Learn about the Indian Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors or contributions from the different parts of the country.
The Indian Freedom Struggle is a saga that begins with the onset of British colonialism in the 17th century.
The East India Company initially entered India as traders, gradually expanding their control until they established a full-fledged colonial administration.
With the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the Company secured a decisive victory, marking the commencement of British dominance over Indian territories.
Early Resistance (1757-1857)
From the early days of colonization, various sections of Indian society resisted British rule. The period witnessed a series of uprisings, including tribal revolts, peasant movements, and local mutinies, each signifying discontent and opposition against foreign subjugation.
First War of Independence (1857)
The Revolt of 1857, often termed the First War of Independence, was a significant turning point. Sparked by the introduction of the new Enfield rifles, the uprising saw widespread participation from soldiers, civilians, and royalty alike, reflecting a collective aspiration for freedom.
Formative Years (1858-1905)
Following the Revolt of 1857, the British government officially took control of the East India Company. The subsequent years saw the formation of early political groups and the articulation of constitutional demands, laying the groundwork for an organized national movement.
Swadeshi and World War I (1905-1918)
The Swadeshi Movement, initiated against the partition of Bengal, advocated for the boycott of British goods and the promotion of self-reliance. World War I further intensified the struggle, as expectations for self-governance grew among Indians who contributed significantly to the war effort.
Gandhian Era (1919-1947)
The entry of Mahatma Gandhi transformed the Indian nationalist movement. With his principles of truth, non-violence, and Satyagraha, Gandhi mobilized masses across the country, leading pivotal campaigns like the Non-Cooperation Movement, Civil Disobedience Movement, and the Quit India Movement.
Subaltern and Revolutionary Contributions
Parallelly, subaltern groups, including tribal communities, women, and lower castes, played an indispensable role, fighting for both national independence and social emancipation. The freedom struggle also witnessed the emergence of revolutionary groups seeking to overthrow British rule through armed rebellion.
The persistent efforts of various factions within the Indian freedom movement eventually bore fruit in 1947 when India gained independence. This triumph was, however, accompanied by the painful partition of the country into India and Pakistan, leaving behind a legacy of both unity and division.
Early Resistance to British Rule (1757-1857)
The seed of the Indian freedom struggle was sown immediately after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 when the British East India Company took control over Bengal. During this phase, India saw sporadic uprisings mainly due to the oppressive policies of the British.
Between 1757 and 1857, numerous revolts erupted in different parts of the country. These were primarily led by local chieftains, peasants, and tribal leaders who were directly affected by the harsh revenue policies and administrative practices imposed by the British. Some notable uprisings include the Sanyasi Rebellion (1763-1800), the Chuar Rebellion in Bengal, and the Paika Rebellion in Odisha in 1817.
- Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi: Born as Manikarnika, Rani Laxmibai played a crucial role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Her courage and leadership were evident as she led her army against the British, becoming a symbol of resistance and an inspiration for future generations.
- Kunwar Singh: A prominent leader during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Kunwar Singh led the revolt in Bihar. Despite being in his old age, his commitment to the cause made him a notable figure in the struggle against British rule.
- Bahadur Shah II: The last Mughal emperor, also known as Bahadur Shah Zafar, played a symbolic role in the 1857 Rebellion. He was declared the emperor of India by the rebelling sepoys, providing a symbolic unity to the rebellion against the British.
The First War of Independence (1857)
The Revolt of 1857 marked a significant turn in the Indian freedom struggle. Often referred to as the First War of Independence, it was a major, but ultimately unsuccessful, uprising against the British East India Company.
The revolt began in Meerut on May 10, 1857, and soon spread to several parts of northern and central India. Major battles occurred in Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, and Jhansi, with local rulers, sepoys, and civilians participating actively.
- Mangal Pandey: Pandey played a pivotal role in igniting the rebellion. A sepoy in the British East India Company, his act of rebellion in Barrackpore is often considered the first spark of the 1857 uprising.
- Tantia Tope: A close associate of Nana Sahib, Tantia Tope was a general in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He was instrumental in the recapture of Gwalior and led his troops with agility and surprise against the British forces.
