The vital role that Gandhi played in shaping the Indian independence movement

The Indian Independence movement was one of the most prominent anti-imperialist movements in history. This movement lasted for several decades but was touted be the most effective from the 1920s till 1947. Historians believe that its success is largely attributed to the changing power dynamics of the British empire and more importantly the significant efforts of individuals promulgating the cause of Dominion status for India. One such individual was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, an advocate and influential leader whose efforts were directed towards mobilizing the masses to support the cause of an independent India. 

Following his return from Africa in 1915, Gandhi was moved by the extent of inequality and the treatment of Indians in their own country by their oppressors. He was increasingly convinced of the need to mobilise the masses against the British. However, he was advised to present his ideas on protest against the administration only after he had acquainted himself thoroughly with the problems and ground realities of the Indian people. He travelled the length and breadth of the country over the next year. What followed was the start of a nation-wide civil disobedience movement that laid the model for political and ethnic protest around the world. 

Gandhi non-violently protested against the unfair laws, legislations and acts passed by the British in India, using means such as Civil Resistance, Non-cooperation, Satyagraha, and nonviolence (Ahimsa). The Satyagraha was aimed at “fighting inhumane behaviour with truth and peace”, while using Ahimsa, “the use of peaceful means, without force to bring about socio-political change in society”. These unconventional but effective methods laid the foundation for the civil protests building up to Indian Independence in the year 1947. 

One of the first Satyagraha’s called by Gandhi after his return to India was against the Rowlatt Act. The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act, was an unjust legislation imposed upon the Indian people, that caused a widespread protest in India. This act deemed it acceptable for the British Administration to try certain political cases, “without a jury”, while also “permitting internment of suspects without trial”. This act infuriated the masses as it provided the administration with the means to “repress unwelcome political activity while also allowing detention of political prisoners”. The injustice of the laws was manifested in the number of strikes and non-violent protests that followed. The British, in turn, attempted to enforce a Martial Act during this time that prevented mass gatherings of citizens. One of the non-violent protests against the Act that took a turn for the worst during this time was the infamous Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in which a group of armed soldiers fired at a large crowd of unarmed civilians. This massacre was also the trigger for another unsuccessful but large scale nationwide protest ideated by Gandhi known as the non-cooperation movement. 

Recognising the people’s infuriation against the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Gandhi called for a large scale boycott and “advised the people to non-cooperate with the British Government”. In this movement, he reached out to all segments of the Indian population from students to scholars, etc., encouraging them to give up their employment, titles and education and join the mass movement, in the belief that boycotting these integral institutions of the British Administration, the government would “collapse”. During this time, the Indian National Congress was given permission to pass a document known as the  “Non-cooperation resolution”, urging the citizens to adopt the idea of a “triple boycott”. The British were also increasingly becoming aware of the tensions and cautioned the Indian leaders of the repercussions of stepping outside the bounds of the law. An evident stir was caused amidst British officials, who were beginning to realise that the Indians were willing to sacrifice all that they had for the cause of their dignity through non-cooperation, which no longer gave them a stronghold on the people. 

In the months that followed, the Indian Repressive Laws Committee following the massive protest submitted a report of all the human atrocities. Finally, the British in the year 1922 agreed to revoke the Rowlatt Act and General Dyer, the colonel who ordered the firing at the Bagh was asked to resign. 

Another prominent Satyagraha organised by Gandhi that played a massive role in India’s fight against their oppressors was the Salt Satyagraha, that is famously known to have culminated in the Dandi March. As a part of Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, his intention was to oppose all laws that violated the fundamental rights of the Indian Citizens. During the time, one of the increasingly unbearable laws that were infuriating the citizens were the soaring prices of salt in the country. Additionally, the British levied steep taxes on salt, which the Indians believed were the right of every citizen. As a result of this, Gandhi used this provocation by the British to further fuel his non-cooperation movement. The anger against the British from the Indian people was such that the movement gained steam within a short amount of time, and grew to a scale unprecedented in Indian history. Not only were the citizens more agitated by the British, but were also motivated due to the success of the “abolishment of the Rowlatt act”. Within days, there were large numbers of protestors boycotting their titles and people from all around India were willing to give up their jobs and professions for the cause. For the first time, the British saw a previously unthinkable influx in the number of women protestors raising their voices and joining the movement. The British were getting apprehensive about the movement and were forced into arresting a large number of protesters and leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, and Motilal Nehru but to no avail. The movement continued to gain momentum rapidly. Such was the extent of the protest that a new march was planned by Gandhi and other members of the Congress, which was a march for salt. Although the idea was initially ridiculed by the British, the turnout of the movement was so massive that the plan was immediately set in action. This march planned by the Gandhi and the Congress came to be known as the Dandi March. The march began with 80 people but along the way, the protesters were joined by thousands more. The march culminated after a day along Borsad, where the first grains of self-made salt from the sea was used, symbolically marking the start of the boycott of British made salt and other British made goods. 

The protest continued for months after the march and the British, certain that Gandhi was the cause of it, were forced to arrest him. However, they were horrified to find that his arrest caused an influx in the number of protesters, and with time, the British decided to release Gandhi. Upon his release, the first of a few pacts were signed known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, which although was unsuccessful, marked the beginning of the British’s submission and willingness to cooperate with India. 

Throughout the Indian Independence movement, Gandhi advocated for non-violent protest and civil disobedience. Non-violent protest ensured the sure participation of a far greater number of people than violent protest. However, Gandhi set himself apart from the numerous other freedom fighters with his ability to not only “peacefully mobilize protesters and large numbers of people”. However, he also encouraged protesters to “rethink their political stances and participate in disciplined fearlessness with a willingness to sacrifice certain beliefs”. Through his lifetime, he drew public opinion and international sentiments against the British by highlighting the brutalities of the government to the international media rather than resorting to violence. His actions in the Independence movement can be recognised as simple yet powerful, causing a socio-political change in society with discipline. 

Citations

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