Teaching History Nationalist Movement and Social Reforms

Nationalist Movement and Social Reforms

Category : Teaching


Nationalist Movement and Social Reforms



  • Understand the oriental tradition towards the society and the education and its criticism
  • Know the reasons for emergence of reform movements
  • Explore the various movements such as Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, and Prarthana Samaj
  • Identify the reform movements among the Muslims, Sikhs, and Parsis
  • Recognise the various phases of national movement in India



The chapter deals with a colonial period when India was subjugated to British control, and now, British power has started interfering in Indian society that culminated into restructuring of the society. The reasons of British involvement in the society and changes introduced by them will be explored and the reaction of natives to these changes will also be noted. Further, the rise of national consciousness among Indian masses resulting in nationalist movement will be traced.

The conquest of India by the British during 18th and 19th centuries had exposed some serious weaknesses and drawbacks of Indian social institutions. As a consequence, several individuals and movements sought to bring about changes in the social and religious practices with a view of reforming and revitalising the society. These efforts were collectively known as Renaissance, which means revival and re-birth. Further, these developments in the Indian society were labelled as Indian renaissance.


'The sun never sets on the British Empire'.

It is a strong phrase that comments on illustrious history of Great Britain as a coloniser of many parts of the world in the age of imperialism. The process of colonisation that begins with political conquest of colony involves economic control in the next phase and further impacts every aspect of peoples' lives in the colony such as their culture, work, and education because bruisers believed it as 'White man's Burden' to civilise the inferior, ignorant native of colony. India being a colony of Great Britain witnessed it all. Here, we will explore the implications of British colonisation on the Indian education and society.



The early image of India in the West was that of past glory crafted by the Aryans, who are  the distant kin of the Europeans, accompanied by an idea of degeneration of once magnificent Aryan civilisation, and thus, there was an urge to know Indian culture and tradition, which was reflected in endeavours of scholars like Sir William Jones who was a linguist and junior judge at the supreme court set up by a company in Calcutta. He studied Indian languages to restore the forgotten culture and legal system by translating ancient Indian texts. His interests were shared by many other English officials in Calcutta, such as Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathaniel Halhed, who had translated Sanskrit and Persian texts into English. These Englishmen had together set up the Asiatick Society of Bengal (1784) and started a journal called Asiatick Researches. This was the beginning of orientalist tradition that led to the founding of institutions such as Calcutta Madrassa (1781) by Warren Hastings and Hindu College in Banaras (1791) by Jonathan Duncan; these colleges are meant for the promotion of study of Indian languages and scriptures. Orientalists believed that this would help British to learn from Indian culture, win a place in heart of 'natives', and help Indians rediscover their heritage and lost glories of the past. This will make British as the guardians of Indian culture as well as their masters.

Warren Hastings was an enthusiastic supporter of orientalists (those with scholarly knowledge of the language and culture of Asia) who promoted orientalism as policy of governance. The knowledge of Indian society will assimilate the British rulers into the subject society for more efficient administration. This political vision was manifested in the establishment of Fort William College at Calcutta in 1800 by Lord Wellesley to train civil servants in Indian languages and tradition to acqua int them with customs and laws of the land under control for efficient governance.


Criticism of Orientalism

However, not all Englishmen were supportive of oriental vision of learning who understood Eastern literature to be non-serious and light hearted and the knowledge of East was full of errors and unscientific in thought. Thus, to pour in efforts for encouragement of Indian languages, culture to merely win hearts of natives was seen wrong rather than useful; further, practical efforts such as scientific and technical advances of West should have been made familiar to Indians. These ideas are part of Anglicist vision forwarded by its profounder such as James Mill and Thomas Babington  Macaulay.

Macaulay declared that 'a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia', thereby advocating an education in the European literature and sciences; this education was inculcated through the medium of English language for the Indians because no branch of eastern knowledge was comparable to that of West. He was driven by his ambition to transform indolent Indian into a 'Brown sahib'; in other words, transforming each Indian into European in life and thoughts although they remain Indian in colour and blood. In his famous Education Minute of 1835, he presented a strong case for the introduction of English education in place of vernacular education. These minutes became basis for English Education Act of 1835, which decided on English as a medium of instruction for higher education, prohibition

on promotion of Oriental institutions, and use of English textbooks in school education.

