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Role of Bengal in the Freedom Movement of India

  • IASbaba
  • January 24, 2022
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Role of Bengal in the Freedom Movement of India

TOPIC: General Studies 1

  • Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present significant events, personalities, issues
  • The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors or contributions from different parts of the country.

Context: Bengal, as West Bengal is popularly known, enjoys eminence for its immense contribution to Indian Independence Movement. In the early 20th-century, Bengal emerged as a hotbed of the Indian independence movement, as well as the epicenter of the Bengali Renaissance. Revolutionary nationalism emerged as a potent political force in Bengal in the wake of the Swadeshi Movement in the first decade of the 20th century The Swadeshi Movement was the expression of the outrage triggered in Bengal by the partition of the province of Bengal in 1905.

Contributions of Bengal in India’s freedom struggle:

  • From 1763 to 1800 we witnessed the Sanyasi rebellion in Bengal. It was basically a peasant rebellion starting from Dhaka (now the capital of Bangladesh), and spread up to Bihar the number of the rebels reached up to fifty thousand.
  • The Indigo revolt was largely non-violent and it acted as a precursor to Gandhiji’s non-violent Satyagraha in later years. The revolt was made immensely popular by its portrayal in the play Nil Darpan and also in many other works of prose and poetry. This led to the revolt taking centre stage in the political consciousness of Bengal and impacted many later movements in Indian freedom struggle.
  • Bankim Chandra Chatterjee raised nationalism to the level of religion by identifying the Motherland with the Mother-Goddess. It was in Anandamath, he wrote the poem ‘Vande Mataram’.
  • Bengal Renaissance created many journal houses and associated with many newspapers, journalistic publications like Tattwabadhini Patrika, Samprakash, Sarbashubhankarr Patrika and Hindu patriot to bring social and educational reforms with regards to the women. This gave the larger social base to Indian national movement.
  • Bengal rose into national consciousness on the back of Swadeshi movement and also further became the hub of leftist, socialist elements predominantly the Bengal Intelligentsia (The Bhadralok).
  • The leftists under MN Roy also influenced the development of Democratic, civic libertarian polity with socialist policy that the Indian state finally developed itself into.
  • Farmers also became the key stake holders in the freedom struggle as the National Movement took upon itself the ideology of Radical Agrarian Reform as one of its core principles which was also influenced by the Communist struggles in Bengal.
  • Movements in support of Bengal’s unity and the swadeshi and boycott agitation were organised in many parts of the country. Tilak, who played a leading role in the spread of the movement outside Bengal, saw in this the ushering in of a new chapter in the history of the national movement. He realised that here was a challenge and an opportunity to organise popular mass struggle against the British rule to unite the country in a bond of common sympathy.
  • Bengal School of Art promoted a distinctly Indian modernism which blossomed throughout India during the British Raj of the early 20th century. By synthesizing folk art, Indian painting traditions, Hindu imagery, indigenous materials and depictions of contemporary rural life, artists of the Bengal School of Art celebrate humanism and bring a dynamic voice to Indian identity, freedom, and liberation.
  • The Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar would serve as the two main organisations that would mark what was termed as the “Agni Yug” (the era of fire). Underground cells sprung up to train Indians in weapons and bomb-making. Assassinations of anti-Swadeshi officials, who brutally crushed protests, became commonplace. Such tactics and their success would subsequently inspire revolutionaries all across the nation from Bhagat Singh in Punjab to Surya Sen in Chittagong and, of course, later Subhas Chandra Bose.
  • The revolutionary activity emerged as the most substantial legacy of swadeshi Bengal which had an impact on educated youth for a generation or more. Moreover, it encouraged quixotic heroism. No involvement of the masses was envisaged, which, coupled with the narrow upper caste social base of the movement in Bengal, severely limited the scope of the revolutionary activity.
  • However, Lord Curzon had perfected his divide and rule policy by providing a substantial sum of money to Nawab Salim Ullah, one of the founders of the Muslim League, not to participate in the boycott. The rise of separatism and discontent among Muslims would later be promoted through separate electorates and often Muslim League leaders would not cooperate with the Indian National Congress as seen during the Quit India Movement of 1942.

It can be fairly concluded that the events of 1905 contained the seeds that shaped the future of the subcontinent for years to come in terms of nationalism, economic policy and educational reforms. Unfortunately, it also sowed the seeds of division, which culminated in the Partition of the country in 1947.

Conclusion

Bengal’s contribution to the freedom movement has been immense starting from Battle of Plassey in 1757, up to the strike of 700000 workers in Calcutta in solidarity with the revolt of Indian navy in February 1946. India’s struggle for freedom against British Imperialism is incomplete without mentioning the pivotal role of Bengal.

News Source: PIB

Can you answer the following questions?

  1. Examine the contribution of Bengal in India’s freedom struggle. 
  2. The partition of Bengal is a watershed in India’s freedom struggle. Do you agree? Substantiate your views.

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