Formative Phase (1885-1905)
Post-1857, nationalistic sentiments were channelled into forming organized movements. The Indian National Congress (INC) was established during this period, marking the beginning of a new phase in the Indian freedom struggle.
Indian National Congress
Founded in 1885 by A.O. Hume, the INC played a significant role in the freedom struggle. Initially, it was a platform for civil servants to express their views on British policies, but over time, it became the principal leader of the Indian nationalist movement.
Leaders of the Phase
- Dadabhai Naoroji: Known as the ‘Grand Old Man of India’, Naoroji was a prominent leader of the INC and the first Indian to be a British MP. He was one of the earliest leaders to demand ‘Swaraj’ or self-rule for India.
- Gopal Krishna Gokhale: A mentor to Mahatma Gandhi, Gokhale was a senior leader of the INC and founder of the Servants of India Society. He advocated for social reforms and was a strong supporter of constitutional means to achieve political self-rule.
Swadeshi Movement (1905-1911)
The Swadeshi Movement was a turning point in India’s struggle for freedom, initiating widespread public protest against British rule for the first time. The Movement began as a response to the partition of Bengal by Viceroy Lord Curzon in 1905, aimed at dividing and ruling by creating religious divisions.
Context and Overview
Curzon’s decision was ostensibly based on administrative convenience, but it was widely perceived as a ‘divide and rule’ strategy. In response, the Swadeshi Movement emerged with a call for the boycott of British goods and the promotion of Indian-made products. It was not just a form of economic nationalism but also a powerful cultural and social revolution.
- Bal Gangadhar Tilak: Often referred to as ‘Lokmanya’, Tilak was one of the first and strongest advocates of Swaraj. He was one of the prime architects of modern India and probably the strongest advocate of Swadeshi. Tilak used the movement to represent the major grievances of the people and exposed the British government’s exploitation of the Indian people.
- Bipin Chandra Pal: Known as the ‘Father of Revolutionary Thoughts’, Pal was part of the Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate that was at the forefront of the Swadeshi Movement. He advocated the boycott of British goods and emphasized self-reliance and national education as the key to national regeneration.
- Lala Lajpat Rai: Rai played a pivotal role in the Swadeshi Movement. Being a fervent nationalist, he supported the boycott of British goods and institutions. He played a key role in promoting Swadeshi goods and ideas through speeches and writings, inspiring many to join the movement.
- Rabindranath Tagore: Nobel laureate and cultural icon, Tagore actively participated in the Swadeshi Movement. He promoted the idea of self-reliance through the use of Swadeshi goods and the boycott of foreign products. He also composed many songs and writings during this time to inspire a sense of nationalism and unity among Indians.
Key Events and Impact
- Swadeshi and Boycott: The twin strategies of Swadeshi and Boycott were employed. The people were urged to boycott British goods and promote the use of Indian goods. This led to a surge in the Indian indigenous industry.
- Formation of banks: Many Indians, inspired by the movement, established indigenous banks and insurance companies to strengthen the economic base of the colonized nation.
- Educational Boycott: There was a widespread boycott of government schools and colleges. National educational institutions like the Bengal National College were established.
- Spread of the Movement: Initially starting in Bengal, the movement spread to other parts of India, fostering a sense of nationalism and unity among diverse groups of people.
Challenges and Legacy
Though the Swadeshi Movement eventually slowed down due to various reasons including differences within the INC and repressive measures by the British, it left an indelible mark on India’s struggle for freedom. The Movement sowed the seeds for future mass movements led by Gandhi and others, creating a legacy of resistance and self-reliance that would continue until India gained independence in 1947.
Gandhian Era (1915-1947)
The Gandhian Era marks a significant chapter in India’s freedom struggle, embodying non-violent resistance, civil disobedience, and grassroots mobilization. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or Mahatma Gandhi, played an instrumental role during this period, shaping the course of the movement towards attaining Swaraj or self-rule.
The Gandhian Era was characterized by mass participation and the introduction of non-violent resistance as a powerful tool against colonial oppression. Gandhi, with his unique philosophy and methodology, mobilized the common masses, making the struggle for independence truly inclusive and participatory.
