Tag Archives: Imperialism

Kakori martyrs and the British Raj


Shahid Siddiqui

The resistance to the British Raj in India came from different ethnic groups which converged on the objective of liberating India from British control. The resistance took many forms, employing methods ranging from discourse to coercion.

The Kakori incident is an important milestone in the history of the freedom struggle when a group of young revolutionaries successfully challenged the might of the British Raj. In the post-world war scenario some important developments, including the unsure future of the caliphate in the Ottoman Empire, the massacre in Jalianwala Bagh and the promulgation of the oppressive Rowlatt Act had already taken place and the people of India were in the grip of grief and rage. The situation was ripe to launch a movement at the national level to mobilise the people against the British rule.

Two important movements were launched in response to the political situation, the Khilafat movement and the non-cooperation movement. The Khilafat movement was started by Muslims to save the symbolic caliphate of the Ottoman Empire. This movement was led by Muhammad Ali Johar, Shaukat Ali Johar, Hakeem Ajmal, and Majaddad Sarhindd. The second important movement, non-cooperation, was launched by Gandhi. Muslims and Hindus decided to work together and support both the movements. Gandhi showed his support for the Khilafat movement and Khilafat leaders committed their allegiance for non-cooperation movement announced by Gandhi.

The non-cooperation movement gave a call to all Indians to quit government jobs, pay no taxes, leave government educational institutions, boycott foreign products and use locally made products. This call was the voice of the people that led to the mobilisation of the masses. A large number of people, irrespective of their ethnic affiliations, joined this movement.

The movement starting threatening the British Raj until the Chauri Chaura incident took place on February 4, 1922 involving violent clashes between the local police and the protesters, killing more than twenty policemen. Gandhi, who believed in a pacifist approach to the struggle against the British, was stunned and called to end the movement, which had become a serious threat to the British Raj.

The sudden halt of the movement disappointed the masses in general and the youth in particular who could not reconcile with the idea of putting an end to the movement. A number of young men got together and decided to carry on the struggle more aggressively by use of force. This led to the formation of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) in 1924. Some pioneer members of the HRA included Ramprasad Bismil, Jogesh Chatterjea, Ashfaqullah Khan, Chandrashakher Azad and Sachindranath Sanyal.

Ramprasad Bismil belonged to the Arya Samaj and Ashfaqullah Khan was a devout Mulsim but they became close friends. Both of them came from Shahjahanpur and shared two passions: love for poetry and love for the country. They were young and passionate about liberating India from foreign rule. They were also among those who felt let down by the sudden end of the non-cooperation movement. They were eager to see a speedy exit of the British from their homeland.

To expedite the process of liberation the newly established HRA needed human and physical resources and that involved a huge budget. To arrange the required money they decided to take the desperate step of robbing the train that carried the government treasurer. This daring challenge to the authority of the British Raj could lead to dire consequences – and they were ready for it.

It was on August 9, 1925, that Bismil, Ashfaqullah and their comrades boarded the train that was carrying the money. At Kakori, a small village near Lucknow, they pulled the chain and stopped train. They grabbed the guard and got hold of the treasury box of the British government. Bismil, Ashfaq and Lehri broke open the box and emptied it. This money would help them organise the revolutionary activities to liberate their country from foreign rule. After the successful execution of the plan all of them managed to escape the scene.

This incident rocked the country, and was significant in three important ways. First, it provided the HRA the financial sources required for its organisational structures and acquisition of weapons. Second, it challenged the despotic rule of the British Raj amidst an atmosphere of tremendous fear. And third, it brought the HRA to the lime ight and people started talking about the new organisation formed by young people.

The police were under remarkable pressure to catch the revolutionaries but they could not arrest anybody involved in the Kakori train robbery for about one month. Ramparsad Bismil was arrested on September 26, 1925. Ashfaqullah Khan, who was still at large, moved to Banaras and then to Bihar where he managed to get a clerical job in an engineering firm. He worked there for a few months before leaving for Delhi where he planned to leave the country. It was there that he came across a friend of his, who secretly informed the police about his whereabouts. On this lead Ashfaqullah Khan was arrested by the police about ten months after Bismil’s arrest.

