The Independence of India

Before the Indian Independence Movement in the early 1900’s, India had been under the influence of a foreign ruler for its entire history. By the time the British took over the area, the citizens of India were beginning to grow restless with having no say in any political decisions. The British did not want to become a part of the Indian nation, they were simply in the country to become wealthy and exercise their political influence, causing resentment on the side of the natives. The rejection of Hinduism was a major reason for unhappiness, and they were alarmed by the introduction of Christianity They also experienced racism on a very high level, and it is natural that the natives began to ferment. Many British were afraid that the natives would realize that they all had common grievances and unite against the British, which would be disastrous for their power over the foreigners.

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The first surge of nationalism that occurred in India was the Minor Rebellion of 1857. This mutiny was sparked by angry sepoys, or Indian soldiers serving in the Bengal army of the British East India Company. They were forced by the British soldiers to use a certain type of cartridge that needed to bitten off, but they refused because they took this as evidence that the British thought of themselves as superior. The Indian sepoys were severely punished for their defiance, but they did not stand for this, and raised arms against their superiors. The British now believed more that they could control the Indians, as they had no capacity for self-government. They thought the natives were incapable of uniting and starting a threatening mutiny. These classic British clichés only grew stronger after 1857. However, the Indians now realized that they shared common grievances on a national.

map_of_indiaThe influence of the Western world changed how Indians communicated with each other. With these new tools, natives from all over realized that they shared common grievances and hatred toward the British. These technologies, however, were a double-edged sword, no longer did British live many years in India, now, they simply came to get rich and leave as quickly as possible. This caused resentment on the side of the natives, and the gap between the two sides continued to grow.

            The first major step toward Indian independence was the formation of the Indian National Congress (INC). The first meeting was in December 1885 in Bombay; among those who attend was Mahatma Gandhi, the future leader of the movement. At first the congress professed empire loyalty, western technology, and British liberties while trying to promote national interest. The INC was concerned with the elite’s responsibility to the rest of the nation and began to have its meetings at various locations in India and started to gather a following of mostly businessmen and professionals. However, World War I broke out in 1914, and dragged on until 1920. By the end of this time, the political scene in India had changed, and so had the INC. After 1920, it became a permanent opponent to the British government. It now sought participation from the masses of natives and was better organized. After 1920, the INC quickly became the forum for the hopes and wants of the Indian people. The INC represented the numerous forces of the country coming together. There were strong feelings of unity and patriotism at the meetings of the congress, and from the first meeting, the progress toward Indian independence rapidly sped up.

The First World War brought about many changes in the Indian political scene. By the time the war ended, Indian nationalism was extremely strong. The natives realized that there were many superpowers of the world besides Britain. More importantly, this change of the political situation in India paved the way for Mahatma Gandhi, the eventual head of the fight toward independence. Gandhi migrated to India in 1914 from South Africa, where he had fought for social injustices against immigrant Indians. Once in India, Indian political independence became his priority. Gandhi practiced nonviolence and empathy for others over individual pursuit of happiness). Gandhi wanted to gain the support of the masses. He led week-long fasts and marches as a form of protest against the British. These had a significant impact and he soon had the entire country of India following him and looking to him as a leader. In 1921 he decided to begin living like the masses; he dressed, ate, and lived like the average Indian native. They felt that despite his financial means, as he had a good amount of money, he was truly practicing what he preached and rejecting Western beliefs of putting self-interest over social justice. The natives thought of Gandhi as being on the same social level as them, which is why they listened to his preaching and united under him.

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Gandhi was causing serious rebellion of the masses against British rule, and they did not just sit back and watch. They passed many legislative acts to try to suppress the mutiny of the natives. The first of these was the Rowlatt Bills in 1919. These Bills allowed for the incarceration of “dangerous” persons in India without trial or legal representation. Second was the 1919 Government Act of India, which stated that the Simon commission would be created after ten years to decide whether India had the capacity for more self-rule. The INC was outraged because it wanted dominion status, which is a self-governing commonwealth while being one of a number of such territories united in a community of nations. While the Simon Commission was reporting, Gandhi led a civil disobedience crusade. He marched 250 miles to the sea to produce in his own salt as a way of protesting the newly imposed salt tax, and was eventually arrested because of this. Next came the Round Table Conferences of 1930 and 1931. A sympathetic Viceroy, Lord Irwin, was appointed, who believed that India deserved dominion status. The first conference failed because neither INC members nor Gandhi were present. However, Irwin convinced Gandhi to attend the second one and he agreed to end the civil disobedience campaign, but this conference also failed because an agreement over religion could not be achieved. Finally came the 1935 Government Act of India, which proposed that an elected Indian assembly would have a political say in everything, except defense and foreign affairs, and that the eleven provincial assembles would have full control over only local affairs. Nationalists in India were not pleased with this because they wanted dominion status granted immediately. Once again, it also failed to take of the age-old religious issues between Muslims and Hindu’s. The Muslim League actually wanted a split from India after the Hindu’s dominated Congress in 1937. Gandhi, however, was opposed to this idea because he felt a united India was a stronger India.

World War II broke out in 1939 and halted the Indian issue temporarily, at least in Britain’s eyes. During the war, the British promised dominion status for India at war’s end because many Indians fought for Britain against Japan. In 1945, after the war had ended, attempts to draw up a constitution that was satisfactory failed yet again because of the quarrel between the Muslims and Hindu’s. The Muslim League took direct action in 1946 to try to get an Independent Muslim state, which caused India to break out in civil war. Once again in 1947, Britain promised India their freedom. This time, there was more merit to this promise. The 1947 Indian Independence Act was written in August of that year. It created Pakistan, which was a Muslim state that was separate from India. Both countries were granted their independence, and all of Gandhi’s hard work as well as the undying support of the Indian people had finally paid off.

REFERENCES:

“Unit Two: Studying Africa through the Social Studies.” Exploring Africa. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

http://www.tcnj.edu/~borland/2006-indianindependence/History.htm

“The Indian Independence Movement Began in 1857.” The Indian Independence Movement Began in 1857. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

http://www.tcnj.edu/~borland/2006-indianindependence/

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