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Indian History

Colonial Rule I (1858-1918)

British colonial period - Colonial Rule (1858 – August 1918) 

Hindu renaissance movement

Formation of Indian National Congress

First partition of Bengal

Early revolutionary movement

Home Rule League

British colonial period - Colonial Rule (1858 – August 1918) 

After 1858, India became officially a British colony as British crown took control of India from East India Company. The British crown put a Secretary of State for India in change of India. Indian Council who had only advisory powers aided him. India was divided into three administrative zones (Bengal, Madras and Bombay). A number of administrative and legal changes were introduced. In1861 Indian Councils Act, High Courts Act and Penal code were passed. British continued to expand the railways and telegraphic network and in 1868 new Ambala – Delhi railway line was started.

A combination of administrative failures and natural factors resulted in large number of famines in India that killed millions of people -

1861 Famine in North West

1866 Famine in Bengal and Orissa – 1 million perished

1869 Intense famine in Rajasthan – 1.5 million perished

1874 Famine in Bihar

1876–78 Famine in Bombay, Madras and Mysore – 5 million perished.

During this time, India was forced to produce cash crop, which were to be sold by the British. India was also forced to accept British goods that destroyed cottage industries. Many peasants had to borrow money to pay the extremely high taxes imposed on them. 

1st January 1877, Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India at a Durbar (assembly of notables and princes), in Delhi. The Viceroy Lord Lytton represented the Sovereign, who incidentally never visited her Indian Empire. In1878 Vernacular Press act was introduced in India that imposed severe limitations on the rights of the press. In the same year there was ‘Rendition of Mysore’ and Mysore was returned to its original Wodeyar rulers. In 1883 the Ilbert Bill Act was passed which allowed Indian magistrates to try Europeans. This angered the Europeans and the bill was withdrawn. Indians suffered from growing unemployment while most well paying jobs were reserved for the British.  Racial discrimination against Indian’s forced the Indian nationalists into organizing themselves for getting their demands accepted.

Hindu renaissance movement – During this period several great saints and religious leaders were responsible for revival of Hinduism in different parts of India. Ramkrishna Paramhansa (1836-1886), Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891) led the Hinduism renaissance in Bengal that later spread to other parts of India. Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883) formed Arya Samaj, which became a major religious movement in north India. 

Formation of Indian National Congress

Allen Octavian Hume finally formed the Indian National Congress. The First meeting was in December 1885 in Bombay. Womesh Chandra Banerjee became the first president of Indian National Congress. It met every year in December in different parts of the country. In the early years, the congress used only Petition, Prayer and Protest to try to get their needs met. In 1891 Indian factory Act was passed and in 1892 Indian Councils Act was changed to include new provisions for administrating India. 

Bubonic Plague in Bombay, 1896 -1914 and Indian Famine 1897 -1901:

The epidemic spread from Bombay City, western and northern India, was hardest hit. Around 200,000 people died of plague in Bombay alone. Between October 1896 and February 1897, nearly half of Bombay's estimated 850,000 populations left the city resulting in great loss to commerce and industrial life and helped the disease to spread in countryside and other parts of India. Along with plague many parts of India were devastated by famine during 1897-1901 that killed around 2 million people. 

First partition of Bengal  

Following the ‘divide and rule’ policy Bengal was divided by the British, on October 16, 1905, into Hindu and Muslim areas. By doing this British had hoped to increase tensions between the Hindus and the Muslims. Lord Curzon was the British governor general at this time. The following excerpts from Curzon’s letter of 2nd February 1905 to St. John Brodrick, Secretary of State for India, give an idea of his aims in partitioning Bengal.

CALCUTTA is the center from which the Congress Party is manipulated throughout the whole of Bengal, and indeed the whole of India. Its best wire pullers and its most frothy orators all reside here. The perfection of their machinery, and the tyranny which it enables them to exercise are truly remarkable. They dominate public opinion in Calcutta; they affect the High Court; they frighten the local Government, and they are sometimes not without serious influence on the Government of India. The whole of their activity is directed to creating an agency so powerful that they may one day be able to force a weak government to give them what they desire. Any measure in consequence that would divide the Bengali-speaking population; that would permit independent centres of activity and influence to grow up; that would dethrone Calcutta from its place as the center of successful intrigue, or that would weaken the influence of the lawyer class, who have the entire organization in their hands, is intensely and hotly resented by them. The outcry will be loud and very fierce, but as a native gentleman said to me – ‘my countrymen always howl until a thing is settled; then they accept it’.” 