Gandhi’s Return & Philosophy
- Return to India: Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915, immersing himself in the Indian socio-political environment.
- Philosophy: His philosophy centred on truth, non-violence, and simplicity, with Satyagraha or ‘truth force’ being his method for civil resistance.
Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922)
- Overview: Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation Movement in response to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the repressive Rowlatt Act.
- Major Events: Mass boycott of British goods, services, and institutions, including schools, colleges, and courts.
- Key Contributors: Alongside Gandhi, leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, and Maulana Azad played crucial roles.
Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-1934)
- Introduction: It was a mass protest against the British-imposed salt tax, exemplified by the Dandi Salt March led by Gandhi.
- Dandi March: Gandhi’s 240-mile march to the Arabian Sea town of Dandi to make salt, symbolically challenged the British monopoly.
- Notable Participants: Sarojini Naidu, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and Vallabhbhai Patel were active participants.
Quit India Movement (1942)
- Background: With World War II intensifying, Gandhi sought to leverage the global situation to push for India’s immediate exit from British rule.
- Main Events: Despite mass arrests of leaders, the movement saw widespread participation across India, with protests, strikes, and demonstrations.
- Key Figures: Aruna Asaf Ali, Jayaprakash Narayan, and Usha Mehta were among those who played pivotal roles.
Sub-Movements & Other Leaders
- Khilafat Movement: Working in tandem with the Non-Cooperation Movement, it sought to protect the Ottoman Caliphate, showcasing Hindu-Muslim unity.
- Subhash Chandra Bose: Though differing from Gandhi’s ideology, Bose contributed immensely to the freedom struggle, notably through the Azad Hind Fauj.
Legacy of the Gandhian Era
- Philosophy & Tactics: Gandhi’s philosophies continue to inspire movements for civil rights and social change across the world.
- Constitutional Developments: The era witnessed significant constitutional developments, like the Government of India Act 1935, which shaped India’s political future.
- Path to Independence: The sustained resistance eventually led to the British conceding to the demand for independence, culminating in the attainment of freedom in 1947.
Subaltern Contributions to the Indian Freedom Struggle
Subaltern contributions refer to the efforts of groups that were socially, politically, and geographically outside of the hegemonic power structure. These groups, often overlooked in mainstream narratives, played a crucial role in the Indian Freedom Struggle.
The subaltern contributions to the Indian Freedom Struggle offer a narrative of resistance and assertion by groups that were marginalized and oppressed. These stories of resilience and struggle are vital to understanding the multifaceted and inclusive nature of India’s journey to independence.
- Overview: Tribal communities resisted British rules that affected their traditional rights and livelihoods.
- Birsa Munda: Leader of the Munda tribe, Birsa led the Munda Rebellion against British rule, aiming to establish the Munda Raj and remove the British government and missionaries.
- Alluri Sitarama Raju: He led the Rampa Rebellion of 1922-24 against the British in response to the implementation of the Madras Forest Act, which restricted the tribal people’s access to forests.
Women in the Freedom Struggle
- Overview: Women participated actively in the freedom struggle, breaking traditional norms and contributing significantly to the movement.
- Sucheta Kriplani: She was a freedom fighter who worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi during the Partition riots. She was India’s first woman Chief Minister, serving as the head of the Uttar Pradesh government.
- Kasturba Gandhi: Kasturba was a political activist involved in the Indian Independence Movement and the wife of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. She was imprisoned in British jails multiple times along with her husband.
- Aruna Asaf Ali: Known for hoisting the Indian National Congress flag at the Gowalia Tank maidan in Bombay during the Quit India Movement, Ali was a strong supporter of civil rights and an advocate for women’s empowerment.
Lower Caste Movements
- Overview: Lower caste movements aimed to eradicate caste-based discrimination and ensure social justice and equality.
- B.R. Ambedkar: A jurist, economist, and social reformer, Ambedkar campaigned against social discrimination towards the untouchables and supported the rights of women and labourers. He played a pivotal role in drafting the Constitution of India.
