Revisiting Indian Independence Movement

The Indian Independence Movement was not merely a movement against foreign occupation but also a mass people’s movement to break the chains of oppression. Men and women in their thousands, from Sindh to Kalinga and Kashmir to Kanyakumari, contributed their mite to the freedom struggle. They came from all walks of life - famers, factory workers, journalists, artists, students, educationists, religious saints, Dalits, tribal et al, but their achievements and contribution have unfortunately been ignored in our academic discourse. As Indian democracy owes its vibrancy and diversity to this mass participation in the independence movement, it is essential to acknowledge the role played by many of the unsung heroes of the Independence movement and record the same for posterity. It was in this context that India Foundation, in collaboration with National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language, organised a national seminar on Indian Independence Movement on March 18, 2017, at Indian Institute of Public Administration. The seminar focused on the contributions made by writers, journalists, revolutionaries, spiritual and religious leaders and those from the underprivileged and deprived sections of society.

The Inaugural session was chaired by Prof. Prakash Singh, Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi. Captain Alok Bansal delivered the opening address and made the case that we in India need to write our own history instead of borrowing it from others. He mentioned several forgotten heroes from Hemu Kalani to Raja Mahendra Pratap and said it is our responsibility to document the works of these leaders for posterity. The reasons why the Britishers left India also need to be revisited and researched properly.

Dr. Ravi Tekchandani, Director, National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language, in his inaugural remarks said that not only the unsung heroes but the geographies too need to be remembered. He spoke about the Akhand Bharat, and the need to understand the idea and thought behind it. He also urged scholars to look into the politics of language.

The first session titled India’s Pen Warriors was chaired by Dr Kashinath Pandita, Author & Professor. The speakers for the session were Dr Ravikant Mishra, Deputy Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and Shivaji Sarkar, Associate Professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. Dr. Kashinath Pandita spoke about the need to learn from our mistakes. He stated how history can be manipulated by quoting Nehru’s example. He then used his background and experience from Kashmir to describe the way history can be expressed in a lopsided way. He put the onus on the writers to write responsibly. Dr Ravikant Mishra talked about how the language and literature controversy in North India started and panned out, and specifically the literature of Iqbal. The aim of the discourse is to rediscover the Indian past, understand the colonial context in which they were living and to reshape the future. Important nationalist poets and writers such as Jaishankar Prasad and Suryakanth Tripathi Nirala have written plays and narratives in the historical context. He very eloquently spoke about Iqbal,  author of “Saare Jahaan Se Achcha”, a patriot and nationalist to celebrate the composite culture of India and how he transformed over time, due to the influence of European history. Shivaji Sarkar spoke about the contribution of the journalists and reporters in the Indian freedom movement and made the point that some politicians also became journalists and contributed to the cause of journalism and nation building. He further made the point that journalism should be used to reduce corruption and promote thinking among masses.

Session on Voices from the Margins was chaired by Dr Meenakshi Jain, Member, Indian Council for Historical Research. The speakers for this session were Prof. Badri Narayan, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Dr Nani Gopal Mahanta, Gauhati University and Dr Yuthika Mishra, University of Delhi. Dr. Meenakshi Jain spoke about the origins of the freedom project of ICHR and opined that even though the beginnings of writing on the freedom movement were impartial, it was soon captured by the left, hardly even giving credit to the Congress for the freedom movement. Prof. Badri Narayan focused on the Dalits and their participation in the freedom movement. He spoke of two main narratives with respect to the participation of Dalits in the freedom movement. The first narrative denies the participation of Dalits in the freedom movement because of their relative poverty. The second narrative states that Dalits liked the British rule as it gave them freedom from the traditional caste-based social setup. Both these narratives are questionable and do stand up to scrutiny. Prof Narayan elaborated on the role played by Dalits in the freedom movement, to include personalities such as Gangu Baba, a Dalit freedom fighter and wrestler who was hanged by the British in Kanpur. Dr Nani Gopal Mahanta talked about Assam and its role in freedom struggle. He classified the participation of Assamese people in the freedom struggle into six stages. These he called Ahom’s resistance against British, revolt of 1857 and Ahom participation, agrarian revolts from 1860 to 1900s, growth of national consciousness between 1852-1920 and the role of middle-class intelligentsia and their influence; imposition of Bengali in Assam, Gandhian phase and the resistance against both Congress and British. Prof. Yuthika Mishra spoke of the role of women in India’s freedom movement, mentioning women freedom fighters like Rani Lakshmi Bhai of Jhansi, social reformers like Savitribai Phule and famous women in power like Rani Parvathibhai of Travancore.

Session III was on the Contribution of revolutionaries in the freedom struggle and was chaired by Shri Shakti Sinha, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. The speakers were Sanjeev Sanyal, Author and Principal Economic Advisor, Government of India and Vikram Sampath, Author and Historian. Sanjeev Sanyal talked about the contribution of revolutionaries in the freedom struggle and the importance of acknowledging it. He said that Indian Naval Mutiny was the point where the British understood that India cannot be ruled anymore. Vikram Sampath talked about Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and his contribution to the Independence Movement. He said that Savarkar was a revolutionary, influenced by Italian revolutionary politician Mazzini and his ideas. He said that Savarkar used history and historical arguments as a way to influence and make his points.

Session IV was on Contribution of Spiritual and Religious Leaders and was chaired by Prof. Prakash Singh, University of Delhi. The speakers were Prof. R.P.Mishra Director, Gandhi Vidya Sansthan Varanasi, Hindol Sengupta, Author and Dr. Bhuwan Kumar Jha, University of Delhi. Hindol Sengupta talked about the idea of Mother through the lens of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Swami Vivekananda and Rishi Aurobindo. Dr. Bhuwan Kumar Jha talked about how heroes like Madan Mohan Malviya and K.N. Munshi wrote and talked about Hindus and Hindu nationalism. He finished his talk by concluding that we need to reposition ourselves in a way where catering to Hindu interest is not seen as in conflict with national interest.

In the Valedictory session Shri Ram Madhav, Director India Foundation and National General Secretary, Bhartiya Janta Party spoke of the need to revisit history, to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. He opined that the Indian independence movement had different shades and we should be open to all of them. In his concluding remarks, Shri Ram Madhav made the pertinent point that while we cannot undo any history, we can learn valuable lessons from the same. This quest must be all encompassing to include those lessons which we may find unpalatable, so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. He concluded with the remarks that interpretation of History has no end, there can be multiple interpretations, all of which must be analysed with openness.

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