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Chapter: 10th Social Science : History : Chapter 8 : Nationalism: Gandhian Phase

Gandhi’s Early Satyagrahas in India

(a) Champaran Satyagraha (b) Rowlatt Satyagraha and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (c) Khilafat Movement

Gandhi’s Early Satyagrahas in India

Gandhi regarded Gopal Krishna Gokhale, whom he had met on previous visits to India, as his political guru. On his advice, Gandhi travelled the length and breadth of the country before plunging into politics. This enabled him to understand the conditions of the people. It is on one of these journeys through Tamil Nadu that Gandhi decided to discard his following robes and wear a simple dhoti.


(a) Champaran Satyagraha

In Champaran in Bihar the tinkathia system was practiced. Under this exploitative system the peasants were forced by the European planters to cultivate indigo on three-twentieths of their land holdings. Towards the end of nineteenth century German synthetic dyes had forced indigo out of the market. The European planters of Champaran, while realising the necessity of relieving the cultivators of the obligation of cultivating indigo, wanted to turn the situation to their advantage. They enhanced the rent and collected illegal dues as a price for the release of cultivators from the obligation. Resistance erupted. Rajkumar Shukla, an agriculturist from Champaran who suffered hardships of the system, prevailed on Gandhi to visit Champaran. On reaching Chamaparan, Gandhi was asked by the police to leave immediately. When he refused he was summoned for trial. The news spread like wild fire and thousands swarmed the place in support of Gandhi. According to Gandhi, “The country thus had its first object-lesson in Civil Disobedience”. He was assisted by Brajkishore Prasad, a lawyer by profession, and Rajendra Prasad, who became the first President of independent India. The Lieutenant Governor eventually formed a committee with Gandhi as a member which recommended the abolition of the tinkathia system, thereby ending the oppression of the peasants by the Indigo Planters.

The success of Champaran satyagraha, followed by his fruitful intervention in Ahmedabad mill strike (1918) and the Kheda Satyagraha (1918) helped Gandhi establish himself as a leader of mass struggle. Unlike earlier leaders, Gandhi demonstrated his ability to mobilise the common people across the country.


(b) Rowlatt Satyagraha and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

The Government of India Act 1919, however, caused disappointment, as it did not transfer real power to the Indians. Besides, the government began to enforce the permanent extension of war time restrictions. The Rowlatt Act was enacted which provided for excessive police powers, arrest without warrant and detention without trial. Gandhi called it a ‘Black Act’ and in protest called for a nation-wide satyagraha on 6 April 1919. It was to be non-violent struggle with fasting and prayer, and it was the earliest anti-colonial struggle spread across the country. The anti-Rowlatt protest was intense in Punjab, especially in Amritsar and Lahore. Gandhi was arrested and prevented from visiting Punjab. On 9 April two prominent local leaders Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr. Satyapal were arrested in Amritsar.

General Dyer’s Brutality

On 13 April 1919 a public meeting was arranged at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. As it happened to be Baisaki day (spring harvest festival of Sikhs) the villagers had assembled there in thousands. General Reginald Dyer, on hearing of the assemblage, surrounded the place with his troops and an armoured vehicle. The only entrance to the park that was surrounded on all sides by high walls was blocked, and firing took place without any warning. The firing lasted for ten minutes till the troops ran out of ammunition. According to official report 379 were killed and more than thousand injured. Unofficial estimates put the toll at more than a thousand. After the incident martial law was declared and many people in the Punjab especially Amritsar were flogged and forced to crawl on the streets. The brutality enraged Indians. Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood. Gandhi surrendered his Kaiser-i-Hind medal.


(c) Khilafat Movement

The First World War came to an end in 1918. The Caliph of Turkey, who was considered the head of Muslims of the world, was given a harsh treatment. A movement was started called Khilafat Movement led by the Ali brothers, Maulana Mohamed Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali. Gandhi supported the movement and saw in it an opportunity to unite Hindus and Muslims. He presided over the All India Khilafat Conference held at Delhi in November 1919. Gandhi supported Shaukat Ali’s proposal of three national slogans, Allaho Akbar, Bande Mataram and Hindu -Musslamanki Jai. The Khilafat Committee meeting in Allahabad on 9 June 1920 adopted Gandhi’s non-violent non-cooperation programme. Non- Cooperation was to begin on 1 August 1920.

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