- Periyar E.V. Ramasamy: Founding the Self-Respect Movement and Dravidar Kazhagam, Periyar worked against caste-based discrimination and Brahminical supremacy. He was also a strong advocate for women’s rights.
Other Minority Contributions
- Overview: Various minority groups also participated actively in the freedom struggle.
- Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: An Indian scholar and a senior leader of the Indian National Congress, Azad was the first Minister of Education in India. He supported education for the underprivileged and played a significant role in developing the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
- Sikh Community: The community played a vital role, with figures like Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh becoming symbols of resistance against British rule.
Revolutionary Movements in the Indian Freedom Struggle
Revolutionary movements formed a vital aspect of the Indian freedom struggle, providing a militant alternative to the non-violent approach advocated by Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. These groups sought to achieve independence through armed struggle and subversion against British colonial rule.
The revolutionary movements in the Indian freedom struggle were pivotal in mobilizing and inspiring the masses towards the cause of independence. Although their methods differed significantly from the mainstream, non-violent struggle, the revolutionaries’ courage, and commitment left an indelible mark on India’s journey towards freedom, making them unforgettable heroes of the nation’s history.
Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA)
- Overview: Established in 1928, the HSRA aimed to overthrow the British colonial authority through an armed revolution.
- Key Figures:
- Bhagat Singh: A prominent leader in the HSRA, Singh is celebrated for his courage and commitment to the independence cause. He was involved in several high-profile actions, including the bombing of the Central Legislative Assembly and the killing of British police officer J.P. Saunders.
- Chandrasekhar Azad: A mentor to Singh, Azad was involved in the Kakori train robbery and other actions aimed at undermining British rule. He vowed never to be captured alive and kept his promise until his last breath.
- Rajguru and Sukhdev: Close associates of Singh and Azad, both played critical roles in various revolutionary activities and were eventually executed alongside Singh.
Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army – INA)
- Overview: Founded in 1942, the INA was an armed force comprising Indian prisoners of war and expatriates in Southeast Asia, aiming to overthrow British rule with Japanese assistance during World War II.
- Subhas Chandra Bose: The most prominent leader of the INA, Bose was a charismatic figure who sought international alliances to support India’s independence struggle. He coined the famous slogan “Give me blood, and I shall give you freedom!” inspiring many to join the INA.
Other Noteworthy Movements & Figures
- Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar: These were two prominent revolutionary organizations in Bengal involved in a series of bombings, assassinations, and robberies as forms of protest against British rule.
- Surya Sen: Leader of the Chittagong Armoury Raid, Sen was a school teacher who led a group of revolutionaries in a daring raid on British armouries.
- Rash Behari Bose: He played a key role in the Ghadar Conspiracy and later collaborated with Japanese forces to support the Indian independence movement during World War II.
Legacy & Impact
While the revolutionary movements did not directly lead to India’s independence, they had significant impacts:
- Inspiring the Masses: The courage and sacrifices of the revolutionaries inspired many Indians to join the independence movement.
- Shaping National Consciousness: These movements helped foster a sense of nationalism and urgency among the general population, creating widespread support for India’s struggle for freedom.
- Pressurizing Colonial Powers: The activities of these groups kept the British authorities on edge, forcing them to deploy significant resources to maintain control.
The Indian Freedom Struggle: Conclusion
The Indian Freedom Struggle is a journey of countless sacrifices, movements, and leaders, each contributing towards the cherished goal of independence.
It’s a testament to the indomitable spirit of the people of India, their enduring fight for justice, and the diverse paths they tread to secure national freedom.
Understanding this struggle is imperative for appreciating the value of freedom and the democratic principles that modern India is built upon.
Before we finish…
In addition to this overview post, we have created a lot of articles and study materials on Indian History.
Out of these, lovers of Modern Indian History should not miss:
- How to Study Modern Indian History for UPSC?
- Modern Indian History: From about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present – significant events, personalities, and issues
- India’s Struggle for Independence: Indian Freedom Movement
How to study the Indian Freedom Struggle in detail?
Students may note that this article on the Indian National Movement is just an overview of the topic. There is a lot more to learn about the history of India.
We recommend the below sources to learn the History of India and the Indian National Movement.