We all know that August is here and its time to ring in the celebrations of our 72nd Independence Day to commemorate the sacrifice and struggles of the people who wanted to see a Free India. Let’s know the story of Indian Independence Struggle.
We, at Election Tamasha, have decided to highlight this by bringing out the ‘Know Your Freedom Story’ Series where we present the multiple narratives of our Freedom Struggle. This is an in-depth analysis of our political history and the formation of one nation. Of the countless men and women who fought for independence, this series is just a small reminder of what they had done through the main leaders of the landmark movements which have together contributed in getting us our Independence.
Starting today, we’ll come up with a series on the freedom struggle by looking at one major leader and how he contributed to the movement.
The series starts with the period in the 1800’s when there was a rising discontent among the people. The Mughals had gone and the Britishers had almost set their hard-hitting policies which had begun affecting the people.
How did our Freedom Struggle start?
The 1857 Revolt was the greatest against the Colonial Rule which came from many important centres in the Northern Plains although there were many movements before this as well which were mainly local in nature. These small rebellions ultimately gave the freedom movement a firm base to continue the struggle. Let us trace the beginnings of the freedom struggle which inspired people many generations later.
Uprisings, Movements, and Rebellions before 1857 –
The series of rebellions – tribal, civil or peasant were often led by the Nawabs or Rajas who were deposed or for that matter uprooted zamindars or landlords and other officials i.e. someone who enjoyed some authority earlier and now was left with nothing because of the British rule. The major causes which can be attributed to the revolts were rapid changes brought about by the British rule in administration, land revenue, and the economy. All the sections of the society were displeased.
The major groups who rebelled were the peasants who were facing hardships because of the land revenue, the artisans who were slowly losing their base and the sepoys who were supposed to do things which their castes forbade like crossing the seas, using greased cartridges made of meat etc. Many zamindars and landlords had lost control over their lands and they faced the brunt of British legislation.
According to the scholar Bipan Chandra, there were about more than 40 rebellions during this period from various groups in the society like the Sanyasi rebellion in the 1800’s, Bhil uprising, Orissa Zamindars or the Paika rebellion, revolt by the Mysore peasants, Munda Rebellion, Kolis of Gujarat revolted, Satara uprising, Bundela uprising in the North, Vellore Sepoy Mutiny where about 200 British troops were killed or injured etc.
As one can see, the rebellions took place across the country but the reason why these failed was that these almost continuous rebellions were local in nature and isolated from each other. They were the result of local causes and grievances. These rebellions only represented interests of one section of the population where the others did not join. But, across the country, the rebellions bore the same character only that they were separated through space and time and hence they could be easily suppressed by the powerful British force.
Another factor that can be attributed to the failure was that the leaders who led these revolts were more often than not backward and traditional. They were averse to the modern world and hoped to bring the same old order back. But it was this very reason that they could not overthrow the foreign rule.
Thus, the brutal suppression of these rebellions was a major reason why the Revolt of 1857 did not spread to most of the South, West or Eastern India. Let us now look at the Great Revolt of 1857 and try to understand how it gained momentum uniting many regions in Northern India and paved the way for rebellions of similar nature in later years.
‘The Great Revolt of 1857’ –
Many scholars have dismissed it saying it was not a full-fledged revolt and cannot be counted as one as many sections of the society did not participate and this movement was restricted only in while some others suggest that this was the ‘First War of Independence’.
Of course, it is true that it was not a full-fledged revolt and that it failed in trying to achieve its objective. It cannot be called the first war of independence as the people were fighting for their own reasons and not against the Colonial Power. In fact, except for the peasants and some elite rulers, not many people were involved in the struggle in the rest of the country. India earlier was just a collection of regions which were not in anyway connected to each other.
But, this revolt was one of the most popular resistance to British domination and became a source of inspiration for the National movement which would develop later. This was the first movement which recognized a nation – Hindustan they called it. It might not have included most parts of South, West or Eastern India but the idea of a united country was slowly taking shape.
The story is simple. On 10th May 1857 many sepoys from Meerut were marching towards Delhi after defying and killing the European Officers. After reaching Red Fort, they appealed to the last Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar II to become their leader and was declared the “Shahenshah of Hindustan” (Emperor of Hindustan). This act was the beginning of a widespread mutiny by the sepoys almost all over North India as well as Central and Western India. Only South India remained quiet. Many Englishmen were killed.
What happened after the Revolt? –
With the capture of Delhi and declaration of Bahadur Shah as the ruler, the revolt had begun providing a point for the rebels to recall their lost glory and thus gave a positive meaning to the revolt.
Much has been said about the revolt – Mangal Pandey, the brave sepoy who was hanged for disobeying the British Officer; Rani Lakshmi Bhai of Jhansi who fought till the end for the kingdom; Nana Saheb, the Peshwa Ruler; Tantia Tope and other not so famous leaders like Kuwar Singh from Bihar; Khan Bahadur from Bareilly; Begum Hazrath Mahal from Lucknow etc. and how they fought bravely against the British.
What is surprising to note that these people valiantly fought the British their common enemy by putting up a united front. In fact, the elites, the peasants and the sepoys came together for the first time to safeguard their Hindustan and the efforts they put into this may not have been successful then but it did help later.
For that, let us look into why these movements failed then but then these methods became successful later.
Why these revolts failed became learnings for the latter part of the struggle which the leaders included.
Some of the causes are that these movements had a small territorial and social base as we have seen. They did not integrate everyone in the society. Only those who had been affected by the British policies revolted. The 1857 revolt though initiated a change by integrating the peasants, sepoys, the rulers and landlords. Another factor to be noted is that while one section of the society was fighting against the British, there was another which provided support to the British. There was no coordination among the people who were rebelling as well. Basically, what these points mean is that there was no unity in the Indian Society and no clear-cut objective of overthrowing the British rule by an able leadership i.e. lack of a political perspective. They did not what to do if they overthrew British rule. They were confused as to getting a new order or going back to the traditional one which is why these movements failed.
Of course, after the Great Revolt, the British Crown took over from the East India Company bringing in many changes in the administration, social, economic, cultural and political spheres of the society.
But one can see that these uprisings established strong and valuable ideas on resistance against the British rule and also brought in the concept of a united nation – something that will be developed by the later nationalists.
Who do you think played the most important role in Indian Indepence Struggle, let us know in the comment Section.
The next part will focus on Dadabhai Naoroji, his contributions and what changes were taking place in the Indian society then.