Non-cooperation movement

Propagating peaceful protest


February 2, 2020

/ By / kolkata

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Non-cooperation movement

(picture credit: India Today)

The year 2020 marks 100 years of the non-cooperation movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi as part of the Indian independence movement. A 100 years on, Indians are beginning to rediscover that even though we have stepped into a new century, the troubles we face stay the same, and so does our way of protesting

In 1919, the British imperial legislature passed the infamous Rowlatt Acts or the Black Bill as it was later called. It allowed the government to try political cases without juries and also imprison suspects without any trial. The new Act was strongly opposed by the Indian freedom fighters who questioned the validity of the law. It was at a protest against the Rowlatt Acts at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar where the British police closed the exit gates and fired at unarmed protestors, leading to 379 deaths and over 1200 injuries.

A couple of years earlier, Mahatma Gandhi, who had just returned from South Africa after years of practising as a lawyer and fighting for the rights of the locals, had launched his peaceful protest in India as well. It was in 1917 when he saw the condition of farmers in Champaran in Bihar who were forced to grow indigo on part of their lands, even though it was not viable. The movement is known as the Champaran Satyagraha and was the beginning of the noncooperation movement. The movement gathered steam and became a national protest in 1919 when the British colonial rulers refused to withdraw the draconian Rolwatt Acts. The noncooperation movement and the emergence of Gandhi on the Indian political scenario marked the third phase of Indian nationalism. Gandhi went on to initiate several other demonstrations across the country such as the campaign of peasants of the Kheda district in Gujrat and also backed the textile workers in Ahmedabad, who were fighting for their wages.

The beginning of the noncooperation movement coincided with a time when the Khilafat movement had begun as Indian Muslims joined their co-religionists around the world demanding that the allies, notably the British, ensure that the Sultan of the defeated Ottoman Empire remains the Khalifa or leader of Islam. Thus, the Congress launched the noncooperation movement on three principal grounds – to seek redressal for various workers and farmers in India, seeking justice for the Muslims, redressal of the wrongs committed in Punjab and the atrocities related to the martial law.

As a result, a nationwide strike was organised on August 1, 1920, to mark the beginning of the noncooperation movement. The movement led to a total boycott of schools, colleges, law courts, and the legislative councils. Titles granted by the British were surrendered, the Durbars or meetings between social leaders and the British government officials rejected, elections boycotted and Indians refused to serve the British Indian Army outside India, notably in Mesopotamia. The non-cooperation movement and the role played by Gandhi in it took Indian freedom movement to new heights. It ushered new political energy and taught Indians fearlessness. An important part of the noncooperation movement was the promotion of khadi by Gandhi and by other leaders of the Congress and which brought back to life the lost indigenous textile industry. The contribution of Gandhi to the entire movement was that for the first time he coated the entire country in a single colour. The struggle for freedom assumed an all India character under his leadership.

Non-Cooperation Movement 2.0

Exactly 100 years after the noncooperation movement, India seems to be in the midst of yet another noncooperation movement. This time against the passage of another law that is also seen by a large number of Indians as being unfair and discriminatory. The law in question is the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which has led to a series of protest marches and sit-ins. Replacing Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress as the drivers of the noncooperation movement this time are students from all over India. They have been at the forefront of the protests, by boycotting class and examination, peacefully protesting by chanting slogans, as had been the case a century ago!

“The student protests are a part foundation of this democratic nation, trying to suppress the voice or to crush their dissent through use of force won’t work as we have seen that innumerable times in the past, from Bhagat Singh to countless student-led protests. The more you stop them the more they grow, that is exactly what is happening. That’s exactly what happened earlier too with Gandhi’s call of noncooperation or Satyagraha,” Sujatro Ghosh, a photographer, political activist, and the creator of The Cow Mask Project tells Media India Group.

 The non-violent protest by hundreds of women, almost all of the housewives from the middle class and poorer sections of the society, who have been staging a dharna or sit in at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi is reminiscent of Gandhi leading similar protests. It also points to a powerful revival of citizens’ interest in protecting democracy and free society in India. The courageous women have shown they are every bit as determined as Gandhi himself had been 100 years ago. They have refused to get drawn into any controversy or respond to taunts by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and ministers who have levelled wild accusations against the protestors, just as the British did against the Indian freedom fighters. The students and women have shown that they will stay focused on the issue of saving Indian democracy and freedom, even in face of extreme provocation such as BJP supporters turning up with guns and firing at the protestors, while the police stood by and watched the crimes take place.

This is history repeating itself. The rapidly growing mass movement takes a page out of history books to show the country, how they are following the footsteps of their forefathers, and how the government is following the footsteps of the earlier oppressors by introducing the second “Black Act”.

Some have been reminded of Jallianwala Bagh by the brute police violence that took place in Jamia Millia Islamia University, Aligarh Muslim University and JNU and several cities in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. After the introduction of Non-Cooperation movement in response to the Rowlatt act, there was a complete boycott and utter chaos. Where students and other protestors were fighting for their rights and the government did everything in their power to suppress it. Today many parts of India, notably New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, the North East, Karnataka and Kashmir, paint a similar picture. The first noncooperation movement had sown the seeds of Indian independence and had hollowed out the British control over India. The noncooperation movement 2.0 seems to be taking India towards yet another independence, this time freedom of spirit and mind.

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