By far, the reasons for British interest in educating Indians could be traced to the moral duty of the civilised British to educate the uncivilised natives of colony as part of its imperial mission being undertaken in all of its colonies alike and a tool to train minds to accept the foreign rule. The prominent use of English language and Western ideas in education, thereby lies in the fact that product of English education, the truthful honest brown sahibs trained in morality, ethics would have acted as a coterie of native people incorporated in structure of colonial rule acting as intermediaries between Englishmen and the natives by taking subordinate public services thus, making the administration smooth and convenient. However, this was not the only practical benefit of new system of European learning. Now, the economic interests were looked after as evident from Wood's Despatch of 1854, which proposed that wider population should have 'useful and practical knowledge' in order to become good workers who are capable of developing vast resources of the empire and also become good consumers valuing the superior quality of British goods.

There were three major agencies responsible for the spread of modern education in India. Foreign Christian missionaries with proselytising spirit to spread Christianity after the charter act of 1813. British government was the principal agent for engineering network of schools and colleges for secular education; progressive Indians such as Rabindranath Tagore, Dayananda Saraswati, Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Keshab Chandra Sen. This heralded the beginning of Western system of education that had changed the meaning and context of the Indian education.



The Indian society in the first half of the 19th century was caste ridden, decadent, and rigid. It followed certain practices that were not in sync with humanitarian feelings or values; however, they were still being followed in the name of religion. Therefore, a change was needed in the society. Hereby, the changes in the society and their causes will be revealed.


Cause of Change

When the British came to India, they introduced the English language as well as certain modern ideas. Exposure to these modem ideas such as liberty, social and economic equality, fraternity, democracy, and justice had a tremendous impact on the Indian society; these ideas gave birth to a new social and cultural awakening. Exposure to Western thoughts and ideas was a result of European learning. New forms of communication such as books, novels, and pamphlets, which were cheaper and accessible, had replaced manuscripts and were significant factors in bringing about a change in the Indian society.


Reasons for Emergence of Reform Movements

Some questions arise regarding the emergence of reform movements. Were these reforms a result of the impact of the West? Were they a response to challenges posed by colonialism? What were their 'indigenous' roots? There are no simple answers to this, as there were multiple reasons for the growth of these movements in this specific period. Dissemination of English education among the high castes, development of vernacular languages, improved communications, and expansion of print culture helped in their spread. Moreover, fears of conversions to Christianity due to the spread of polemical tracts and preaching by professional missionaries strengthened the urge for reforms from within. Christian missionaries were entering the sphere of services such as education, hospitals, orphanages, and schools in a significant way, creating further anxieties among the Hindus. Simultaneously, there was a need felt by Hindu social reformers to seek changes in Hindu customs and British policies.


Atmiya Sabha and Brahmo Sabha/Samaj

The central figure of this cultural awakening was Raja Ram Mohan Roy. He is known as the 'father of the Indian Renaissance'. In December 1821, he started the first Indian newspaper named Sambad Kaumudi, which literally mean the 'moon of intelligence'; this newspaper was edited, published, and managed by the Indians.

To fight against evil customs, he found Atmiya Sabha in 1815, which was forerunner of Brahmo Samaj.

The first major landmark of these movements began in Bengal with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), who found the Brahmo Samaj (community of men who worship brahma) in 1828. He was the central figure of the early socio-religious reforms, and he has been referred to as the 'Father of Modem India' because he supported other social, educational, and political reforms. He defended Hinduism from missionary attack; he also stated that Christianity was laced with superstitions and errors. He was against polytheism, idol worship, Brahman priests, and their rituals and women's subordination. He was the greatest exponent for the liberation of women, opposed polygamy, Sati, and child marriages; further, he supported the right of inheritance of property by daughters. Through his sustained efforts, he made Governor General, Lord William Bentinck, to pass the famous regulation no. XVII in December 1829, which declared the practice of 'Sati' as illegal (self-immolation of widows on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands).

