India's journey towards Independence
New Delhi: The Independence Day commemorates India's independence from over two centuries rule of Britishers and its birth as a sovereign nation on August 15, 1947.
The remarkable day was achieved after several movements, commonly known as India’s freedom struggle, launched by the brave hearts of India including Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Rani Laxmi Bai, Chandrashekhar Azad and many more.
The freedom struggle has witnessed partition of the country wherein the British Indian Empire was divided along religious lines into two new states: Dominion of India (later Republic of India) and Dominion of Pakistan (later Islamic Republic of Pakistan).
The tale of India’s Freedom Struggle (1857-1947)
Revolt of 1857
The Indian Rebellion of 1857, commonly known as India’s first war of Independence, began as a mutiny of sepoys of the East India Company's army on May 10, 1857 in Meerut.
The immediate cause of the revolt was the use of grease in the rifle cartridges which was derived from beef and pork which offended the religious sentiments of Hindu and Muslim sepoys.
Soon, the movement escalated and spread to most parts of north and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region.
The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar was made the leader, other sections of Indian society also joined in the struggle. Nana Sahib Peshwa, Kanwar Singh, Tantia Tope, Liaqat Ali, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Begum Hazrat Mahal of Avadh and many more were prominent among them. The sacrifice of Rani of Jhansi is well known.
The revolt of 1857 brought an end to the rule of the East India Company. It was taken over by the British Government.
However, the revolt of 1857 was not a successful event in the Indian history due to lack of unity among the warriors but it managed to create an urge in the minds of the Indian people to unite and fight for their freedom.
Partition of Bengal
In July 1905, Lord Curzon, the Viceroy and Governor-General (1899–1905), ordered the partition of the province of Bengal for improvements in administrative efficiency in the huge and populous region.
However, the Indians viewed the partition as an attempt by the British to disrupt the growing national movement in Bengal and divide the Hindus and Muslims of the region.
In 1911 the decision was reversed and Bengal was united.
Jallianwala Bagh massacre
The horrible Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, also known as the Amritsar Massacre was a bloodshed that happened in the city of Golden Temple, in 1919.
The major provoking factors that led to the bloodcurdling act were the enforcement of Rowlatt Act, Indian service in Mesopotamia in the First World War and the arrest of nationalist leaders of Amritsar Dr. Saifuddin Kitchloo and Dr Satyapal.
On April 13, 1919, British soldiers opened fire on an unarmed gathering of men, women and children.
Indian Government Officials sources estimated that the fatalities were 379, with 1,100 wounded. However, the casualty number estimated by Indian National Congress (INC) was more than 1,500, with approximately 1,000 getting killed.
At Jalliawalla Bagh out of the 1,302 people slaughtered, 799 (61 percent) were Sikhs.
Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22)
The Non-Cooperation Movement led by the Father of Nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was a significant phase of the Indian struggle for freedom from British rule.
It aimed to resist British occupation in India through non-violent means by boycotting British goods and using Indian made products to revive local economies.
Among the significant causes of this movement were
1. Colonial oppression, exemplified by the Rowlatt Act and Jallianawala Bagh massacre
2. Economic hardships to the common man due to a large chunk of Indian wealth being exported to Britain,
3. Ruin of Indian artisans due to British factory-made goods replacing handmade goods
The success of the revolt put the British authorities in a state of total shock while the millions of Indians cherished the movement with massive encouragement.
The Non-Co-operation Movement was withdrawn because of the Chauri-Chaura incident.
Chauri chaura incident
In February, 1922, volunteers participating in the Non-cooperation Movement protested for a fair price for meat in the marketplace. The demonstrators were beaten back by local police. In response, a protest against the police was called for February 5, to be held in the local marketplace.
On February 5, 1922, approximately 2000 protesters assembled and began marching towards the Chauri Chaura bazaar.
In an attempt to frighten and disperse the crowd, the police fired warning shots into the air but this only agitated the crowd who began to throw stones at the police.
With the situation getting out of control, the sub-inspector ordered the police to open fire on the advancing crowd, killing three and wounding several others.
Furious by the gunfire into their ranks, the crowd took revenge by setting the chowki ablaze, killing the 23 officers trapped inside.
Salt Satyagraha and civil disobedience
The Dandi march was a campaign launched against British salt monopoly by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
It commenced on March 12, 1930, from his ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi in Gujarat. It garnered widespread support and many fellow Indians joined him on the way towards the sea coast.
Gandhiji along several other protestors were arrested and imprisoned.
Quit India Movement
The Quit India Movement occupies a special place in the history of India’s freedom struggle for taking the final step towards independence under the able leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi's inspiring statement - "We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery" ignited the sentiments of Indians across the nation.
The Quit India Movement or the August Movement (August Kranti) was a civil disobedience movement launched in India in August 1942 for immediate independence.
The British were prepared to act.
Almost the entire Indian National Congress leadership, and not just at the national level, was imprisoned without trial within hours after Gandhi's speech—at least 60,000 people. Most spent the rest of the war in prison and out of contact with the masses.
The British refused to grant immediate independence, saying it could happen only after the war ended.
Sporadic small-scale violence took place around the country but the British arrested tens of thousands of leaders, keeping them imprisoned until 1945, and suppressed civil rights, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
In terms of immediate objectives Quit India failed because of heavy-handed suppression, weak coordination and the lack of a clear-cut programme of action.
However, the British government realized that India was ungovernable in the long run, and the question for postwar became how to exit gracefully while protecting Britain's allies, the Muslims and the princes.
Partition and Independence
The British Indian Empire was divided along religious lines into two new states—Dominion of India (later Republic of India) and Dominion of Pakistan (later Islamic Republic of Pakistan).
On 14 August 1947, the new Dominion of Pakistan came into being. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was sworn in as its first Governor General in Karachi.
At midnight, as India moved into 15 August 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru delivered the Tryst with destiny speech proclaiming India's independence
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment, we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.”
— Tryst with destiny speech, Jawaharlal Nehru, 15 August 1947