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The Nationalist Movement In India And The Role Of Mahatma Gandhi And Non-Violence

Employing nonviolent nationalist movements as his weapon, Mahatma Gandhi stirred Indian men and women to "fight" for independence without shedding blood.

History Of Colonialism in India

Prior to the colonial era in India, the country was a highly prosperous nation, divided into several kingdoms, ruled by powerful Hindu and Islamic dynasties. India was well known across the world as a rich nation and the grandeur of Indian kings, palaces, art and architecture were unmatched in the rest of the world. The country was also rich in natural resources with fertile lands, abundant water resources, and diverse wildlife. Thus, India had it all to attract the colonists of Europe to try to gain control of this "land of plenty".

Entry of Europeans to the country started with the establishment of the spice trade in the 1400’s when several European countries set up trading posts and colonial towns in the country. Portugal, the Dutch Republic, Denmark, France, and England all had a significant presence in the country beginning as far back as the 1400’s (Portugal). It was England, however, that held the longest power in the country. After 1858, the British held colonial power after taking it from the East India Company which had been ruling since 1757.

Using policies of "Divide and Rule," the British gradually gained control over the entire country. The British colonists emptied the Indian treasury and treated Indians with disdain. Some positive sides of the British rule, however, included the improvement of infrastructural facilities in India.

No one is ready to sacrifice their independence at any cost, and so the Indians started their 200 year-long fight against the British colonists. In a way, the British rule helped Indians unite together in a unified struggle for independence. Forgetting all differences of age, sex, religion, language, caste, the Indians from all corners of the country gathered together to fight the well-equipped and cunning forces of the colonists.

Mahatma Gandhi And His Non-Violent Ways

Mahatma Gandhi is perhaps the most widely recognized figure of the Indian Nationalist Movement for his role in leading non-violent civil uprisings. He first employed the non-violent approach in South Africa where he was serving as an expatriate lawyer. He was hurt and angry when he witnessed discrimination and exploitation of colored people under Whites rule. He organizes non-violent protests in the country which gained him fame and support from the people of South Africa.

Back in India, he decided to employ his newly learned ways of civil protest in his homeland that was staggering to attain freedom from the British rule. His first point of dissent with the British colonialists was the exorbitant taxes placed on Indian nationals. He organized the working class as well as those living in poverty to protest against the high taxes and social discrimination. In 1921, he became the leader of the Indian National Congress, a nationalist political party in India, which demanded nondiscriminatory laws, equal rights for men and women, peaceful inter-religious relations, overthrow of the caste system, and above all, Indian independence. During his lifetime, Gandhi carried out three major nationalist movements which are discussed below.

The Non-Cooperation Movement

The first of the Gandhi-led movements was the Non-Cooperation Movement lasting from September 1920 until February 1922. Gandhi, during this movement, believed that the British were only successful in maintaining control because the Indians were cooperative. If the residents of a country stop co-operating with the British, then the minority Britishers would be forced to give up. The movement gained popularity, and soon, millions of people were boycotting British-run or cooperative establishments. This meant that people left their jobs, removed their children from schools, and avoided government offices. The name Mahatma Gandhi became popular. However, the Non-Cooperation Movement ended when a violent mob erupted in Chauri Chaura in Uttar Pradesh. The individuals involved burned a police station, killing 23 police officials. Gandhi stopped the movement, remaining true to his stance on non-violent protesting.

The Dandi March, Civil Disobedience, and Salt Satyagraha

The abrupt ending of the Non-Cooperation Movement did nothing to stop the quest for independence. On March 12, 1930, protesters took part in the Dandi March, a campaign designed to resist taxes and protest the British monopoly on salt. Gandhi began the 24-day, 240-mile march with 79 followers and ended with thousands. When the protesters reached the coastal town of Dandi, they produced salt from saltwater without paying the British tax.

This act was accompanied by civil disobedience across the country. The Dandi group continued moving south along the coast, producing salt along the way. Gandhi gave moving speeches about the inhumanity of a salt tax and staged the salt satyagraha as a struggle of the poor. British authorities arrested Gandhi before the group could reach the Dharasana Salt Works. This movement prompted nearly a year of civil disobedience, illegal salt production and purchase, boycotts of British goods, refusal to pay taxes, and the imprisonment of approximately 80,000 Indians. The movement earned national and international attention and increased the number of Gandhi's followers, however, it was unsuccessful in earning any concessions from the British.

The Quit India Movement

The Quit India Movement began on August 8, 1942, during World War II. The India Congress Committee, under the urging of Gandhi, called for a mass British withdrawal and Gandhi made a “Do or Die” speech. British officials acted immediately and arrested nearly every member of the Indian National Congress party. England, with a new Prime Minister, offered some concessions to the Indian demands such as the right to make independent Provincial constitutions, to be granted after the war; they were not accepted. The nation once again entered mass civil disobedience marked by anti-war speeches and refusal to assist in the war efforts. This movement introduced the idea to the British that they might be unable to maintain control of India.

The Cost Of Independence

At last, on August 15, 1947, India gained independence from British rule. However, independence came at a huge cost. Hindus and Muslims who had fought side by side against the united enemy now had to be separated. On June 3, 1947, British rulers proposed an Act to separate British India into India and Pakistan. The Act was approved on August 14, 1947. Thus, the hard work, sacrifice, and willpower of Indians led to the freedom of India from British rule. However, as the British left India, they created the great divide of India and Pakistan, dividing the British Raj on the basis of religion.

Nationalist Movements In India: The Role Of Mahatma Gandhi And His Non-Violent Ways

RankNationalist MovementDates
1The Non Co-operation MovementSeptember, 1920 to February,1922
2The Dandi March , Civil disobedience Movement and Salt satyagrahaMarch 12,1930 to April 5, 1930 (Salt Satyagraha)
3The Quit India MovementAugust 8,1942 till Independence

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