After Raja Ram Mohan Roy's death on September 27, 1833, Brahmo Samaj languished for some time as they lacked a dynamic leadership. It became the responsibility of Debendranath Tagore to infuse a new life and to give the theist movement a definite form and shape.

The Brahmo Samaj split at various times in the course of the 19th century. There were increasing conflicts within the Samaj between the conservatives or cultural nationalists on the one hand and the 'liberals' or modernisers on the other, who split into two camps by 1866. The conservatives were led by Debendranath Tagore. On the other hand, it was Keshab Chandra Sen who had much more progressive ideas. He was against the caste system and supported inter-caste marriages. He took.the. movement out of the limited elite circles of Calcutta literati into the district towns of east Bengal. Under the leadership of Sen, the newly started Brahmo Samaj of India had a triumphant career. The inclusion of women as members and the adoption of a moderate programme of social reform formed a new feature of the rejuvenated society. It was chiefly due to its efforts that the government passed the Brahmo Marriage Act of 1872, which abolished early marriage of girls and polygamy, and sanctioned widow remarriages and inter-caste marriages for those who did not profess any recognised faith such as Hinduism and Islam. With the passing of the Act that effectively declared that Brahmos were not Hindus and not subjected to Hindu law; Keshab Chandra Sen's Brahmo Samaj of India underwent a split between radicals and moderates,

especially over the status of women. Sen, leading the moderate faction, turned away from social change, and instead embraced the study and reform of religion. Successive ideological rifts weakened the movement, confining it to a small elite group.

This organisation, as the first platform of New India, proved to be the precursor of the subsequent social reform movements started by M. G. Ranade and others; further, the political movement launched by the Indian National Congress.


Prarthana Samaj

The Prarthana Samaj was established in Bombay by DrAtmaram Pandurang (1825-1898) in 1876 with the objective of rational worship and social reform. The two great members of this Samaj were Shri R. C. Bhandarkar and Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade. They devoted themselves to the work of social reform such as inter-caste dining, inter-caste marriage, widow remarriage, and improvement in the quality of life of many women and deprived classes.

Although Prarthana Samaj was powerfully influenced by the ideas of Brahmo Samaj, it did not insist upon a rigid exclusion of idol worship and a definite break from the caste system. It did not regard the Vedas as divine or believe in the doctrine of transmigration of the human soul and incarnation of God. Its central idea was one positive belief in the unity of God. The reforms it sought were to come gradually, not cataclysmically, and this made it relatively more acceptable to the larger society. For example, while supporting widow remarriage, it did not lead in this campaign. The Samaj opened branches in Pune, Surat, Ahmedabad, Karachi, Kirkee, Kolhapur, and Satara. Its activities also reached South India and by early of the 20th century, 18 of its branches existed in the Madras Presidency. However, the Samaj was successful in creating various institutions such as free reading rooms, libraries, schools, orphanages, and programmes for 'untouchable' uplift, though it never directly attacked orthodox Hinduism and Brahmanism.

There was a rift in the Samaj in 1875, when Dayananda Saraswati with his Arya Samaj visited Gujarat. A section of the Prarthana Samaj leaders, who were led by S. P. Kelkar, were attracted towards Aryan ideology and broke away from the Samaj. Although they later returned to the Prarthana Samaj, it marked the beginning of a different kind of religious politics in Western India.


Arya Samaj

The Arya Samaj was found in 1875 by Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883) in Bombay; however, its most visible and significant impact was felt in Punjab and the United Provinces. Dayananda's motto was 'Back to the Vedas', the most ancient of Hindu texts. He claimed that any scientific theory or invention, which was thought to be of modern origin actually derived from the Vedas. He not only disregarded the authority of the later scriptures like the Puranas but also had no hesitation in declaring them to be the writings of selfish and ignorant men. It appears that Dayananda was trying to project Hinduism also as a 'religion of the book', as followed in Christianity and Islam. Satyarth Prakash was his most important book.


