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Indian Independence And Partition History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

It began with the idea of Mahatma Gandhi to free India from the control of the British, in 1930, Mahatma Gandhi proposed a non-violence march to protest the British Salt Tax. To understand why the British salt tax was so oppressive to the Indian people, it helps to know a bit about the subcontinent’s climate and culture. India’s hot weather promotes sweating, which drains the human body of its salt supply. Since Indians don’t eat much meat – a natural source of salt – they relied on supplementary salt to maintain a healthy amount in the body. Taxing the mineral that Indian people relied on for survival was just one way that the British government kept Indians under its thumb. As salt is necessary in everyone’s daily diet, everyone in India was affected and upon realizing the scheme of the British, the salt march was set in motion.

Before embarking on a 240 miles march from Sabarmati to Dandi to protest the salt tax, Gandhi sent a letter to the Lord Irwin, the viceroy of India, forewarning their plans of civil disobedience:

“If my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the eleventh day of this month I shall proceed with such co-workers of the Ashram as I can take, to disregard the provisions of the Salt Laws.  I regard this tax to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man’s standpoint.  As the Independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land, the beginning will be made with this evil.” (Gandhi)

Acknowledged of this action, the viceroy could have arrested him easily but by doing so could spark an intense backlash so he only replied: “[Gandhi was] contemplating a course of action which is clearly bound to involve violation of the law and danger to the public peace.”

As promised, on March 12, 1930, Gandhi and 78 male satyagrahis (activists of truth and resolution) started marching toward the Arabian Sea. It has been told that along his way, the roads were watered, and fresh flowers and green leaves strewn on the path; and as the satyagrahis walked, they did so to the tune of one of Gandhi’s favorite bhajans, Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram, sung by the great Hindustani vocalist, Pandit Paluskar. Each village he passed by, he convinced government officials to resign in protest and to encourage people to pledge nonviolence, therefore, more and more men joined the march. On April 5, 1930, after a 24 day-long journey, Gandhi and his followers reached the coast, he collected a chunk of salt and immediately broke the law. No sooner had Gandhi violated the law than everyone started following him, picking up salt off the coast. A month after Gandhi completed his march he was arrested for breaking the law and soon after India’s prisons were full with 60.000 others practicing this simple act of civil disobedience. (Hatt, (2002). p. 33)

Women

Again, though women were full and active members of Gandhi’s community, and many were to be closely associated with him over a lengthy period of time, as he went so far to say that “the women have come to look upon me as one of themselves.”, no women were present among the 78 people chosen to accompany him on the march. An explanation for this was that Gandhi felt women wouldn’t provoke law enforcers like their male counterparts, making the officers react violently to non-violence. As salt is an important household necessity, Gandhi strongly favoured the emancipation of women. He especially recruited women to participate in the salt tax campaigns and the boycott of foreign products.( Norvell, 1997.) Sarma (1994) had concluded that by enlisting women in his campaigns, including the salt tax campaign, anti-untouchability campaign and the peasant movement, Gandhi had gave many women a new self-confidence and dignity in the mainstream of Indian public life.

Folk Hero

Gandhi was portrayed as a messiah (the long-awaited savior of an entire people), a way of incorporating radical forces within the peasantry into the nonviolent resistance movement. It was told that in thousand of villages, plays were performed presenting Gandhi as the rebirth of earlier Indian nationalist leaders, or even as a demigod. The plays built support among illiterate peasants steeped in traditional Hindu culture. Similar messianic imagery appeared in popular songs and poems, and in Congress-sponsored religious pageants and celebrations. In this way, not only a folk hero image of Gandhi was made, but also, the Congress was seen as his sacred instrument. .( Murali, (1985)

Negotiations

The government, represented by Lord Edward Irwin, decided to negotiate with Gandhi. The Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931.

The agreement between Gandhi and Irwin was signed on March 5, 1931. Following are the salient points of this agreement:

The Congress would discontinue the Civil Disobedience Movement.

 

The Congress would participate in the Round Table Conference.

 

The Government would withdraw all ordinances issued to curb the Congress.

 

The Government would withdraw all prosecutions relating to offenses not involving violence.

