Wednesday, 10 April 2019

I is for...Insurgency...Inspiration... n... Independence

Initiating today's post with a late 90's track from Rupam Islam, a singer-songwriter and composer from Kolkata - Neel Rong Chhilo Bhishon Priyo (The colour blue was a great favourite). Rupam formed the band Fossils and is their lead singer, he has won many awards and is a renowned figure in the Bengali music scene. 

Next is a track called Ichche Kore Eksathe Haati (I wish to walk together) by Anjan Dutta, another famous figure of the 90's alternative Bengali music. 

and here's Intellectual, a political satire, from Nachiketa to end this session with.

Insurgency. Inspiration. Independence.

The overwhelming narrative in India post-independence has been to credit Gandhi as the sole architect of the Indian freedom struggle and Independence. He is called the Father of the Nation and revered across not only India but in many other parts of the world as well. I’m not one of those people who feel the need to smear the heroes of our past. But I don’t like blind idolatry either.

There is more than one single side to the independence story. The non-violent protest devised and popularised by Gandhi was only one aspect.  There was a revolutionary, very militant side of the struggle also – much violence and injustices on the part of the rulers, a lot of Indian blood spilt, many thousands imprisoned, tortured and killed. To blithely claim now - that India got her independence through nonviolence alone - is to ignore the contributions of those martyrs. 

The truth remains that Bengal was a cradle for revolutionary thought and a major nucleus for the Indian Independence Movement in ways monumental and small, even before Gandhi came into the picture. Gandhi came to India in 1915. The first nationalist revolutionaries set up their organisation in 1902 – Anushilan Samity (Fitness/Exercise Association) which was a militant organisation meeting under the pretext of body-building. They early on established links with revolutionary organisations abroad. A prominent member was sent to Paris to learn the knowhow for bomb making in 1907. Several political assassinations (1907-08), the Writer’s Building attack (1930), the Chittagong Armoury Raid (1930) and other, less well-known operations were carried out by the organisation or its members. Many Bengali activists and martyrs were involved – Aurobindo Ghosh, Khudiram Bose, C.R. Das, Surya Sen, Kanailal Dutta, Pulin Behari Das, the names are legion.

Many Bengali revolutionaries were captured and sent by the British to the Cellular Jail in Andamans, a purpose-built, high-security prison for political prisoners, supremely isolated from the world on a remote island in the Indian Ocean. There is a memorial which lists the many Bengali prisoners at the Cellular Jail in Andaman.

Another militant Bengali revolutionary was Subhas Chandra Bose who had no faith in nonviolence, he believed an armed struggle was the essential way forward. Bose was forced to leave the Indian National Congress because of these beliefs and his disagreements with Gandhi. He formed the Azad Hind Fauj and allied himself with Japan and Germany against the British in WWII, which has subsequently diluted his legacy internationally as he has been perceived to be on the side of Axis powers. However, he is still greatly revered among Bengalis and in wider India.

Even prior to the 20th century, Bengal was the centrepoint for peasant insurgencies and revolt.  Long before 1857 and Mangal Pandey’s and Khudiram’s martyrdom, the peasant farmers of Rangpur in modern Bangladesh, rose up against the British and their Indian landlords in 1783. They seized revenue and administrative offices and burnt many of them down, the then District Collector, Richard Goodland, wrote to his masters that, “no disturbance as severe had happened in Bengal”…

In 1828, Syed Mir Nisar Ali Titumir, a spiritual guide, led a Muslim peasant uprising and declared independence from British rulers. He and his followers built a bamboo fort in the Narkelberia area in West Bengal and gave the British a hard time. They had to bring in artillery, Titumir was finally killed in 1831.

The British, once they took over the administration from the Indian rulers in 1765, introduced a series of land reforms in Bengal, which gave the landlords outright ownership over the lands, creating a sudden inflation in the numbers of landless sharecroppers and agricultural workers. The landlords (zamindars) were roped into the tax collecting machinery and were given unlimited powers to wring out increasing amounts of taxes from the peasantry. This led to widespread resentments among both the settled agricultural communities and the forest dwelling tribes whose lands were transferred to the landowners. Who naturally erupted in a series of tribal uprisings in 1831-33 and 1855-57. The forced cultivation of indigo and the hardships of the indigo workers led to the Indigo revolt of 1859.

The Chakma tribes, from the hill areas of Chittagong, now in Bangladesh, revolted against the British nearly a century earlier, in 1776. The Sanyasi-Fakir uprising in Bengal, unrecorded by historians but found in the setting of a very famous Bengali literary novel on nationalism, occurred over a loosely defined period 1800 onwards. Therefore, resistance against British rule had its beginnings almost as soon as the British took Bengal.

In 1876, the India Association (Bharat Sabha) was formed in Calcutta by Surendranath Chatterjee, Ananda Mohan Bose, Sivanath Shastri etc. Though initially the organisation was not anti-crown, from 1878 its established objectives became to oust the British colonialists and gain self-rule for India. It later on merged with the Indian National Congress which played a pivotal role in the freedom movement.

The first Partition of Bengal was proposed and carried out in 1905 along religious lines under Lord Curzon to bring the revolutionary activities under control. The Bengalis reacted with great violence – train derailments, bomb plots, attempted/successful assassinations of police and political office bearers, protests all over. Tagore wrote banglar mati baglar jol… ek houk he bhagaban (Bengal’s soil, Bengal’s water…may they be one, O God) as part of the Bangabhanga Rodh (lit Prevent the Breaking of Bengal) movement.

The Swadeshi Movement was launched in Calcutta Town Hall on August 7th 1905. Boycott of British goods started off simultaneously. The whole idea intensified nationalist fervour and hardened stances and forced the British to reconsider. They then divided what they called the Bengal Presidency along linguistic lines into Assam, Bihar, Odisha, Tripura etc, reuniting East and West Bengal into one entity in 1911. They also moved the British capital to Delhi that same year to escape the relentless revolutionary unrest. Bengal never bought into the non-violent agenda of Mahatma Gandhi wholly, and Indian freedom was ultimately won by both violent resistance and non-violent protest.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2019


  1. I suspect that ALL freedom is bought through violence and its opposite. Non-violent protest is often viewed as passive aggression and inspires aggressive responses.
    Loved the beat to Intellectual.

    1. True. But one thread of the narrative is pushed to the back and never displayed.

  2. It benefits those in power to make struggles about personalities and nonviolence.

  3. Nilan,

    Independence comes with a price. Sometimes you have to take a strong stand to ensure one's freedom.

    Today's letter I is for Intertidal Zone in my Little Mermaid Art Sketch series. Come join me and happy a2zing!

    1. Yup, and usually that price is some suffering connected to violence.

  4. Nonviolence is admirable, but it by far wasn't the whole story. Great post, as always!

    The Multicolored Diary

  5. Thanks to the overarching image of Gandhiji and the innovative concept of non-violent struggle, the insurgencies and the revolts never got publicized much.
    One reason why non-violence yielded the rewards, is also because there wasn't much idea on how to deal with such moral grandstanding and non-violent approach.

    Many copy-cat non-violent struggles, in Ireland for example against the British, flopped. How Bobby Sands of the IRA, who was on a hunger strike died, since Margret Thatcher didn't yield to his demands.

    1. Good point.

      'In order for non-violence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.' - Stokely Carmichael.