Civil Disobedience Movement | Nationalism in India | Indian History

After the Non-Cooperation Movement was suspended in February 1922 due to violence that took place at Chauri Chaura, the Indian National Congress saw the emergence of two opposing factions. One of the factions wanted to enter the legislative councils to hinder the working of the British Indian govt. from within, while the other faction wanted to continue the non-cooperation and pressed for more radical mass agitations. The former faction led by Motilal Nehru and C.R Das formed a separate party within the Congress, called Swaraj Party or Congress-Khilafat Swarajya party. Both factions in their own capacities carried out the struggle for the years to come until the Simon Commission and Great Depression of the 1930s that brought things to a boil, ultimately leading to the Civil Disobedience Movement in India

What was the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) and when did it take place?

Civil Disobedience Movement in India was the 2nd mass movement that was organized under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, after the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1921-22. Gandhiji along with his 78 volunteers undertook the famous Dandi March from Sabarmati Ashram to the coast of Dandi in March-April 1930 and broke the salt law.

People were now asked not only to refuse cooperation with the British, as they had done in 1921-22, but also to break colonial laws. Thousands in different parts of the country broke the salt law, manufactured salt, and demonstrated in front of government salt factories.

What were the Events/Reasons leading to Civil Disobedience Movement in India?

The worldwide economic depression of 1926-30: Agricultural prices began to fall from 1926 and collapsed after 1930. As the demand for agricultural goods fell and exports declined, peasants, found it difficult to sell their harvests and pay their revenue. By 1930, the countryside was in turmoil.

Statutory Commission under Sir John Simon – Constituted in 1928 to review the working of Govt. of India Act, 1919. It was an all-white members committee having no Indian member to represent the interests of Indians on a law that was to govern them. Parties of all hues from Congress to Muslim League etc. opposed it.

Vague offer by Lord Irwin: To win over these opposing groups the British Indian Govt. under viceroy Lord Irwin in October 1929 made a vague offer of ‘dominion status’ for India in an unspecified future and a Round Table Conference to discuss a future constitution. This did not satisfy the Congress leaders and in December 1929, under the presidency of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Lahore Congress formalised the demand of ‘Purna Swaraj’ or full independence for India.

Mahatma Gandhi’s 11-demands to Lord Irwin: On 31 January 1930, Gandhiji sent a letter to Viceroy Irwin stating eleven demands. Some of these were of general interest, others were specific demands of different classes, from industrialists to peasants. The most stirring of all was the demand to abolish the salt tax. Salt was something consumed by the rich and the poor alike, and it was one of the most essential items of food.

On refusal of the British Indian Govt. to accept these demands, Gandhiji undertook the Dandi March, thus formally launching the Civil Disobedience Movement in April 1930.

What were the Demands made under CDM?

Demand of Purna Swaraj or complete independence was passed by Congress’ Lahore session in 1929.

11 demands made by Gandhiji were:

1. Reduction of land revenue by 50 percent
2. Abolition of salt tax and Monopoly of the government to manufacture salt.
3. To reduce the expenses on the civil administration and y by 30%.
4. To reform the criminal investigation depent CID.
5. Total prohibition of intoxicants and all.
6. Amendments in the arms act to allow licenses of arms to citizens for self-protection.
7. To release all the Political Prisoners.
8. Acception of Postal reservation bill.
9. To change the Rupee Sterling exchange ratio to 1s 4d.
10. To impose a customs duty on the import of foreign clothes.
11. The reservation of coastal shipping for Indians.

Spread of Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) and Participants

As the movement spread, the foreign cloth was boycotted, and liquor shops were picketed. Peasants refused to pay revenue and chowkidar taxes, village officials resigned, and in many places, forest people violated forest laws – going into Reserved Forests to collect wood and graze cattle. The various sections who participated are as follows:

Rich peasants: Like the Patidars of Gujarat and the Jats of Uttar Pradesh, were active in the movement. Being producers of commercial crops, they were very hard hit by the trade depression and falling prices. As their cash income disappeared, they found it impossible to pay the government’s revenue demand. And the refusal of the government to reduce the revenue demand led to widespread resentment. For them, the fight for swaraj was a struggle against high revenues.

Poor peasantry: As the Depression continued and cash incomes dwindled, the small tenants found it difficult to pay their rent. They wanted the unpaid rent to the landlord to be remitted. Apprehensive of raising issues that might upset the rich peasants and landlords, the Congress was unwilling to support ‘no rent’ campaigns in most places.

Business Class: Keen on expanding their business, the business class supported CDM against colonial policies that restricted business activities. They wanted protection against imports of foreign goods, and a rupee-sterling foreign exchange ratio that would discourage imports. To organise business interests, they formed the Indian Industrialand Commercial Congress in 1920 and the Federation of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FICCI) in 1927. They gave financial assistance and refused to buy or sell imported goods.

But after the failure of the Round Table Conference, business groups were apprehensive of the spread of militant activities, and worried about prolonged disruption of business, they withdrew support to CDM.

Industrial workers: The industrial working classes did not participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement in large numbers, except in the Nagpur region and the strikes by railway workers in 1930 and dockworkers in 1932. As the industrialists came closer to the Congress, workers stayed aloof.

Women participation: An important feature of the Civil Disobedience Movement was the large-scale participation of women both from urban & rural backgrounds. They participated in protest marches, manufactured salt, and picketed foreign cloth and liquor shops. Many went to jail.

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