INDIAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
The Indian Independence Movement refers to the time in India’s history where Indians pushed to liberate their country from British imperial rule. As such, the Indian Independence Movement was a significant event during the time of the British Raj, the rise to prominence of the Indian National Congress and the life of Mahatma Gandhi. In general, the Indian Independence Movement is considered to have occurred from 1858 until 1947.
BEFORE THE INDIAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
Britain had a long history of imperial rule in India. In fact, the British East India Company played a significant role in the early history of India. In 1612, the English monarch, James I, sent a request to the Mughal Emperor, Nur-ud-din Salim Jahangir, asking that the British East India Company be allowed access to the Indian mainland. At the time, the Mughal Empire was the largest and most powerful kingdom in India. For instance, the Mughal Empire existed approximately from 1526 until 1857 and at its height included most of the territory in modern India, parts of Pakistan and parts of Bangladesh. As part of the deal, the British East India Company wanted exclusive trading rights in India, such that it did not have to compete with other European traders.
Throughout the late 1700s, the British East India Company expanded its control over large sections of eastern India from its main base in Bengal. For example, by the mid-1800s, the company had come to control all of the Indian subcontinent and ruled over the country through direct administration. This transformed the British East India Company from having a focus on trade to directly ruling and controlling India as a possession. It did this by expanding its military strength in the region. In fact, by 1857, the British East India Company had several armies that totaled as much as 267,000 soldiers.
However, the power of the British East India Company in India ended in 1857 with the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion. Also called the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’, it saw Indian sepoy soldiers for the British East India Company from north and central India, rebel against the company. This rebellion first began on May 10th, 1857 and lasted until November 1st, 1858. While the Sepoy Rebellion began with sepoy soldiers, it quickly spread to include local rulers and peoples throughout India.
The Sepoy Rebellion was a significant event in the history of the British East India Company and British Imperialism in India. This is because, following the events of the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857 and 1858, the British East India Company officially lost its control over the Indian subcontinent. For example, the British Parliament passed the Government of India Act on August 2nd, 1858, which effectively ended the company and transferred all of its powers in India to the British Monarchy. This transition saw Britain take over direct control of India as a colony and led to the period known as the ‘British Raj’.
EARLY HISTORY OF THE INDIAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
The history of early British imperialism in India is significant because it helps explain the rise of the Indian Independence movements in the mid-1800s. Historians consider the Indian Independence Movement to have occurred over a period of about 90 years from 1857 until 1947. This time period mirrors the period of the British Raj, which is when the British government ruled over India as a colony of the British Empire. In fact, the Sepoy Rebellion of 1858 is considered to be one of the earliest examples of Indian revolt against British rule in India and the starting point of the Indian Independence Movement. As stated above, the Sepoy Rebellion first began on May 10th, 1857 and lasted until November 1st, 1858. It saw Indian soldiers, called ‘sepoys’, protest the cartridges used in their rifles. For instance, India had large populations of both Muslims and Hindus, which meant that these religious faiths were heavily represented among the sepoy soldiers. However, the cartridges for the Enfield rifle, which was the standard issue rifle for sepoy soldiers, were greased with a combination of beef and pork fat. This is significant, because pork was considered repulsive to Muslims, while beef was considered repulsive to Hindus. As such, rumors of the grease in the rifles spread throughout the ranks of the Muslim and Hindu sepoy soldiers, which led to the outbreak of the rebellion. What that said, the Sepoy Rebellion was also spread by other issues that angered the Indian soldiers. First, while sepoys could gain rank in the armies of the British East India Company, they were also outranked by British officers. Second, as the British East India Company expanded its rule over India, it forced taxes on the Indian people including the sepoys. Third, the British officers of the British East India Company pushed European customs, values and religious practises on the sepoy soldiers. These factors combined and led to a growing sense of mistrust towards the British on behalf of the sepoys, which resulted in the 1857 rebellion.
While the Sepoy Rebellion began with sepoy soldiers, it quickly spread to include local rulers and peoples throughout India. As such, most historians view the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion as a major event in the history of the Indian Independence Movement.
With that said, the Indian Independence Movement gained steam throughout the 1880s and beyond due to the establishment of the Indian National Congress. The Indian National Congress was founded on December 23rd, 1885 in Bombay, India. In general, the Indian National Congress emerged out of a growing sense of Indian nationalism in the late 1800s. At the time, the British (first the British East India Company and later the British Government) had controlled India for almost two centuries. However, during the second half of the 1800s, a large groups of educated Indians began to express nationalistic feelings centered around Indian independence. As such, this Indian Independence Movement led to the eventual creation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. The initial goal of the Indian National Congress was to promote Indian nationalism and give a voice to the independence movement that was aimed at British imperialism in India. In fact, the early actions of the Indian National Congress focused on promoting self-government for Indian people. The concept of self-government in India is referred to as ‘swaraj’. The term swaraj became particularly important to Mahatma Gandhi in the 20th century, as he and the Indian National Congress tried to achieve independence for India from British imperial rule.