Protest meetings against the partition were organized in all parts of the country on and after 16 October 1905. Partition of Bengal also saw a strong polarization in Indian National Congress between ‘moderates’ and ‘hardliners’. Moderates such as Gopal Krishan Gokhale believed in making "loyal" representations to the government for small reforms, while hardliners like Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak complete freedom or ‘purna swarajya’. Tilak announced his slogan "Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it" in his newspaper and became the speaker for the new group of nationalists.  The primary leaders of the nationalist movement were Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928) from Punjab, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) from Maharashtra and Bipin Chandra Pal from Bengal. Together, they were called Lal-Bal-Pal. Ajit Singh in Punjab and Chidambaram Pillay in Tamil Nadu were other important leaders of the Nationalistic Movement. In 1906, Tilak set forth a program of passive resistance, known as the Tenets of the New Party, that he hoped would destroy the hypnotic influence of British rule and prepare the people for sacrifice in order to gain independence. Mahatma Gandhi later adopted these forms of political action initiated by Tilak - the boycotting of goods and passive resistance - in his program of non-cooperation with the British. The Nationalistic movement adopted the slogan of "Swadeshi and Swaraj". Swadeshi means our country and promoted the use of Indian products and the boycott of foreign goods. Swaraj means self-government. Tilak aimed at Swarajya (Independence), not piecemeal reforms, and attempted to persuade the Congress to adopt his purna swarajya program. On this issue, he clashed with the moderates at the Surat session of the Congress in 1907. Taking advantage of the split in the nationalist forces, the government again prosecuted Tilak on a charge of sedition and inciting terrorism and deported him to Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar), to serve a sentence of six years' imprisonment.  

Formation of Muslim League (1906) 

Many of the Indian Muslims were taken in by British divisive policy of ‘divide and rule’. Although Muslims had a fair representation in Congress some of them wanted a separate platform for Indian Muslims. In 1906 Muslim League was formed to represent Indian Muslims. 

By the partition of Bengal in 1905 British successfully sowed the seeds of division between Hindus and Muslims that lead ultimately to the partition of India in 1947. Ghosts of the British ‘divide and rule’ policy, continue to haunt independent India and Pakistan in present times with continuing tensions and border disputes.

 Early revolutionary movement  

Partition of Bengal created a massive outburst of public anger against British rule. Intellectual people as well as common man took part in mass agitation. Poet Rabindranath Tagore actively supported the movement. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Bande Matram’ was taken up as the soul-stirring slogan. Several groups of revolutionaries started operating in Bengal. Aurobindo Ghosh (later known as Sri Aurobindo), Rasbihari Bose and Jatindranath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin) were some of the important leaders of these revolutionary groups.

Alipore Bomb case

On 30th April, 1908 in Muzzafarpur Bihar, Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki tried to kill the Chief Presidency Magistrate Kingsford who was notorious for passing out stiff sentences against the nationalist activists Kingsford escaped the bomb attack which unfortunately killed two innocent British ladies died in the bomb attack. Following a massive manhunt, Khudiram was arrested on 1st May 1908; Prafulla evaded arrest by shooting himself. On 11th August 1908, eighteen-year-old Khudiram Bose was hanged and became a martyr. Aurobindo Ghosh was arrested on charges of masterminding the attacks on Kingsford but a young lawyer Chittaranjan Das ably defended him. Aurobindo later left politics and became a Yogi and philosopher and became famous as Maharishi Aurobindo or Sri Aurobindo.

A Durbar was held in Delhi on December 12, 1911, to celebrate the visit of King George V. King was welcomed with great pomp and show and given numerous priceless gifts. In 1911 British government under pressure from increasing agitations in Bengal and other parts of India modified the ‘partition of Bengal’ to make again a united Presidency of Bengal.

Hardinge Bomb case

British shifted the imperial capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1912. On December 23, 1912 to mark the entry of the Governor-general of India into the new Capital, an imperial procession was taken out in Delhi, with Lord Hardinge seated on a caparisoned elephant. As the procession was passed through Chandni Chowk, a bomb was thrown on the elephant, killing the mahawat. Lord Hardinge escaped with injuries. Many persons including Master Amir Chand, a school teacher of Delhi, Bhai Balmukand, Master Awadh Behari, Basant Kumar Biswas, Ganeshilal Khasta,Vishnu Ganesh Pingley, Charan Das, Balraj, Lachhmi Narain Sharma and Lala Hanwant Sahey, and many others were arrested. L.N Sharma and G. Khasta were taken to Varanasi and sentenced to life imprisonment. V.G Pingley was taken to Lahore and was hanged. Master Amir Chand, Bhai Balmukand and Master Awadh Behari were executed on May 8, 1915 in Delhi Jail and Basant Kumar Biswas was executed the next day on May 9, 1915 in Ambala Central Jail.

Ras Bihari Bose, who masterminded the Chandni Chowk incident, escaped to Japan and continued the struggle against British rule from abroad. He was the President of Indian Independence League and head of the first Indian National Army (INA) founded by General Mohan Singh.

In 1914 Britain became engaged in World War I. Shortly after declaration of war, two infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade of the Indian Army were sent to Europe. In all 140,000 men served on the Western Front, 90,000 in the Indian Corps and 50,000 in the Labor Companies. Indian troops also played important role in operations in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Gallipoli. They also served in the West and East African campaigns and in China.

On 16th June 1914, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was released after serving a prison sentence of 6 years, most of which he had spent in Mandalay in Burma. In 1915-1916, under the leadership of Tilak, Annie Besant and Subramaniya Iyer, the Home Rule League was started. January 9, 1915, saw the beginning of a new phase in India’s struggle for independence with arrival of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to Bombay from South Africa. Two major events took place at the Lucknow session of the Indian Nation Congress in 1916. First, the moderate and hardliner groups were united. Second, the Muslim League put aside old differences and joined hands with the Indian National Congress. 

 Responding to Gandhi’s call for helping British in World War I, a large number of Indians joined British Indian Army during 1916-1917. By the end of the World War I in 1918, the numerical strength of Indians in British Indian Army had increased to nearly 600,000.

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