Swadeshi and Boycott
As early as 1874 Boycott was advocated as a means for reviving Indian industries that were crippled by the British economic policies. Boycott of Manchester clothes was practised throughout 1870s as a means of protest against the open hostility of Manchester against the newly formed Indian mills in Bombay. In 1884 Boycott of British goods was preached to protest against the imprisonment of Surendranath Bannerjee. However the primary motive behind Boycott was an economic one. It was imperative to revive the Indian industries that had suffered owing to the colonial master's deliberate policies of promoting the British goods. For instance the Government levied higher excise duties on the Indian mill produced clothes while Manchester clothes were exempted and hence were cheaper. This attempt to destroy Indian industry was much resented and it was felt that to survive Indian industries had to produce the essential commodities and also pursue Boycott of British made goods. Therefore Swadeshi and Boycott would have to be intertwined. How aggressive were the British policies towards the Indigenous goods could be ascertained from the fact that at the behest of the Manchester, heavy taxes were imposed on the cotton products from India. It was therefore necessary to not only reduce the reliance of imported goods but also make good quality products in India as Swadeshi goods. Gradually it assumed a new dimension. Swadeshi came to be regarded as embracing everything that was Indian or rooted in India.This was the result of the newly awakened patriotism by the end of the nineteenth century (Dr. R.C Majumdar, History of Freedom Movement Vol 2).
For a long period of time people of India had been following the policy of prayers and petitions. However the policy did not yield any result. The people used mass meetings, demonstrations, press appeals and editorials, appeals to the officials, but all fell to the deaf ears. Government machinery did not budge and it continued with the preparations for partition. On Aug 7, 1905, in a meeting in Townhall of Calcutta, a decision was taken to economically Boycott the British goods. Will Durrant observed that it was in 1905 that the Indian Revolution began.
There are accusations that the Bombay mill owners made a huge profit out of what they perceived as the Bengali sentiment to buy Indian. However Bombay mill owners played a key role by increasing their supply. No textile industry could be opened in Bengal. But coarse production of handloom, a precursor to the Khadi movement started by Gandhi fifteen years down the line, had started in Bengal to supplement the deficits in supply. A popular song by Rajanikanto Sen had immortalized this - Mayer deya mota kapad mathay tule ne re bhai" - "accept with reverence the coarse garments provided by your mother." For distribution of the swadeshi goods, swadeshi bhandars were established in every district. But then there were sharks who demanded exorbitant prices for the swadeshi goods because of the high demand. To counter this volunteers established a Supply committee to distribute goods to the people at cost price. A ley role was played by the anti circular society which put a label of authenticity on each of these goods sold. In the rurala areas however, the landlords, who controlled the local markets or "hats", at the instigation of the Government officials, denied permission to sell swadeshi goods. There were also disloyal zamindars who permitted such sales, leading to friction with the Government. Many volunteers started door to door delivery of household goods and the local students formed the main pillar of such activities.
A large number of samitis or groups were formed in various regions led by influential leaders. In Barisal, Ashwini Kumar Datta was one such leader. Intense propaganda was carried out to inspire people to adapt to the Swadeshi goods despite their cost and quality issues. People from all classes, castes and professions embraced the ideals of embracing swadeshi goods. Religious sentiments also played an important role in inspiring people. Goddess Durga and Kali became synonymous with the Mother Bengal and vows and oaths were taken in front of their images. Old foreign made apparels were set on fire. However it would be naive to assume that people willingly pursued this course of action for a long time. It was difficult for the poor villagers to continue to buy Indian goods of inferior qualities at a higher cost when cheaper foreign substitutes were available. Moreover, there were far roo many people, esp. among the rich elites who were loyal to the British. Shops selling foreign goods were picketted by student volunteers. The police resorted to violence to disperse the picketing crowd. They were easily convicted on the basis of flimsy witness accounts and thus were forcibly prevented from participating in the Boycott movement. Government also issued circulars to the educational institutions asking them to prevent students from participating in the swadeshi movement. Many institutions rusticated or fined the students.