 

The Government would release all persons undergoing sentences of imprisonment for their activities in the civil disobedience movement.

The pact shows that the British Government was anxious to bring the Congress to the conference table. The British Government agreed to free all political prisoners, in return for the discontinuation of the civil disobedience movement. Also as a result of the pact, Gandhi was invited to attend the Round Table Conference in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. Gandhi was sent by the Congress as its sole representative, but the negotiations proved to be disappointing, for the most part that various other Indian communities had been encouraged by the British to send a representative and make the claim that they were not prepared to live in an India under the domination of the Congress. Furthermore, it focused on the Indian princes and Indian minorities rather than on a transfer of power.  Yet never before had the British consented to negotiate directly with the Congress, and Gandhi met Irwin as his equal. In this respect, the man who most loathed Gandhi, Winston Churchill, understood the level of Gandhi’s achievement when he stated it “alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.” The result was unexpected as Gandhi was again arrested, and the government tried and failed to negate his influence by completely isolating him from his followers. (Herman (20080. pp. 375-377)

World War II and Quit India.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Britain turned to its colonies, including India, for soldiers.  His attitude during the war years was difficult to define; he felt very concerned about the rise of fascism around the world, but he also had become a committed pacifist) For one thing, he would never compromise over pacifism. War, for whatever cause, was in his view a bad thing. Though evil must be resisted, it could never be fought effectively by violence, for violence was the root of all evil. Resistance to Germany and Japan must therefore be by the same means of non-violence which he had himself used in India against the British. No doubt, he remembered the lessons of the Boer War and World War I – loyalty to the colonial government during war did not result in better treatment afterwards.

The crisis in the war-time relations between Mr Gandhi and the British Government came during the Cripps mission in the spring of 1942. Sir Stafford Cripps took with him proposals for establishing in India immediately after the war Dominion status of full self-government, with the right to declare independence, the minimum provision being made to render the scheme acceptable to Moslems. In March of 1942, British cabinet minister Sir Stafford Cripps offered the Indians a form of autonomy within the British Empire in exchange for military support. The Cripps offer included a plan to separate the Hindu and Muslim sections of India, which Gandhi found unacceptable. The Indian independence movement rejected the plan.

That summer, Gandhi issued a call for Britain to “Quit India” immediately. The crucial issue was “immediate independence,” on which Congress insisted. This was Gandhi’s and the Congress Party’s most ultimate upheaval aimed at securing the British exit from India. (Gandhi,1990, p.309.) The manner in which British control was to be withdrawn and a provisional Government substituted was set out – along with a threat of mass civil disobedience, under Gandhi’s direction. This made “Quit India” the most forceful movement in the history of the struggle, with mass arrests and violence on an unprecedented scale. The colonial government reacted by arresting all of the Congress leadership, including Gandhi and his wife Kasturba. As anti-colonial protests grew, the Raj government arrested and jailed hundreds of thousands of Indians.

Tragically, his wife Kasturba died in February 1944 after 18 months in prison. Gandhi became seriously ill with malaria, so the British released him from prison upon realizing that the political repercussions would have been intensive, if he had also died while imprisoned and enrage the entire nation beyond control.

Indian Independence and Partition

In 1944, Britain pledged to grant independence to India once the war was over. Gandhi called for the Congress to reject the proposal once more, since it proposed a division of India among Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh states. As a rule, Gandhi was opposed to the concept of partition as it contradicted his vision of religious unity. (Reprinted in The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas, Louis Fischer, ed., 2002 (reprint edition) pp. 106-108.)

When sectarian violence rocked India’s cities in 1946, leaving more than 5,000 dead, Congress members convinced Gandhi that the only options were partition or civil war. He reluctantly agreed, and then went on a hunger strike that single-handedly stopped the violence in Delhi and Calcutta.

On August 14, 1947, the Indian Independence Act was invoked. In border areas some 10-12 million people moved from one side to another and upwards of a half million were killed in communal riots pitting Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. According to to prominent Norwegian historian, Jens Arup Seip there perhaps could have been much more bloodshed during the partition if there hadn’t been for his teachings, the efforts of his followers, and his own presence.


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