WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8596

Date uploaded in London – – – 30 August 2020   

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Chapter -12 Part 1


R. Nanjappa

Satyagraha Before Gandhiji

Mahatma Gandhi is just a vague name to most Indians today.
According to 2011 census, 52% of the population is less than 25 years of age. Fully 78% is less than 45. Gandhiji having died 70 years ago, there is very little that most Indians know of Gandhiji. No doubt politicians and newspapers take Gandhi’s name when convenient; his picture is on our currency notes. But these hardly stand for what Gandhiji said or did. And very few read what Gandhiji himself wrote. The memory of real Gandhi was effectively buried in the Nehru era. Nehru did not follow a single idea of Gandhiji, despite his cap.

Those who have learnt a bit of our freedom struggle through the government controlled education system would associate our Independence with Gandhiji.  This is not fully correct, and represents great injustice to other leaders, about whose life and work very little is said. This also represents an exaggerated assessment of Gandhiji’s role and its effectiveness. However, there is no denying that Gandhiji played a very important part.


Gandhiji’s name is essentially associated with Satyagraha, Non-Cooperation , Civil Disobedience or Passive Resistance. These were his chief direct instruments in the struggle. He also worked on an 18 point Constructive Programme which included Khadi, revival of village industries, prohibition, etc. It is remarkable that even while opposing the British, Gandhiji engaged the people in constructive activities. He directed their energies positively towards national reconstruction. In this way, he taught Indians how to recover and exercise their true Independence or Swaraj.  After Independence, some of the items have become redundant, while some others have been neglected/discarded by the govt and the public. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, chosen by Gandhiji himself, did not implement even a single programme of Gandhiji. What has finally stuck to Gandhiji is his association with Non-Cooperation or Satyagraha, and Ahimsa.

There are mainly two views about these techniques. One is that they were invented by Gandhiji. The other is that he borrowed them from Thoreau, Ruskin, Tolstoy etc. Both these views are wrong.

Sri Aurobindo in 1907

Passive Resistance and Boycott were the means devised by Sri Aurobindo during the struggle against Bengal partition of 1905, before Gandhiji came to Indian politics. These were so successful in rousing the Bengalees that the British got afraid of the revolutionary Bengali spirit, and eventually shifted the capital out of Calcutta! Bengali Nationalists were eminently successful in their efforts. The British would not take a Bengali in the Armed Forces for fear of their revolutionary spirit!

Civil Disobedience in Indian Tradition

Gandhiji himself was aware that non-cooperation with the rulers had been a standard Indian traditional method of protest. He wrote in his 1909 book ‘Hind Swaraj”:

In India the nation at large has generally used passive resistance in all departments of life. We cease to cooperate with our rulers when they displease us.

It is amazing that Gandhiji had been aware of an ancient Indian tradition. We have some accounts in Puranas of kings having been replaced, but these may be dismissed as mythology. Unfortunately, Indians write even history in mythological terms. The Mahabarata contains an explicit statement:

The people should gird themselves up and kill a cruel king who does not protect his subjects, who extracts taxes and simply robs them of their wealth, who gives no lead. Such a king is Kali (evil and strife) incarnate. The king who after declaring, ‘I shall protect you’, does not protect his subjects should be killed (by the people) after forming a confederacy, like a dog that is afflicted with madness. (Shanti Parva, 92.19)

Indians are generally considered to be meek and docile. But they could show dissent and protest when needed. Curiously, James Mill, Scottish historian and economist, seems to have been aware of this. Giving evidence before a House of Commons Committee (1831-32), he said that in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, “in  the ordinary state of things in India, the princes stood in awe of their subjects”. 
Thus, public expression of dissent and displeasure against the rulers seems to have been a tradition in India. Gandhiji was aware of this.


Dharampal has been able to dig into the archives and unearth such a show of public dissent and civil disobedience and non-cooperation in the British era. This was in 1811 in certain parts of North India. This was in connection with a tax imposed on houses and shops by the British in terms of a new law.

[Regulation XV of 1810.]

The government in London had started taking direct interest in Indian affairs from 1784, (in order to maximise their gain), using the company as its instrument in India to serve its ends. Thus it directed the company in terms of this regulation to levy a tax on houses and shops in several cities and principal towns of Bengal, Behar, Orissa and Benares. [There had been a tax already in Calcutta.]  The purpose was to secure an ‘improvement in public resources’. The collectors were to get 5% commission on the tax collections. The assessments and collections were to commence in 1811.
Spontaneous protests erupted in Benares, Sarun, Bhagalpur, Patna, Moorshedabad. 

The protests took the form of:

-closing of all shops and activities, so that even dead bodies were not attended
-continuous assembly of people in the thousands
-close links made by artisans and craftsmen and their guilds and associations
-a total close down of boatmen in Benares

– people assembling taking an oath “never to disperse” till they achieved their aim
-despatching emissaries to all villages, asking each family to send one person to the assembly
– individuals of every class contributing their mite
-religious orders exerting their influence
– display of protesting posters

– inability of the police to prevent the assemblage of people
-walking out of homes and shops, leaving villages
-violators were turned out of caste- declared ‘outcastes’.

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