The other method adopted by the Government was to control the rural market with the help of the local zamindars or the rich landlords who were loyal servants. The picketers were prohibited from entering their markets. Government kept records of decline of the sale of foreign goods in the markets of the jurisdiction of the zamindars and took punitive action against errant zamindars. For instance, the Government confiscated the land of Brajendra Kishore Roy Choudhuri of Mymansingh, one of the richest zamindars of East Bengal as he failed to take action against the decline in sales of foreign goods (Dr. R.C Majumdar, History of Freedom Movement Vol 2).
Another method adopted by the Government was to instigate the loyal Muslims against the Hindus. The other one was brutal repressions including curbs on vernacular press, meetings and processions and the extreme steps against the leaders of the movement. However the movement could not be curbed by such repressions as it had the mass support needed to sustain any movement. a very effective weapon with the supporters of the movement was social Boycott of any person purchasing foreign goods. Leaders like Bipin Chandra Pal advocated social ostracism. As Dr. R.C Majumdar puts it succinctly, "the real state of things can be best described as an incipient rebellion - an undeclared war between the Government and the people. Each side fought with the weapons it possessed - An imperialistic and autocratic Government making full use of its organized civil and if need arose military forces, while the disarmed people fought with the only weapon they could command, a sort of organized passive resistance. Psychical force was pitted up against physical force."
The unequal nature of the battle reinforced perception that the people were fighting a sort of war against the Government. This led to political awakening and development of patriotism. It also led to to the development of the view that force should be met with force and thus gave impetus to the revolutionary movement. This also inspired the rest of India, who had suffered similarly, to rise against the foreign tyranny.
Impact of Swadeshi and Boycott
There were reports particularly in The Statesman, as to how the big traders who imported cloths were affected. Their demand of imported garments from Manchester fell drastically and the inventory of imported goods had no value, resulting in great losses. British made salts, sugar and tobacco demands similarly fell. The same story was seen and heard for other goods like soaps, perfumes, boots and smaller goods. By systematic Boycott of British goods a tremendous impetus was given to the production of swadeshi goods, esp. the indigenous cloths. This emphasis on Swadeshi goods was reemphasized a decade later during Non Cooperation movement by Gandhiji when hand spun and Khadi cloths became the symbol of National good and even elites of the society followed Gandhiji's footsteps. Two decades later it formed the backbone of Civil Disobedience when the tax on Indian salt had become the base of a Nationwide protest launched by Gandhiji. By 1910 the emphasis on Boycott waned but the issue assumed larger proportion and the war time economic hardships imposed by the British policies created greater resentment that catapulted into subsequent revolutionary activities and agitations. The agitation permanently put an end to the politics of Prayers and Petitions hitherto followed by the Indian National Congress.
The first Indian Industrial Conference took place in 1905 in Benaras with R.C Dutt as the president. R. C Dutta had written the economic history of India and highlighted the large scale exploitation of the British rule and its devastating effect on India's economy. He had also in his presidential speech made some concrete suggestions of industrial development.
The Carlyle circular which had been put in place in October 1905 had asked all the schools and colleges to identify teachers and students who participated in the Swadeshi and Boycott movement and take disciplinary actions against them. This led to a hue and cry in National Newspapers and finally the Government had to withdraw. But this led to serious rethinking to free education from the clutches of an oppressive foreign rule. On 24 October 1905 a public meeting was held under the chairmanship of Abdul Rasul. Bipin Chandra Pal had passionately defended the idea of a national education body. This led to the foundation of National Council of Education. Another meeting was held in the house of Charu Chandra Mallik where people like Rabindranath Tagore, Bhupendra Nath Basu, Krishna Kumar Mitra, Satish Chandra Mukherjee, Bipin Chandra Pal were present. The meeting spoke against the Carlyle circular. In East Bengal, similar repressive measures in Rangpur had led to the establishment of Rangpur National School. Similar repressions followed in Madaripur zilla schools where Europeans had beaten students and had leveled false allegations against them which the headmaster of the school refused to comply with. The Government sided with the European and decided to punish the headmaster and the students. The repressive measures adopted resulted in the expuslion of a large number of students from the Government schools and colleges. Their education became a focus of the Nationalistic bodies and two societies that played a prominent role in this regard were the Dawn society and the Anti Circular society. Anti Circular Society was founded by Sachindra Nath Basu, a graduate student, while Dawn society was founded by Satish Chandra Mukherjee.
