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1947: the end of the Raj: thirty years of nonviolent protests led by Gandhi forced the British out of the Indian subcontinent, and gave birth to both India and Pakistan.

Mohandas K. Gandhi bent down, grabbed a handful Jof salty mud, and held it up in the air. "With this," he declared, "I am shaking the foundations of the British empire."

It was April 6, 1930, and Gandhi, the 61-year-old Indian nationalist leader, had just completed a 240-mile walk from his home in Ahmedabad to the town of Dandi, on the Arabian Sea. What became known as the Great Salt March had begun 24 days earlier, as Gandhi and 78 followers set out on foot to protest British rule of India.

When they reached their destination, Gandhi, now surrounded by throngs of onlookers, took his muddy mixture and boiled it to make salt--an illegal act, since the British government required taxes to be paid on all salt made or sold in India.


Gandhi's act of civil disobedience (and the many others he staged, all nonviolent) would eventually help convince the British to give up their prized colony, which was given its independence and partitioned into India and Pakistan in August 1947.

The beginning of British rule in India is usually dated to 1757, when an army assembled by the British East India Company--British investors who wanted to trade with India--defeated the governor of Bengal in a battle near Calcutta.

This private company, with its own troops and powers of taxation, soon became the dominant force on a subcontinent with 400 million people. (The company's highest officers became so rich that their money, some historians have argued, financed the Industrial Revolution in England.)

The East India Company was a brutal and often racist overseer whose indifference helped create and exacerbate famines in the 1770s and '80s.

But colonial rule also brought some benefits, especially after the East India Company was abolished and India became an official British colony in 1858. The British introduced the rail-road and the telegraph, and the English language, which gave educated Indians, who spoke many languages, a common means of communication. And the British legal tradition introduced Western notions of individual and social rights. In fact, the greatest leaders of Indian independence--Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru (India's first Prime Minister) and Mohammad Ali Jinnah (Pakistan's first Governor General)--were all trained as lawyers in London.


While there had been periodic rebellions against British rule, it was after World War I (1914-18) that the drive for self-rule gained traction. During the war, 1.3 million Indians served the British as soldiers or laborers, and the Raj (as the British administration in India was known) promised self-government after the war.

But in 1919, Britain adopted the Rowlatt Acts, giving the government emergency powers, including the right to imprison anyone deemed suspicious. It seemed to be a betrayal of promises of self-rule, and protests broke out.

This was the moment Gandhi emerged as a national figure. After 21 years in South Africa fighting prejudice against Indian workers there, he had returned to India in 1914 and founded a religious commune near Ahmedabad.

Gandhi was unlike any political leader India had ever seen. He looked like a simple Hindu holy man in his white loincloth and shawl of homespun cotton; he was a vegetarian and espoused nonviolence. But he was a powerful speaker whose quiet delivery before even the biggest crowds made people feel he was addressing them individually. It was Gandhi who transformed the drive for Indian independence into a mass movement.


In response to the Rowlatt Acts, he called for a day of protest in which businesses shut down throughout the country. The British arrested Gandhi and other protest leaders, causing more demonstrations. At one of them, on April 13, 1919, in Amritsar, British forces fired on the unarmed crowd, killing more than 400 people.

The massacre galvanized Indians, and the leader they rallied around was Gandhi. They began to call him Mahatma ("great soul" in Sanskrit).

Gandhi called for a campaign of "non-cooperation" with the British. Indian children were withdrawn from schools, Indians in public office resigned, and Indians boycotted the legal system. Sitting crowds made streets impassable, refusing to budge when beaten by police. (Blacks in the American South would later copy Gandhi's methods of nonviolent protest during the civil rights movement.)

In 1930, the National Congress (Gandhi's political party) declared its goal of independence from Britain. Gandhi called upon people to refuse to pay the taxes that funded the colonial administration--including the tax on the production and sale of salt, which led to the Great Salt March.

Again, Gandhi was arrested, but tens of thousands of Indians followed his example, making salt at the seaside and submitting to beatings and arrests. The mass demonstrations that followed were a public-relations nightmare for the British, who were forced to release Gandhi in 1931.


When World War II began, Gandhi and Nehru, his longtime political ally, decided not to support the war unless India was granted immediate independence. Britain refused, and Gandhi began a "Quit India" campaign. He was quickly arrested along with as many as 100,000 others, short-circuiting the protests.

Nonetheless, when the war ended in 1945, a financially depleted Britain had neither the resources nor the will to maintain its rule over India.

But what would take Britain's place? In addition to 240 million Hindus, India had 90 million Muslims who felt ignored by the Hindu-dominated Congress Party. Mohammad Ali Jinnab, who headed the Muslim League, threatened insurrection if Muslims were denied their own state, but Gandhi adamantly opposed partition.

