong that locals in isolated pockets like Ballia, Tamluk and Satara, among others, started forming parallel governments.

All these developments prompted the British Crown to send a mission to India which finally transferred power to Indians leading to complete Independence.

75 years after this historic event, some influential figures in India's political spectrum still believe that the remnants of British dominance continue to dictate the country's political course, which according to them, has proved counterproductive to the growth of India as a nation.
They believe that the Quit India Movement was launched in haste by the Indian National Congress with the sole intention of grabbing political influence. The movement was not thoroughly thought through nor did it intend to unify all the forces that were engaged in the battle for freedom. The movement also lacked the support of major stakeholders such as the All-India Muslim League, the Communist Party of India, and the Hindu Mahasabha.
The Muslim League pressed for the country to be partitioned according to religious lines before the British left India; however, the Communist Party vehemently opposed the movement, and the Hindu Mahasabha, an umbrella organization of Hindu nationalist forces, was not in favor of immediate mass uprising as they feared the law and order situation could spiral out of control.

"The 1942 Quit India Movement was, in fact, a mass uprising against the British rule. But was the movement in sync with the social and cultural reality of the time? Did the movement result in the country envisaged by Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, Dr Keshav Hedgewar, Bhagat Singh, and others? The movement was aimed at merely wresting political power from the British crown," Professor Sharma says.

The same debate continues today with Hindu Nationalists, who are accused of not participating in the Quit India Movement, arguing that the movement did not entail a clear and focused strategy of "nation-building".

The Cruelty of the British

Shashi Tharoor, who penned a book 'An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India', has accused the British of draining the country of resources.

"The British came to one of the richest countries in the world accounting for 27 percent of global GDP in 1700," he said, adding that after more than 200 years of exploitation, depredation, and destruction, India was reduced "to a poster child for Third World poverty," accounting for just above 3 percent of global GDP by the time the country gained independence.

According to Tharoor, 35 million people died under the British Raj from unnecessary famines caused by British policy.
An estimated three million people died in the Bengal famine of 1943, which Tharoor blamed on WInston Churchill's policies of "deliberately ordering the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and even to top up European stockpiles, meant for yet-to-be-liberated Greeks and Yugoslavs".
"Bodies began piling up on the sides of roads and in ponds, rivers and ditches. Vultures got too fat to take flight, and jackals feasted on still-living bodies in broad daylight," writes Professor Janam Mukherjee in his book, 'Hunger Bengal: War, Famine, Riots and the End of Empire'.
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