Dayananda Saraswati

A network of schools and colleges for boys and girls was established throughout northern India to promote the spread of education. Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School of Lahore, which soon developed into a premier college of Punjab, set the pattern for such institutions. Instruction was imparted through Hindi and English on modern lines. The Arya Samaj drew many leaders, militant Hindus, and nationalists, including Lala Hansraj, Pandit Guru Dutt, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Swami Shraddhananda (started Gurukul near Haridwar in 1902).

While upholding Vedas as the true bearers of knowledge, the Arya Samaj could not escape the rationalism of the present age, and it appropriated the Western intellectual discourse of reason and science. This was clearly reflected in the field of education, where one school supported a more traditional system, while another section recognised the value of English education and was inclined to a more liberal programme.

As part of their community and nation making rhetoric, the Arya Samaj launched the programmes of Sangathan and Shuddhi. Shuddhi was a proselytisation movement that involved the reconversion of those who were lost to the religions of Christianity, Sikhism, and Islam. The Arya Samaj also became intensely involved in the cow protection movements and the advocacy of standardised Hindi in preference to Urdu in the late 19th century, moving decisively from reformism to revivalism. The Arya Samaj's stridency against Christianity and Islam and their belief in the superiority of ancient Hinduism was often reflected in their writings. This to an extent was the genesis of what later came to be known as Hindutva, a Hindu nationalism based on identification with Hindu culture.


Ramakrishna Mission and Swami Vivekananda

The weakening of the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal in the 1870s was followed by the emergence of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda movement in the 1880s.Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya (1836-1886) was a poor Brahmin priest who later came to be known as Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He dedicated his life to God. He believed that there were many roads to God and the service of man was the service of God because man was the embodiment of God. Hence, sectarianism had no place in his teachings.

Narendra Nath Datta (1863-1902) later known as Swami Vivekananda was the most devoted pupil of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who carried the message of his Guru Ramakrishna all over the world, especially in America and Europe. He emerged as the preacher of neo-Hinduism. He condemned the social evils and proclaimed the essential oneness of all religions. He took part in the parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 and made an impact by his learned interpretations.

Young Bengal Movement

It was a radical movement for the reform of Hindu Society started in the Hindu college. Its leader was Henry Vivian Derozio, a teacher of the Hindu College. He was of mixed parentage as his father was a Portuguese and his mother was an Indian. In 1826, at the age of 17, he joined the Hindu College as a teacher and taught there till 1831. He inspired his followers and students to question all authorities. His followers were known as the Derozians. They cherished the ideals of the French Revolution (1789 A.D.) and the liberal thinking of Britain. They condemned religious rites and the rituals, and pleaded for eradication of social evils, importance of female education, and improvement in the condition of women. The Young Bengal Movement continued even after Derozio's dismissal and his sudden death. Although deprived of leadership, the members of this group continued preaching radical views through teaching and journalism.


Theosophical Society

Theosophical Society was found by Madam H. P. Blavatsky, a Russian Lady, and H. S. Olcott, an American Colonel in New York in 1875. The society was greatly influenced by the Indian doctrine of karma. The Society was introduced to India in 1879 and its headquarters were set up at Adyar near Madras in 1886. Mrs Annie Besant joined the society in 1888 and helped in popularising it further. The society did commendable work in the field of education as it opened the Central Hindu College at Varanasi in 1898, which she later handed over to Madan Mohan Malaviya. He developed that college into the Banaras Hindu University. She and her associates advocated the revival and strengthening of the ancient religions of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism. They helped to impart to the educated Indians a sense of pride in their own country. Thus, Annie Besant's movement was a movement led and supported by Westerners who glorified Indian religious and philosophical traditions. This helped Indians to recover their self-confidence. Although the Theosophical Movement did not enjoy mass popularity, its work under the leadership of Annie Besant for the awakening of the Indians was remarkable. She contributed a great deal to the development of national spirit in Indians. One of the many Mrs Besant's achievements in India was the establishment of the Central Hindu School. Annie Besant made India her permanent home and took a prominent part in Indian politics. 'The needs of India are, among others, the development of a national spirit and an education founded on Indian ideas and enriched, not dominated by the thoughts and culture of the West'. She always supported Home Rule for Indians and established a Home Rule League in 1916 to spread the message of self-rule. She described her mission in these words: 'The Indian work is first of all the revival, the strengthening and uplifting of the ancient religions. This has brought with it a new self-respect, and pride in the past; belief in the future, and as an inevitable result, a great wave of patriotic life, the beginning of the rebuilding of a nation'.


