How did Indian activists bring about Indian Independence? - History Bombs
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How did Indian activists bring about Indian Independence?

India declared its independence from British rule on August 15, 1947, after nearly 200 years. This was the culmination of a long and hard-fought nationalist movement, led by figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The movement had the aim of Indian Independence, ending British rule in India – known as the British Raj.

The Indian independence movement employed a variety of methods to achieve its goals, including non-violent protest, civil disobedience, and boycotts. Read on to learn about the different methods of protest and non-cooperation employed to eventually overthrow the British Raj!

Gandhi Salt March - A black and white photo of a group of people - PICRYL -  Public Domain Media Search Engine Public Domain Search
Gandhi during the Salt March, 1930 (Wikimedia Commons)

Civil disobedience 

Gandhi’s philosophy of civil disobedience was underpinned by Satyagraha – a word created by joining the Sanskrit word for ‘truth’ and ‘obstinacy’. Satyagraha was used to describe non-violent resistance to injustice. Gandhi believed that violence inhibits the search for truth.

This did not mean that Gandhi promoted passive resistance, however. Instead, he promoted non-violent active non-cooperation – such as removing children from government-run schools. The aim of this non-violent non-cooperation was to make the Raj ungovernable. Gandhi predicted that this would cause the Raj to end. Gandhi believed that Purna Swaraj – complete self-governance – would quickly follow. 

Some examples of non-cooperation include: boycott of elections, withholding of taxes, refusal to buy imported goods, boycott of law courts, and resignation of all government posts. 

Gandhi and Nehru in 1946 - PICRYL - Public Domain Media Search Engine  Public Domain Search
Nehru and Gandhi during a meeting of the All India Congress, 1946 (Acme Newspictures)

Back to Basics 

This period of civil disobedience failed to bring about Purna Swaraj, and in many cases led to outbreaks of violence. Gandhi was arrested and spent time in prison. 

After his release, he began a new campaign, known as ‘Back to Basics’. This campaign placed emphasis on promoting traditional Indian practices and values in order to promote self-sufficiency from the Raj. He set up the All-Indian Spinners’ Association to spread the word of hand spinning. The All-India Congress Committee also embarked upon literacy campaigns and sought to improve village sanitation. 

The Salt Satyagraha

In India, the production of salt was controlled by the Raj. This was an emotive issue, as salt was an essential commodity. To oppose the tax on salt, Gandhi organised what he called the Salt Satyagraha. He walked 240 miles from Ahmedabad to Dandi with 78 chosen supporters, including people from the lowest castes in society. The march attracted 75,000 followers, including reporters, who faithfully reported his message of non-violence. 

At the coast in Dandi, Gandhi picked up a handful of tax-free salt, and urged others to do the same. As a result of this, hundreds were arrested, including a mass arrest of Congress leaders, including Gandhi and Nehru. These arrests triggered strikes and protests across the country. 

After Gandhi’s arrest, Congress authorised provincial committees to organise their own Satyagrahas. They recommended a focus on salt, boycott of foreign cloth, non-payment of taxes, and non-cooperation with authorities. This had a nationwide impact which the Raj could not ignore.


Not everyone was on board with Congress’s policy of non-violence. Subhas Chandra Bose, for example, left Congress in 1939 and formed the Forward Bloc Party, a terror organisation aimed at urging the British to quit India. 

Bose went into exile and travelled to Japan, where he set up the Indian National Army, a militant organisation made up of Indian prisoners of war in Japan. He planned a full-scale invasion of India. 

Subhas Chandra Bose NRB - PICRYL - Public Domain Media Search Engine Public  Domain Search
Subhas Chandra Bose (Wikimedia Commons)

The Muslim League 

While Gandhi claimed to be able to represent all of India – including other religions than his own – many Muslims felt underrepresented in government. Muslims felt that they were living in a Hindu-Raj, and so set up the All India Muslim League to avoid Hindu domination in governance. 

Muhammad Ali Jinnah served as the leader of the Muslim League from 1913 until the inception of Pakistan in 1947. He advocated for separate electorates, the protection of minorities and Muslim values, and, of course, the removal of British control in India. 

While partition was devastating in India and Pakistan due to the British government’s complete mistreatment of the situation, Jinnah’s activism for the Muslim minorities in India ensured that Congress did not sideline Muslim representation in Indian government and the dismantling of the Raj.

Nehru and Mountbatten Declare Indian Independence in Const… | Flickr
Nehru and Mountbatten Declare Indian Independence in Constituent Assembly, Delhi 15 August 1947

The Quit India movement 

The Quit India movement was the last campaign of civil disobedience launched by Congress, in 1942. The campaign called for immediate Purna Swaraj after the end of the Second World War, rather than the previously discussed ‘Dominion status’. This would grant India complete independence from Britain and removal from the empire. 

Some members of Congress were more willing to use violent methods during this movement, which greatly influenced India’s fate after the war. The speedy creation of an exit strategy in the two years between the end of the war and the granting of independence is attributable to the fear of a violent end to Raj created by the Quit India movement.

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There you have a quick fire overview of the different techniques of resistance employed by activists in India against the British Raj! The Indian Independence movement was a long and complex struggle, and the methods used by activists varied over time as British rule became more repressive.

Indian Independence Day is celebrated on August 15th every year, with patriotic events taking place all over the country.

To find out more about how British rule came to an end across the globe, check out our British Empire series, or watch our History of the British Empire (In One Take) video!

Happy Independence Day!

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