The trial of the Kakori incident lasted for about two years. A defence committee was formed to defend Bismil, Ashfaq and their comrades. Appeals were sent to the Privy Council as well but the British government was determined to give a death sentence to the revolutionaries. Ashfaqullah Khan, Ramprasad Bismil, Roshan Singh, Rajendra Lahiri were hanged in December, 1927. Four others were sent to the Andamans for life and seventeen others were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

The journey of the freedom struggle, however, did not stop with the hanging of the Kakori martyrs. Rather they inspired many more young people of India. The torch of freedom was now taken by another set of young men – Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru – who marched ahead with the same courage and commitment and shook the British Raj with their revolutionary activities. They ,like Bismil and Ashfaq, went to the gallows with a smile on their face and a deep sense of satisfaction that they did the best they could for the freedom of India.

Bhagat Singh and his comrades were also hanged to death in 1931 but they had done their job by weakening the British Raj and awakening the masses, furthering the unfinished agenda of Bismil and Ashfaq and their colleagues.

The writer is an educationist.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@gmail.com

Colonisation and resistance

My OpEd, “Colonisation and resistance”, published in The News on May 30, 2016.

In my previous article, Colonialism and resistance (May 16), I briefly described the Anglo-Indian battles, suggesting that the process of colonisation was not smooth and straightforward but met tremendous resistance by the Rajas and Nawabs of different local states.

The last battle was fought between the East India Company (EIC) and the Sikhs where Sikhs were defeated and the process of subjugation of India was complete. But the journey of resistance did not stop here as a number of popular movements emerged and challenged the oppressive policies of the EIC. These movements were prompted by political, economic, social, tribal, and religious considerations.

Under colonisation, the people of India became victims of harsh economic policies that were focused on extraction of money through heavy taxation on peasants. As a result the farmers got trapped in the clutches of money lenders and many of them started thinking of giving up farming.

A number of resistance movements were political in nature where people refused to accept the foreign power as their rulers. A closely linked factor of some resistance movements was the threat to the local culture. Still another influential factor for some resistance movements was religion. Such movements, though religious in essence, resisted against the economic, political, social exploitation by the British.

A number of resistance movements were triggered by unfair economic policies of the EIC. The company levied a number of taxes on lands. The zameendars had to pay a certain amount of taxes, irrespective of poor crop as a result of bad weather. The zameendars would extract the tax money from the peasants. Such tyrannical policies put tremendous pressure on the peasants. They were forced to grow crops that were commercially viable and would suit the EIC as a source of raw material for the factories in England. These products replaced the crops the farmers used to grow that were sufficient for their livelihood.

The outcomes of such policies led to severe impoverishment of peasants. Some of them would give up farming which led to shortage of edibles. One of the manifestations of the shortage of food was the famine of Bengal in 1770. A number of resistance movements emerged from the impoverished position of peasants. From 1770 to 1820 the Faqir-Sanyasi movement, started by Muslim sufis and Hindi yogis, protested against the despotic rule of the EIC in Bengal. The movement was violent in nature as the peasants would attack factories and take away cash, commodities, and arms. These armed attacks continued until the EIC crushed the movement by using coercive tactics.

As mentioned earlier, the peasants were burdened by the new taxes imposed by the East India Company. It became difficult for them to make both ends meet. The peasants, under the leadership of Haji Shariatullah and Dadu Mian, started the Faraizi movement that denied taxes to the EIC. This movement became violent as the peasants attacked the Indigo planters. The movement provided an opportunity to the peasants of Bengal to be united on one platform. The movement was a strong protest against the illegal and forcible cultivation of crops like Indigo and gained popularity in different parts of Bengal.

During the 1830s and the 1860s Ahmed Brailvi led the Wahib movement. It was called Wahabi movement as there was a strong ideological influence of Abdul Wahab of Saudi Arabia. The movement was also motivated by the thoughts of Shah Waliullah from Delhi. The movement was essentially religious but in some parts of the country, like Bengal, different ethnic groups used this movement as a platform to fight against the landlords.

