Civil Disobedience Movement in India

Civil Disobedience Movement

Civil Disobedience Movement

The Civil Disobedience Movement was an important milestone for India’s freedom struggle under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. In layman terms, Civil Disobedience means refusal by the citizens to obey the law and order of a government in a non-violent manner. In India, the movement marked a start to a new revolution against the British Raj to attain ‘Swaraj’. The struggle for freedom was in bits before this mass movement. Small factions were conducting revolutionary activities in different parts of the country. But there was no collective approach. Hence, the Civil Disobedience Movement organized all the revolutionaries to follow the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi.

Let’s discuss in detail how this event unraveled a massive wave of nationalism throughout the country. 

Factors that caused the Civil Disobedience Movement:

Formation of the Simon Commission

In November 1927, the British government decided to form the Indian Statutory Commission to draft and formalise the constitution of India. The commission was established under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon. Thus, it is popularly known as the Simon Commission. The idea of this commission was rejected by all the political and social outfits in the country because there was no Indian member included. The arrival of Sir John Simon with other members in India was met with vigorous protests in Bengal. When the commission reached Lahore on October 1928, they were greeted by a massive crowd with black flags led by the prominent freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. The local police started beating the public, and Lala Lajpat Rai was severely injured during this ‘Lathi Charge’. He finally succumbed to his injuries on 17th November 1928. His death spread a massive wave of sadness in India, and the citizens were furious with the actions of the British government. 

Civil Disobedience Movement

Dominion Status vs Purana Swaraj

The primary purpose of formulating a constitution by the British government was to give India dominion status. Indian political leaders demanded complete freedom from the rule of the British government. However, the dominion status allowed a country to have its own government while it still stayed a part of the British Commonwealth. The refusal of the British government to accept the demands of Indian sovereignty also sparked thoughts revolution in Indian citizens. In December 1928, the Indian National Congress organized a meeting in Kolkata to decide their future action. The Calcutta Commission, as it was called, gave the Britishers one year to provide complete independence to India. It was proposed that if Britishers fail to meet the demand of sovereignty, massive demonstrations will be carried under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi against the British Government.

Protests against the arrest of social revolutionaries

The capture of social revolutionaries and political leaders was always condemned. But the death of Lala Lajpat Rai during the protest against the Simon Commission acted like fuel to the already burning fire in people’s hearts. There were violent and non-violent protests throughout the country. Indians had tolerated the actions of the British for more than a century. But in the years that followed the movement against the Simon Commission, people were not ready to accept the British Rule anymore. The revolutionary thinking was prevalent in Indians, and every segment of society was trying to revolt in their own way. On 8th April 1929, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were arrested for throwing bombs in the Central Assembly. They, along with their supporters, went on a hunger strike until death in jail. Their primary demand was better treatment of political prisoners in British prisons. On the 64th day of their hunger strike, Jatin Das died, and with that, huge protests erupted in India.

How the Civil Disobedience Movement Unfolded:

The movement started with Mahatma Gandhi’s decision to march 240 km from Sabarmati to Dandi in a non-violent protest against the salt law imposed by the British government. This Salt March, popularly known as Dandi March, was instrumental in igniting the fire of Civil Disobedience Movement in the country. The Dandi March started on 12th March 1930 with 78 of Gandhiji’s followers who planned to make salt on coasts of the Dandi village in Gujarat. As they moved towards their destination, walking 10 miles every day, more and more people joined their march. Many people even called the marching protest a White River, as all the people wore white clothes. After completing his task at Dandi, Gandhiji and his followers continued marching the south coast of Gujarat and made salt at every place while organising the Satyagraha. 

After the event, people started breaking the salt laws throughout India. It became a symbol of refusal of Indians to live by the regulations imposed by the Britishers. As the movement spread, people started boycotting other British laws and even British products and foreign-made clothes. In the North-Western corner, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, also known as the Frontier Gandhi, created a society of Pathans called Khudai Khidmatgars. In Eastern India, a 13-year-old Rani Gaidinliu started the rebellion against the British. She was captured and jailed by the British in 1932 and was finally freed only after the independence of India in 1947. In the South, the defiance of the salt laws took presence under the leadership of C Rajagopalachari in Tamil Nadu. In Malabar, K Kelapam led the revolt, and in Dharasana Salt Works, Sarojini Naidu and Manilal Gandhi broke the salt law. Congress planned to start a Satyagraha from the Dharasana Salt Works, but Mahatma Gandhi was arrested on 5th May 1930. 

The British government was not ready for such a massive wave of revolution, and it was the first time the whole country was united under a single leader. 

Impact of Civil Disobedience Movement:

The British government had imposed various regional laws in the states of India. The revolt against the salt law started a wave of non-violent protests against all these laws. For instance:

  • In Bihar, villagers refused to pay the protection money to the local guards. The Anti-Chowkidar Tax protest was fueled by Dr Rajendra Prasad, who became the first president of independent India. 
  • In UP, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru started a no-revenue campaign. Poor farmers paid the revenue to the Zamindars. The main focus of this campaign was Agra and Rae Bareli districts.
  • In the Central Provinces, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, there were protests against the forest laws in the areas with large tribal populations. 
  • In Gujarat, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel led no-tax movements against land revenues in Kheda. The movement then spread to Surat and Broach districts.
  • Moreover, there were movements in different parts of the country against liquor, opium and other intoxicants.

The refusal to pay taxes by Indian public had a massive effect on the treasure of the British government. For the first time in a century, the regime of the British Colonial rule was under threat in India.

Indian Demands to End the Civil Disobedience Movement

  • Dissolution of the Simon Commission and a formation of a new committee with Indian members.
  • Complete independence from the British Raj instead of Dominion Status was the primary demand. 
  • Prohibit the intoxicants spread in India by the British to weaken the core of the country.
  • Improve the ratio of Indian Rupee in comparison to British Sterling.
  • Reduce the revenues imposed on the lands and crops of poor farmers.
  • Complete abolition on the tax on salt was also demanded.
  • Reduce the expenditure on the military and increase the funding for the public sector.
  • Enhance the usage of swadeshi items and impose custom duties on foreign clothes to help local merchants.
  • Release all political prisoners with immediate effect.

Gandhi-Irwin Pact

In March 1930, Britishers decided to parley with a meeting between Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Irwin. They signed a pact which is known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. The agreement had two main clauses:

  • Congress will participate in a round-table conference to form a constitution for India. 
  • The Civil Disobedience Movement will cease. 

After Mahatma Gandhi signed the pact with the viceroy, all the political prisoners were released by the British government.

Although the Civil Disobedience Movement couldn’t help India gain independence with the immediate effect, the effect of the revolution was widespread in India. It marked the start of an era where all the political parties agreed to work together by forgetting their differences under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. It also proved that Satyagraha could be an effective way of starting a revolution. People of India also gained the confidence and strength to begin their crusade against the British Raj. The coming years after the Civil Disobedience Movement proved that it was only a stepping stone for imminent independence of India from the British rule. 

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