Reform Movements among the Muslims

Movements for socio-religious reforms among the Muslims emerged late. Most Muslims feared that Western education would endanger their religion as it was un-lslamic in character. The Mohammedan Literary Society, established by Nawab Abdul Latif in 1863, was one of the earliest institutions that attempted to spread modern education. The most important socioreligious movement among the Muslims came to be known as the Aligarh Movement. It was organised by Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1899). Syed Ahmad advised Muslims to embrace Western education and take up government service.

In 1862, he found the Scientific Society to translate English books on science and other subjects into Urdu. He also started an English-Urdu journal through which he spread the ideas of social reforms. His initiatives established the Mohammedan Oriental College that later developed into the Aligarh Muslim University. It helped to develop a modern outlook among its students. This intellectual movement is called the Aligarh Movement, which was largely responsible for the

Muslim revival that followed. It provided a focal point for the scattered Muslim population in different parts of the country. It gave them a common fund of ideas and a common language called Urdu. A Muslim press was developed for the compilation of works in Urdu. There were several other socio-religious movements that helped the national awakening of the Muslims in one way or the other way. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had found the Ahmadiyya Movement in 1899 under which a number of schools and colleges were opened imparting modern education. This movement emphasised the universal and humanitarian spirit of Islam.


Reform Movements among Parsis

Religious reform began among the Parsis in Mumbai in the middle of the 19th century. In 1851, the Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha or Religious Reform Association was found by Naoroji Furdoonji, Dadabhai Naoroji, S. S. Bengalee, and others. They started a journal Rast Goftar for the modernisation of the social customs of the Parsis.


Religious Reform among Sikhs

Religious reform among the Sikhs was started with foundation of the Kha'lsa College at Amritsar in 1892 through the efforts of the Singh Sabhas (1870). This college and other schools set up as a result of similar efforts promoted Gurumukhi, Sikh learnings, and Punjabi literatures as a whole. After 1920, wherrfhe Akali Movement rose in Punjab. The chief objective of this movement was to improve the management of the Gurdwaras or Sikh Shrines that were under the control of priests or mahants who treated them as their private properties. In 1925, a law was passed that gave the right of managing Gurdwaras to the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee.



The Indian national movement is an historical example of a wide mass movement witnessed by modern society where the state power was seized by a prolonged popular struggle on a moral, political, and ideological level instead of a single historical moment of revolution witnessed elsewhere in the world. The Indian national movement can be categorised into three phases: 1885-1905, 1906-1916,and 1917-1947.

The organised political life of India was witnessing a major change; in other words, after 1857, associations controlled by landed plutocracy like British Indian association in Calcutta was gradually being replaced by new associations dominated by middle class professionals. For example, Poona Sarvajanik Sabha (in 1870), Madras Mahajana Sabha (1884), the Indian association (1876), and many more. This new politics in the latter half of the 19th century was new in demands of national significance, such as Indian representation in legislative council, separation of executive and judicial functions of the government, racist arms act in 1878 (disallowing Indians to possess arms), Draconian Vernacular Press Act in 1882 (censoring newspapers and confiscating printing presses if anything objectionable against British rule was published), and llbert Bill in 1883, which was opposed by whites (bill was proposed to establish equality by allowing trial of Europeans or British offenders by Indian district magistrates and session judges in small towns, as was done in presidency towns).