Dawn Society tried in its initial days to spread India's moral and spiritual ideals. Satish Chandra also decided to reform education by imparting moral and religious education to the students to build up their character. He also sought to empower students by guiding them to assimilate their knowledge in a more meaningful way, through training them as workers for the country's cause. It also provided vocational training. Swadeshi stores were established in which various home made articles were sold by the students. Dr. R.C Majumdar asserts that the ideologies of Swadeshi movement were laid substantially on the ideas and the activities of the Dawn society. Dawn society played a very critical role in the Swadeshi education. After the Rangpur incident, Dawn held a protest meeting in its premises. The meeting was officiated by Satish Chandra Mukherjee, Rabindranath Tagore, and Hirendranath Datta. Satish Chanda asked the students to shun the official university. In another meeting held on 9 November, Subodh Chandra Mallik promised a donation of 1 lakh rupees and earned the title of Raja. Brajendra Kishore Roy Choudhury, zamindar of Mymensingh, promised a donation of five lakhs of rupees for National education. On 16 November a historic conference was held which was attended by Gurudas Bannerjee, Hirendranath Datta, Satish Chandra Mukherjee, Rashbehari Ghosh, Rabindranath Tagore, Tarak Nath Palit, Chittaranjan Das, Abdul Rasool, Surendranath Bannerjee, Subodh Chandra Mallik, Nilratan Sarkar, Brajendra Nath Seal, Bipin Chandra Pal among others. The conference adopted two resolutions - 1) A National Council of Education should be established to oversee literary, scientific and technical education on National lines 2) Existing students pursuing higher education should complete their studies and the donors were announced who would sponsor the scheme. Satish Mukherjee was chosen to give a concrete shape to the vision of National Education. However there arose a difference between two groups. One group headed by Gurudas Bannerjee, Satish Mukherjee, Hirandranath Datta, Subodh Chandra Mallik etc. favoured a complete reform of education under national lines and under national control for literary, technical and scientific education. A moderate group led by Tarak Nath Palit, Bhupendra Nath Bose, Nagendra nath Ghosh, Nilratan Sarkar, Manindra Chandra Nandy wanted to supplement the literary education of the existing system with a technical education under the National system.
On June 1, 1906, the National Council of Education was formed. On the same day a rival institution was formed by the moderate group named as Society for Promotion of Technical Education. Rashbehari Ghosh was the president of both organizations and there were several members who were common to both the organizations. The N.C.E set up the Bengal National School and College while the S.P.T.E set up the Bengal Technical Institute. Aurobindo Ghosh had resigned from the high paying post in Baroda to take charge as the principal of the National college at a paltry salary of Rs 150/- per month. Satish chandra Mukherjee helped him as the superintendent but was the heart and soul of the endeavour. Because of Aurobindo's political activities and the danger of he getting arrested, he resigned voluntarily from the National Council in August 1907. Satish Chandra took up the activities but illness forced him to retire by 1908. Many secondary and primary schools were opened under the National Council of Education across the districts. In 1910, N.C.E and S.P.T.E got merged, managed by two committees under N.C.E. Rabindranath Tagore actively promoted national education in a meeting in Pabna. Pabna National School was formed and many more soon followed in its wake.
However National College soon came to an end while Bengal Technical Institute survived. Some have ascribed to the merger as a key factor for the demise of the National College. But the real reason was that it was not possible to have the same kind of opportunities after graduating from National College that from Calcutta University. The doors of professions like doctors, teachers, lawyers were closed. The initial enthusiasm and patriotism had prompted the students to join the National institutions instead of the Goldihir Gulamkhana, as was the name of Calcutta University, but that died with the passage of time. Technical education however survived as it enabled the students to earn a decent living.
