India in ancient times was a magnet for people seeking fortune, attracting many from far and wide. Its history is replete with invaders from foreign lands who came to plunder its riches. The British came as traders in the early 1600s, and by the late 1700s, the merchants were practically ruling India. With subterfuge and use of arms, the East India Company subdued the native rulers rendering them essentially ineffective.
As India celebrates its 65th Anniversary of Independence Day this year, let’s recapitulate the unforgettable events that preceded the achievement.
The Indian Mutiny of 1857
The Indian Mutiny started in Meerut on May 10, 1857, when sepoys of the East India Company rose against the British soldiers. The immediate cause of the uprising was the use of grease in the rifle cartridges which was derived from beef and pork which offended the Hindu and Muslim sepoys. The mutiny escalated and spread to most parts of north and central India. Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi was one of the key heroic figures during this episode in Indian history. She was killed in battle on 17 June, 1858.
The bloody rebellion was quashed and the East India Company was dissolved in 1858. With the British government taking over the reins, it also saw the end of the Mughal dynasty, as the emperor Bahadur Shah, was tried for treason and exiled to Rangoon.
Jallianwala Bagh massacre
After the Sepoy Mutiny and later unsuccessful attempts, the British were in fear of conspiracies and further revolts. In 1919, the British government passed the Rowlatt Act to root out conspiracies and suppress public unrest. Any person suspected of terrorism was to be imprisoned for a period of two years without trial.
The Indian people opposed the Act and `hartals` were organized. Unfortunately, riots broke out and in Punjab casualties were sustained. The province was put under martial law and public gatherings were banned.
On April 13, thousands of people gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, to celebrate the festival of Baisakhi. On hearing this, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, suspecting an uprising, went to the venue with soldiers and opened fire without any warning. According to official sources, 379 were killed and 1,100 wounded.
The Non-Cooperation Movement was launched to resist British occupation in India through non-violent means. Mahatma Gandhi encouraged fellow Indians to boycott British goods and use Indian made products to revitalize local economies. He also urged them to shun British titles and honours, educational institutions and justice systems and give up government jobs.
The movement was met with widespread support but had to be called off as it became violent. On February 5, 1922, three people were killed as the police opened fire on protesters in Chauri Chaura. In retaliation, the mob set fire to a police station, in which 22 policemen were killed.
Shortly after, on March 10, 1922, Gandhi was arrested and was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on a charge of sedition. He was released after two years and withdrew from politics.
Salt Satyagraha and civil disobedience
The Dandi march was a campaign against British salt monopoly. 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. When Gandhiji broke the salt law on April 6, civil disobedience spread across the country.
Many were jailed and protesters were fired upon in the Qissa Khwani bazaar massacre. Gandhiji was again arrested and imprisoned.
Quit India movement
Imperialist nations were once again engaged in a world war from the late 1930s. Sensing uncertainties in the outcome of the war, Gandhi raised the ‘Quit India’ slogan.
On August 8 1942, the Indian National Congress adopted the historic `Quit India Resolution` which called for an immediate ending of the British rule in India.
Most of the political parties, government bodies and princely states rejected the movement and any Indian National Congress leaders, including Gandhi, were arrested. The nation rose up in protest and demonstrations were held all over the country taking on various forms, like armed rebellion, mass absenteeism by workers, strikes, sabotaging means of communication and transportation, etc.