Indian nationalism grew further throughout the early 20th century, especially with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. While the First World War was primarily a European conflict, the colonies of the major European powers also came to play a role in the fighting. For instance, it is estimated that as many as 1.3 million Indian soldiers and workers participated in the war effort on the side of the British. Furthermore, Indian soldiers participated in conflicts throughout Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa. This helped to strengthen Indian nationalism, as it led to a sense of patriotism among people across India. In fact, supporters of the Indian Independence Movement began to argue that India’s role in World War I should gain it some aspects of self-government. This idea continued to grow in popularity, especially with the return of Mahatma Gandhi to India in 1915.
MAHATMA GANDHI AND THE INDIAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most important figures in India’s history and played a vital role in both the Indian Independence Movement and Indian National Congress. The Indian Independence Movement expanded in 1915 when Mahatma Gandhi returned to India following his time in South Africa. Before arriving in India in 1915, Gandhi had helped lead an Indian nationalist movement in South Africa, in which he argued for more rights and better treatment of Indians there. He used this experience in South Africa to carry out similar actions in India. In fact, Gandhi became the leader of the Indian National Congress in 1920, and quickly began to organize and carry out protests calling for an end to British imperialism in India. Gandhi’s concept of independence is often referred to as ‘swaraj’. In general, the term sawarj means self-government or self-rule and refers to the idea that Gandhi (along with other members of the Indian Independence Movement) wanted India to gain its independence from British imperial rule. He did this through several different ways, but Gandhi is most famous for his non-cooperation movement based on civil disobedience. In general, civil disobedience is when individuals refuse to follow the orders or laws of a society that they feel are unjust or discriminatory. Gandhi believed that India could gain its independence and achieve swaraj if it stopped cooperating with British laws, thus forcing the British to adapt to the Indian people instead of the other way around. He argued that the best way for Indian to obtain self-government (swaraj) was through a non-cooperation movement in which the Indian people refused to follow British laws.
Gandhi’s non-cooperation campaign focused on protesting Britain’s economic and political control over India. He argued that in order for Indians to force Britain out of India, the people of India had to practise civil disobedience through non-violence. As such, he advocated that the Indian National Congress use techniques such as hunger strikes and other forms of protest that did not involve the Indian people responding with violence.
One of the ways that Gandhi promoted the idea of economic non-cooperation was through the concept of ‘swadeshi’. In general, it involved Indians producing their own goods (or consuming domestically made goods) and rejecting foreign goods. At the time, Britain benefitted economically by selling goods to India from their factories in England. This arrangement deprived India from developing its own economy and sent large amounts of wealth back to England. As a result, members of the Indian National Congress (including Gandhi) began to express the importance of swadeshi.
A major milestone for the Indian National Congress at this time when January 26th, 1930 was declared as “Purna Swaraj Diwas" (Independence Day). This was important, because it highlighted the growing importance for the Indian National Congress to achieve India’s independence from Britain. This led into the major events of the Salt March by Gandhi and other prominent members of the Indian National Congress.
The Salt March took place from March 12th to April 6th in 1930 and saw Gandhi lead a non-violent protest against British laws related to salt harvesting in India. More specifically, the British effectively had total control over the harvesting of salt in India due to the 1882 Salt Act. Because of this act, Indians were forced to pay taxes on salt and could face harsh criminal punishments if they didn’t follow the law. This law angered many in the Indian National Congress because salt had been freely available to Indians for centuries, especially for those who lived along the coastlines of India. As a result, Gandhi and other members of the Indian National Congress decided to carry out a non-violent protest of the law by carrying out a salt march. The goal of the salt march was to openly disobey the British law and gain momentum for the Indian Independence Movement that was being supported by both Gandhi and the Indian National Congress.
In total, the Salt March that Gandhi led, lasted for 24 days in the spring of 1930. It saw Gandhi, along with about 80 other volunteers, march approximately 240 miles (384 km) from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in western India. Many others joined Gandhi and the volunteers along the route until finally, when they arrived in Dandi on April 6th, there were thousands of participants in the Salt March. When the group arrived at the coast on April 6th, Gandhi broke the British laws by collecting salt.
Gandhi resigned from the Indian National Congress in 1934 in hopes that it would help the political organization grow. He remained active in Indian politics and endorsed candidates for the Indian National Congress that promoted his belief in non-violent civil disobedience.
INDIA GAINS ITS INDEPENDENCE
Due to continued protests by both Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, the British realized it was too difficult to maintain its hold over the Indian subcontinent. As a result, with British approval, India was partitioned in 1947. In fact, the country was divided into Pakistan (for Muslims) and India (for Hindus and Sikhs). The British government defined the lines of division between the new states and on July 18th, the British parliament passed the Indian Independence Act which formally agreed to India’s independence and partition. With this act, British imperial rule in India had ended and India had gained its independence. Gandhi died on January 30th, 1948 in India. While walking to a prayer meeting, he was shot in the chest three times by Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse. The power of the Indian National Congress shifted as it became the main political force in all of India. The Indian Independence Movement ended.
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