Aftermath and the impact - Muslim atrocities on Hindus aided and abetted by the British
The Swadeshi movement also took place outside Bengal, in almost all the provinces. In Bombay Presidency it was led by Tilak. In Punjab it was led by Munshi Ram (Swami Sraddhanand) and Pandit Chandrika Dutt of Arya Samaj. In Madras Presidency Ananda Charlu, Subrahmania Ayer and T.M Nair led the movement. The subject of National education also caught the imagination of the leaders. Tilak took the lead for promoting National Education in Pune. Andhra National Council of Education was formed in the Madras presidency and a Model National College was opened at Machalipattam.
Bamfylde Fuller had alienated the Hindus in East Bengal by his open favouritism to the Muslims. Boycott and Swadeshi movement unnerved the Government which took stern repressive measures. Government brutality took an ugly form in Barisal where Aswini Kumar Datta, who was revered by the local people as a saint, was the key leader. Barisal became the centre of the Swadeshi and Boycott movement and the Government decided to break this citadel. Bamfylde Fuller had called Gurkhas to carry out ruthless attack on the local populace and the atrocities of these Gurkhas under their British masters crossed all limits. Gurkhas were literally set upon the Hindus of Barisal and a veritable reign of terror was declared, not only in the Barisal town, but also in the villages. Even Statesman, a pro European newspaper, cited several instances of the atrocities committed by the Gurkhas on the local population. Any chant of Bande Mataram would invite instant reprisal, even on the elderly. Government employees were dismissed for taking part in the Swadeshi movement. Unarmed groups, particularly the students, were lathicharged. Fuller took away all the rights of the local Hindu population through his edicts and circulars. In 1906 the Provincial Conference was supposed to take place in Barisal with Abdul Rasul as the president. The volunteers were beaten badly by the lathi wielding police,and Surendranath Bannerjee was arrested. The magistrate Emerson, a thoroughly biased European, insulted them and fined Surendranath Rs 200. Bande Mataram was the war cry of the delegates of the conference. The highlight of the conference was the presence of Cittaranjan Guha, the young man who was needlessly beaten by police, and was thrown in a pond, and his father manoranjan Guha, an ardent activist. The next day Superintendent of Police Mr. Kemp, went to the conference and cited explicit orders to disperse it under section 144. All left, save Krishna Kumar Mitra who was finally persuaded to move out. Thus ended the Barisal conference. But this strengthened the agitation all over Bengal and there was determined effort to carry on the Swadeshi movement even in the districts. Condemnations on police atrocities poured in from all over India. In Madras a crowded conference was held with ten thousand people that adopted a resolution protesting against the police high handedness in Barisal. As rightly pointed out by Surendranath, "bad rulers serve a useful purpose in the evolution of the nations. They stir up the sleeping lion from its torpor.
According to Dr. R.c Majumdar, Barisal conference was a "memorable episode in the history of the Swadeshi movement. It served as a Baptism of fire so far as any organized political body was concerned and called forth the latent spirit of sturdy Nationalism and brave defiance of the autocracy and tyranny which henceforth marked every stage of Indian's Struggle for Freedom. At long last there emerged a political issue round which the people could rally and for which they were prepared to suffer and sacrifice."
The police atrocities also gave a signal to the rise of the revolutionary movement. The young in particular were in no mood to accept the obnoxious behaviour of the ruling class and that led to the Khudirams and the Kanailals to emerge from their schools and colleges to hurl bombs and fire pistols. There were repressions on the media - Bande Mataram was targeted for its seditious articles and B.C Pal was jailed as he refused to testify against the editor Aurobindo Ghosh. Brahmabandhob Upadhyay, the fiery editor of Sandhya, was targeted next but could not be jailed as he died during trial.