Some resistance movements were initiated by different tribes in order to preserve the local culture, economy, and lifestyle. The infringement of the British was detested by the local peasants of the Santhal tribe, living in some parts of Bihar, Orissa and Bengal. The British policies forced the peasants to buy goods on credit from mahajins (local lenders) and return the money with heavy interest. Ultimately the peasants initiated a movement to protest against the landlords. The movement, spread over 1855-57, was called the Santhal Rebellion. It gave a tough time to the EIC but was finally crushed by the coercive tactics of the British.

In Maharashtra and Gujrat, the Bhils had a visible presence. The intrusion of the British disturbed their ways of living. The Bhils, being passionate about their freedom, rebelled against the British during 1818-1831 and put up a tough fight against them.

The Kol tribe’s independence was also threatened by the British. As a reaction to the British policies, the Kol tribe challenged the British and put up a stiff resistance from 1831to 1832 to regain their freedom. The rebellion was finally quelled by the British forces.

A similar resistance was put up by the Moplahs during 1836-1854 in Malabar. The resistance was a manifestation of resentment against the EIC occupation, and the new land rules introduced by it. The confrontation lasted for eight long years before it was finally trampled by the British.

Though most of these popular people’s movements were crushed by the repressive tactics of the EIC, they successfully created political awareness among the masses of India by sharing with them that how the British colonisers tore apart the economic, political, social, and cultural fabric of Indian society. These resistance movements, which belonged to different ethnic groups and parts of India, engaged the colonisers in a prolonged resistance struggle.

The culmination of these resistance movements was the war of independence in 1857 when different ethnic groups got together and shook off the might of the EIC.

The writer is an educationist.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@gmail.com



Imperialism and Indigenous Education, The News, 20 April, 2016

Published in the News: http://www.thenews.com.pk/print/113718-Imperialism-and-indigenous-education

by Shahid Siddiqui

In The Prison Notebooks, Gramsci builds his argument that hegemony can be attained through political or civil society. The political society uses a coercive approach through army, police and/or bureaucracy. The civil society, on the other hand, makes use of social institutions. The hegemony in this approach is attained with the help of education, language, literature and culture, etc.

In other words, the political society uses a coercive approach whereas the civil society employs a discursive approach. The discursive approach, linked with discourse, is more effective. Through this approach, powerful groups can control others’ minds and thought processes. Education is a significant tool of the discursive approach.

The history of imperialism tells us that imperialist powers used education indiscriminately as a tool to take control of colonised nations. This is done in a two-pronged way. First, by stigmatising the local way of life, education, language and culture, and then imposing their own (imperialist) educational system and language.

In my write up, ‘Development: The imperialist way’, published in these pages on March 7, 2016, the major argument put forward was that how the British converted the local development into ‘undevelopment’ and then glossed over it their own version of development. This argument can also be applied to the education realm in British India. Pre-British India had a comprehensive educational network which was affordable and accessible to the masses. (Please see my columns in these pages, ‘Indigenous Indian Education’ March 21, 2016 and ‘Education in Pre-British India’

Indian Indigenous Education

India was portrayed by the colonisers as a dark and mysterious land where people were illiterate and uncultured. The positional superiority enjoyed by the British enabled them to construct a glorified identify for themselves and a stigmatised identity for the ‘others’.

Macaulay, in his ‘Minute on Education’ (1835), claimed that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”. Was India a country of illiterate people with no educational network? Is it true that it was the British who initiated the tradition of schools in India? The reality is just the opposite. There was a comprehensive network of schools in pre-British India, going back to the ancient times.

Development: the imperialist way

Colonialism and imperialism share a common design for the expansion and control of the economy and political systems of other countries. The history of imperialism suggests that control over other countries is gained in the name of civilisation and development. The imperialist powers believe that their culture is supreme and should be imposed on others to civilise them. The ‘others’, are viewed as, primitive, uncivilised, and underdeveloped creatures.