Early Indian Independence Movement

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The beginnings of the Indian independence movement originated in the Indian revolt of 1857. Soldiers fighting for the British Eastern India company’s rebelled against British rule. The rebellion was harshly defeated creating a feeling of injustice among the Indian elites. The late 19th Century also witnessed a renaissance of Indian culture and with it a sense of cultural pride. Raja Rammohan Roy founded the influential Brahmo Samaj, which campaigned against the degradation of Hindu religion particularly they opposed superstitions like Sati and idol worship. The religious revival of Hindu culture was also inspired by spiritual figures like Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, and Sri Aurobindo.

Particularly Swami Vivekananda became a hero of the Indian movement due to his exhortations for his Indian comrades to arise and transform the problems facing Indians. In 1885 at the suggestion of a retired British civil servant a group of eminent Indian elites formed the Indian National Congress. In the beginning, the National Congress was a very lose relatively apolitical body. Nevertheless, with time Congress started to attract the attention of radicals like Bipin Pal, and Tilak. These young revolutionaries had been the first to call for complete Indian independence and in some circumstances advocated violent resistance. One weakness of Congress, however, was that it could not attract any one of the Muslim population, it was also weakened by division about what the goals of the Congress were.

In 1905 the partition of Bengal created a wave of widespread unrest as people felt threatened by a British decision taken without consultation and seemingly promoting a strategy of divide and rule. It led to the first organized campaigns of Swadesh – the boycotting of British goods was so successful it’d be repeated several times. This also escalated the tensions between the British and Indian revolutionaries. In 1909 there was the notorious Alipore bomb trial where several Indian revolutionaries were put on trial including Sri Aurobindo. Throughout World War I there was initially a widespread feeling of goodwill towards the British war effort with the Indians contributing many men and resources to the war effort.

In response, the British introduced some policies to appease growing calls for Independence. The viceroy of India had allowed the military unprecedented powers in controlling any suspected revolutionaries. On 13 Apr 1919, a British commander Reginald Dyer ordered his men to shoot over one thousand rounds into a sizeable unarmed audience of civilians who’d gathered in Jallianwala Bagh a walled garden to celebrate a Sikh festival. The massacre enraged the Indian public by inflating the ranks of the Independence movement. The lack of action against the British commander only served to fuel the antagonism to the British.

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