First Phase (1885-1905)

Amidst all this, Indian National Congress (INC) was born in 1885 at national convention comprising 72 delegates in Bombay under presidency of W. C. Banerjee. Its objective was to develop and consolidate sentiments of national unity, and thus, every year a session was held in different parts of country with a new president not to be chosen from the same region. These sessions were conducted democratically and in a way of a parliament. A. 0. Hume, a retired British civil servant supposedly played a crucial role in the foundation of INC. English saw INC. a legitimate forum for venting out native grievances and prevent any future opposition against Her Majesty like 1857 revolt, and thus, they thought that it can be used as a safety valve. On contrary, Congress leaders hoped to use Hume as a lightning conductor who acted as a mediator to remove mutual

jealousies of regional leaders and prevent the unfriendly attentions and suspicions of the British authorities towards INC.

The early congress in the first 20 years had a very moderate political style, wherein moderates were developing public awareness about unjust nature of British rule and they were criticising the direct drainage of wealth impoverishing India in the form of salaries, savings, pensions, payments to British troops in India, and profits of the British companies. This was the economic critique of colonialism propounded by Dadabhai Naoroji (through his book Poverty and Un-British Rule in India), M. G. Ranade, and R. C. Dutt as 'drain theory' in economic nationalism. Moderates demanded participation in legislative assembly, Indianisation of civil services, reduction in military expenditure and tax burden through constitutional methods in the form of prayers and petitions because they believed in British sense of justice and fair play. The only demand of the Congress granted by the British was the expansion of the legislative councils by the Indian Councils Act of 1892. However major demands of moderates remained unfulfilled that resulted in a new reaction against colonial rule resorting to a path passive resistance, that is, direct and belligerent confrontation in the place of moderate's politics of mendicancy. This was extremist trend.

Within congress, this was a radical faction emerged in opposition to ideologies of moderates and believing in Swaraj or self-rule. The prominent leaders were Lal (Lala Lajpat Rai known as Lion of Punjab), Bal (Bal Gangadhar Tilak known as Lokmanya Tilak), and Pal (Bipin Chandra Pal).

Tilak raised a very famous slogan 'freedom is my birth right & I shall have it' to encourage people to fight for Swaraj.


Second Phase (1906-1916)

Partition of Bengal, 1905

The Partition of Bengal was announced by Lord Curzon (viceroy) in two provinces on 4 July 1905. The new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam included the whole of Assam and the Dacca, Rajshahi, and Chittagong divisions of Bengal with headquarters at Dacca. Although Curzon justified his action on administrative lines, partition divided the Hindus and Muslims in Bengal. This became the immediate cause for the rise of extremism and led to the anti-partition agitation all over the country culminating into the Swadeshi Movement that intensified the National movement.


Swadeshi movement

The Swadeshi Movement involved programmes such as the boycott of government services, courts, schools and colleges, and foreign goods, promotion of Swadeshi goods, and promotion of national education through the establishment of national schools and colleges. It was both a political and economic movement. The Swadeshi Movement was a great success. In Bengal, even the landlords joined the movement. The women and students took to picketing. Students refused using books made of foreign paper. The government adopted several tough measures. It passec several acts to crush the movement. The Swadeshi volunteers were beaten badly. The cry of Vande Mataram was forbidden. Schools and colleges were warned not to allow their students to take part in the movement or else their aids would be stopped. Some Indian government employees lost their jobs. Extremist leaders Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, and Aurobindo Ghosh were imprisoned and deported. However, the extremists were successful in organising an all-India political movement, viz. the Swadeshi Movement.


Formation of the Muslim League (1906)

In December 1906, Muslim delegates from all over India met at Dacca for the Muslim Educational Conference. Taking advantage of this occasion, Nawab Salimullah of Dacca proposed the setting up of an organisation to look after the Muslim interests. The proposal was accepted. The All-India Muslim League was finally set up on December 30, 1906. Like the Indian National Congress, they conducted annual sessions and put their demands to the British government. Initially, they enjoyed the support of the British. Their first achievement was the separate electorates for the Muslims in the Minto-Morley reforms. Moderates wanted Swaraj to be achieved through constitutional methods instead of boycott, these differences led to a split in the Congress between moderates and extremists at the Surat session in 1907. This is popularly known as the famous Surat



Lucknow Pact (1916)

During the 1916 Congress session at Lucknow, two major events occurred. The divided Congress became united. An understanding for joint action against the British was reached between the Congress and the Muslim League and it was called the Lucknow Pact. Both the organisations demanded dominion status for the country.


