In numbers: Remembering Quit India Movement

“In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today.”

This was Gandhi’s vision when he launched the Quit India movement in August 1942. It was the time of World War II; Germany was advancing towards the USSR in the west; on the opposite side, Japan was advancing towards India. The country was also in ferment at this time. On the one hand, there was anger at having been co-opted into the war without consultations with the leaders. To assuage that, Britain had sent a delegation under Sir Stafford Cripps in March 1942 to negotiate support for the war effort but this failed because the mission did not offer a timeline of self-government and which powers would be given to the Indians. Gandhi is reported to have said that the offers made were like “a post dated cheque on a crashing bank”. On the other hand, leaders like Subash Chandra Bose were urging Indians to support the Japanese forces and fight the British.

It was at this time that the Indian National Congress decided to launch a call for complete independence. When the British government did not respond, the Congress Working Committee that met at Wardha in July 1942 adopted the Quit India resolution, which was adopted with a little modification by the All India Congress Committee on August 8. It was decided to start a country-wide struggle for independence but the emphasis was on non-violence. It was at this conference that Gandhi issued his famous call to ‘Do or Die’. However, the British administration reacted swiftly and arrested Gandhi and all members of the Congress Working Committee. On August 9, a crowd gathered at Gowalia Tank Maidan and Aruna Asaf Ali hoisted the Indian flag. The Government issued an order banning public processions, meetings and assemblies.

Once the arrests became known, people began to rise against the British in a civil rebellion that saw the administration collapse in many parts. Though Gandhi had called for a non-violent struggle, crowds destroyed railway and telegraph lines, looted banks and treasuries, and set police stations and other government buildings on fire. Strikes began to affect industrial output and bomb blasts became a common occurrence.

The British retaliated by opening fire on crowds, public floggings and lathi charges. It also banned processions, meetings and assemblies. American journalist Webb Miller reported on the Dharasana march that he witnessed. Though this was a peaceful resistance led by Sarojini Naidu, Miller wrote: “Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. From where I stood I heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on unprotected skulls… In two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies.”

The Government issued an order banning public processions, meetings and assemblies. Those leaders who had not been arrested went into hiding and used the underground radio and pamphlets to continue the struggle.

By 1944, large parts of the country were peaceful. Gandhi was released because of his health but other Congress leaders were still detained. During this time, Gandhi lost both his wife Kasturba and his private secretary Mahadev Desai.

Though the movement was suppressed, the British were shocked at how widespread it was. Their belief that the Congress did not have mass support was shattered. Despite the fact that the leaders were all kept under arrest, the Congress stayed united. The movement also showed the British that their hold on India was weakening and that they began to explore options to quit the country.

Our code of editorial values

Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 11:38:47 PM |

Next Story