The Swadeshi movement also ushered in a tremendous unity among Hindu and Muslims. In Barisal in particular Muslims rallied behind Aswini Kumar Datta, the popular leader, also known as Babu, in an open defiance of the Nawab of Dhaka who had lent support to the partition. The partition and its aftermath however gave an impetus to the communal section of the Muslims and strengthened their demand for separate Muslim electorate. This was a major contributing factor in the rise of Muslim League as a communal representative of the Muslim interests and thus built the foundation for the demand for a separate country for the Muslims based on the Two Nation Theory. There were prominent Muslim leaders who supported the Swadeshi movement like Abdul Rasool, Abdul Halim Ghaznavi, Abul Kasem, Liakat Hussein etc. Muslims took part in meetings, in Shivaji festivals, sang Bande Mataram and participated in processions. However a section of the Muslims led by Dhaka's Nawab Salimullah, became the champion of the anti Swadeshi movement and helped the Government in the newly created province. The interest was more monetary as Government had granted him Rs 14 lakhs as loan at a nominal rate of interest. The anti Hindu sentiment was raised long back by Syed Ahmed of Aligarh that had culminated in the formation of the Muslim League. The League's Dhaka branch was established in December 1906. This formed the organizational basis for the oppression of Hindus in general and Swadeshis in particular by the communal elements among the Muslims. Major riots and progroms soon broke out in Kumilla in March 1907 that had coincided with the visit of Nawab Salimullah of Dhaka. Assault, looting, destruction of shops and properties of the Hindus and arson broke out in connivance with the British police and authorities. Most disturbing incident took place in Jamalpur of Mymensingh district where hundreds of Hindus had to take shelter in local temple. looting, arson, molestation and creating general panic were the chief objectives of the rioters who had a distinct anti Hindu, rather than anti Swadeshi agenda. British Government blamed the riots on the Hindus trying to forcefully dissuading Mohamedans from purchasing foreign goods but the eye witness account had testified that none of the riots had been triggered by any forceful action by the Swadeshis. They were preplanned and agenda driven, were instigated by a virulent hatred against Hindus and were aided and abetted by the Government and its supporters like the Dhaka Nawab. There were forceful abduction of the Hindu girls and the administration simply did nothing to prevent these outrages. The Government never punished the perpetrators of the crimes against the Hindus. They failed to provide any protection to the hapless masses and deliberately set one class against the other. An extremely inflammatory material called Red Pamphlet was used the Muslim ring leaders to breed the hatred against the Hindus, that contained a heap of accusation against the Hindus. The author of this Red Pamphlet or Lal Ishtahar, one Ibrahim Khan, was never arrested.
Mr. H.W Nevinson who visited India at this time wrote in his book "The New Spirit in India" that the english officers and officials were on the side of the Mohammedans and openly encouraged fundamentalism and hatred of the Muslims against the Hindus. He was of the opinion that Government was to be squarely blamed for the riots that took place against the Hindus. All persecution of the Government was directed against the Hindus. When riots took place police took punitive action only against the Hindus. He mentioned that Mullahs went from village to village that no punitive action would be taken by the Government if Hindu houses were looted or their shops were burnt, Hindu widows were given in marriage forcibly to the Muslims, a large proportion of Government posts were set aside for the Muslims, a Red Pamphlet was issued making wild claims and insinuations and Muslims believed that the excesses committed by them would be forgiven by the Government. Other impartial British observers too felt that the Government deliberately, in order to curb the Swadeshi and Boycott movement, created strife between Hindus and Muslims, and openly favoured the Muslims and even encouraged them in carrying out atrocities against the Hindus, including ravishing their womenfolk in group. Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar, "It is painful to record, but difficult, if not impossible , to avoid the conclusion, that the British Government in India descended far below the average ideal and standard of a modern civilized Government, in deliberately setting one community against another, with the full knowledge that it would lead to riots, bloodshed, plunder and raping, if not something worse, on a large scale."
The key outcome of Swaraj movement was the emergence of passive resistance as a form of protest in place of prayers and petitions. Bipin Chandra Pal had provided a doctrine in 1906 that would advice a complete non cooperation with the Government. Sandhya patrika's editor Brahma Bandhab had gone a step further to imagine a situation whereby a peaceful liberation of the country could be obtained if every Indian abstained from working with the British and boycotted them. He also wanted Indian army men to refuse to serve and resign. This was developed later by Tilak and Aurobindo. Therefore Gandhi was not the founder of the doctrine of non cooperation. The leaders of the Bengal movement were pioneers of it. Partition helped in rousing the Indians esp. the Bengalis from the state of political stupor and made them aware of their condition as slaves and thereby forced them to crave for political freedom.