Revolutionary movements

In the first half of the 20th century, revolutionary groups sprang up mainly in Bengal, Maharashtra, Punjab, and Madras. The revolutionaries were not satisfied with the methods of both the moderates and extremists. Hence, they started many revolutionary secret organisations. For example, Hindustan Socialist Republican Association and Ghadar Party.


Third Phase (1917-1947)

In 1917, a committee was set up under the president-ship of Sir Sydney Rowlett to look into the militant nationalist activities and Rowlett act was passed in 1919 empowering British government to detain any person without trial. This act was called Black Act. In 1919, Government of India Act was passed bitterly known as Montague-Chelmsford Reforms wherein the central legislature was made bicameral with two chambers: council of state (upper house) and legislative council (lower house) and diarchy or dual government was introduced in provincial executives.

This is the final phase marked by advent of M. K. Gandhi who became the undisputed leader of the National movement. His principles of nonviolence and Satyagraha were employed against the British Government. He began his experiments with Satyagraha against the oppressive European indigo planters at Champaran in Bihar in 1917. In the next year, he launched another Satyagraha at Kheda in Gujarat in support of the peasants who were not able to pay the land tax due to the failure of crops. In 1918, Gandhi undertook a fast unto death for the cause of Ahmedabad's mill workers, and finally, the mill owners conceded the just demands of the workers. The local movements at Champaran, Kheda, and Ahmedabad brought Mahatma Gandhi closer to the life of the people and their problems at the grass-roots level. Consequently, he became the leader of the masses.

An all-India Hartal was organised on 6 April 1919. In Punjab, there was an unprecedented support to the Rowlatt Satyagraha. Facing -a violent situation, the Government of Punjab handed over the administration to the military authorities under General Dyer. He banned all public meetings and detained the political leaders. On 13th April, the Baisakhi day (harvest festival), a public meeting was organised at the Jallianwala Bagh (garden). Dyer marched in and without any warning opened fire on the crowd. There was a nationwide protest against this massacre and Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood as a protest. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre gave a tremendous impetus to the freedom struggle.

Meanwhile, the Muslims in India were upset over the British attitude against Turkey in World War 1 and launched the Kbilafat Movement. Mahatma Gandhi was particularly interested in bringing the Hindus and the Muslims together to achieve the country's independence. Subsequently, the Khilafat movement was merged with the Non-Cooperation movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920. It was approved by the INC at the Nagpur session in December, 1920. The programmes of the non-cooperation movement were surrender of titles and honorary positions, resignation of membership from the local bodies, boycott of elections held under the provisions of the 1919 Act, boycott of courts, government schools, and colleges, foreign goods, establishment of national schools, colleges, and private panchayat courts, and popularising swadeshi goods and khadi. It was the real mass movement with the participation of different sections of Indian society such as peasants, workers, students, teachers, and women. It witnessed the spread of nationalism to the remote corners. The whole movement was abruptly called off on 11th February 1922 by Gandhi following the Chauri Chaura incident in the Gorakhpur district of UP where an angry mob set fire to the police station at Chauri Chaura and 22 policemen were burnt to death.

The suspension of the non-cooperation movement led to a split within Congress in the Gaya session of the Congress in December 1922. Leaders like Motilal Nehru and Chittaranjan Das formed a separate group within the Congress known as the Swaraj Party on 1 January 1923.

The Act of 1919 included a provision for its review after a lapse of 10 years. However, the review commission was appointed by the British Government two years earlier of its schedule in 1927 known as Simon Commission after the name of its chairman Sir John Simon. All its seven members were Englishmen with no Indian member in it. In 1928, when the Commission reached Bombay a general Hartal was observed all over the country. Everywhere it was greeted with black flags and the cries of 'Simon go back'. The report of the Simon Commission published in 1930 stated that the constitutional experiment with diarchy was unsuccessful, and the report recom- mended the establishment of autonomous government as its replacement. This became the basis for enacting the Government of India Act of 1935.


Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-1934)

The annual session of the Congress was held at Lahore in December 1929 presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru where the Poorna Swaraj resolution was passed and gave a call to launch the Civil Disobedience Movement. The Congress had also observed January 26, 1930 as the Day of Independence.

On 12th March 1930, Gandhi began his famous March to Dandi. After marching a distance of 200 miles on 6th April, the Civil Disobedience Movement was launched by breaking the salt laws.


Roundtable conference

The British government adopted the strategy of talking to different political parties by convening the roundtable conferences. The first roundtable conference was held in November 1930 at London, which was boycotted by the Congress. On 8 March 1931, the Gandhi-lrwin Pact was signed. As per this pact, Mahatma Gandhi agreed to suspend the civil-disobedience movement and participate in the second roundtable conference in September 1931 at London. Gandhi participated in the conference but returned to India disappointed as no agreement could be reached on the demand of complete independence and on the communal question. In January 1932, the civil-disobedience movement was resumed.

Poona Pact was agreed in 1932 wherein 148 seats in different provincial legislatures were reserved for the depressed classes in the place of 71, as provided in the communal award. The third roundtable conference came to an end in 1932 and the congress again did not participate in it.

The British Government made an announcement on 8 August 1940, which came to be known as the 'August Offer' envisaging that after the World War II, a representative body of Indians would be set up to frame the new constitution. The British Government in its continued effort to secure Indian cooperation sent Sir Stafford Cripps to India on 23 March 1942. This is known as Cripps Mission. The main recommendations of Cripps were as follows: the promise of Dominion Status to India, protection of minorities, setting up of a constituent assembly in which there would be representatives from the Princely States along with those of the British Provinces, provision for any Province of British India not prepared to accept this constitution, either to retain its present constitutional position or frame a constitution of its own.

            The major political parties of the country rejected the Cripps proposals. Gandhi called Cripps' proposals as a 'Post-dated Cheque'. They did not like the rights of the Princely States either to send their representatives to the constituent assembly or to stay out of the Indian Union. The Muslim League was also dissatisfied as its demand for Pakistan had not been conceded in the proposal.


Quit India Movement (1942-1944)

The failure of the Cripps' Mission and the fear of an impending Japanese invasion of India led Mahatma Gandhi to begin his campaign for the British to quit India. The All-India Congress Committee met at Bombay on 8 August 1942 and passed the famous Quit India Resolution. On the same day, Gandhi gave his call of 'do or die'. This movement paved the way for India's freedom. It aroused among Indians the feelings of bravery, enthusiasm, and total sacrifice.


Cabinet Mission (1946)

In March 1946, Lord Atlee made a historic announcement in which the right to self-determination and the framing of a constitution for India were conceded. Consequently, three members of the British Cabinet?Pethick Lawrence, Sir Stafford Cripps. and A. V. Alexander?were sent to India. This is known as the Cabinet Mission. Provision was made for three groups of provinces to possess their separate constitutions, proposed the formation of a Union of India, and envisaged for setting up an Interim Government.

Consequently, elections were held in July 1946 for the formation of a constituent assembly and an interim government was formed under the leadership ofJawaharlal Nehru on 2 September 1946.


Mountbatten Plan (1947)

On 20 February I947, Prime Minister Atlee announced the definite intention of the British Government to transfer power to responsible Indian hands by a date not later than June 1948. Thus, to affect the transference of that power, Atlee decided to send Lord Mountbatten as Viceroy to India. After extensive consultation. Lord Mountbatten put forth the plan of partition of India on 3 June 1947. The Congress and the Muslim League ultimately approved the Mountbatten Plan.

The British Government accorded formal approval to the Mountbatten Plan by enacting the Indian Independence Act on 18 July 1947.


Other Topics

Nationalist Movement and Social Reforms

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