The British established an interim government in 1946, with Nehru as Prime Minister, but throughout the year, events on the ground pushed Muslims and Hindus apart. They had lived together for centuries, but now, often egged on by their leaders, they began to riot and kill each other.

In 1947, Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy (the top official in India) pushed for immediate independence and partition. In July, the British Parliament approved the Indian Independence Act, and on Aug. 14 and 15, 1947, Pakistan, and then India, became independent nations.


Millions of Hindus immediately fled Pakistan for India, as millions of Muslims fled India for Pakistan (though many more stayed, and remain today). More than 10 million people became refugees, and a brutal cycle of killing and revenge-killing claimed as many as one million lives. On Jan. 30, 1948, the violence claimed Gandhi, who was shot to death by a Hindu fanatic upset at Gandhi's toleration of Muslims.

In the years since partition, Pakistan has become an impoverished Muslim state, dominated by its military and troubled by Islamic extremism. India became an officially secular state. In the 1990s, it began turning away from socialism and adopting free-market practices. Growth soared, and India is now becoming a major economic power, although poverty and religious violence remain problems.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two over Kashmir, which both claim. At one point, the two nations came close to a nuclear confrontation. But they are now trying to cooperate in helping the thousands of victims of the October earthquake in Kashmir, which caused major damage on both the Pakistani- and Indian-controlled sides.


Ceremonies at New Delhi and Karachi Mark Independence for 400,000,000 Persons


But He Warns of Trials Ahead--Death Toll in Communal Fighting Reaches 153


Special to The New York Times.

NEW DELHI, Friday, Aug,--India achieved her long-sought independence today through the transfer of British power to the two dominions into which that!and of 400,000,000 persons has been divided, India and Pakistan.

The New York Times, Page One, Aug. 15, 1947


In India--as with the American Colonies in the 18th century--Britain confronted subjects who were determined to be independent. "1947: The End of The Raj will help students understand the birth of independent India and Pakistan and the struggles that continue on the subcontinent today.


* The article speaks of benefits the British brought to India, including the railroad, the telegraph, and the English language. Why might Britain

have been eager to spread education and technology in India and its other colonies?

* (Railroads and the telegraph helped boost the country's economy. English allowed the British to communicate more easily with their subjects; today it is a global language.)


* Explore one of the key elements in Indias struggle for independence: Gandhi's strategy of nonviolent opposition.

* Explain to students that nonviolence was part of Gandhis personal belief system, not just a shrewd tactic.

* Discuss whether this strategy would have worked against other imperial powers.

* (Example: What if India had been ruled by Nazi Germany? Would Gandhis nonviolent strategy have been successful?)


* Why do you think the British held on to their Indian colony for so long, despite the widespread demand for independence?

* Why do you think the beatings of Indians became a "public relations nightmare"?


* Ask students to assume the role of a speech writer for Gandhi.

* Have them write a five-paragraph essay in which they argue why the British have no right to rule India.


* India's two official Languages are Hindi and English. But 14 others are also recognized by India's Constitution.

* (In addition, there are 1,652 dialects.)

WEB WATCH Provides a biography of Gandhi http://times of The Times of India News of events in the country.

1. British rule in India is traced to 1757,

a when Britain discovered the country.

b after British ships attacked ports around the country.

c when an army assembled by a British trading company defeated Indian forces.

d in response to Indian attacks on British shipping in the Arabian Sea.

2. The article alludes to benefits brought to India by Britain. Among these, were

a railroads.

b low-cost electricity.

c cheap wages.

d the honor of being part of the British Empire.

3. The British promised--but failed to grant--independence to India following

a the Crimean War

b WorLd War I.

c the Vietnam War.

d the Falklands War.

4. Mohandas Gandhi's strategy of nonviolent protest and civil, disobedience was later emulated by

a American Indians protesting the U.S. government's seizure of their lands.

b Japanese protesting their government's decision to engage in nuclear research.

c Filipinos protesting American occupation of their country.

d American blacks protesting for civil rights in the South.

5. On Jan. 30, 1748, Mohandas Gandhi was murdered by a fellow Hindu countryman in retaliation for his

a opposition to British rule.

b good relations with the United States.

c toleration of Muslims.

d animosity toward Pakistan.

6. Briefly explain the rote of Kashmir in wars between India and Pakistan


1. The article notes that Britain introduced the legal notions of individual and social rights to India, even while continuing its colonial rule. Why do you believe there is--or is not--inherent conflict in this situation?

2. Under what circumstances do you think it is permissible to participate in civil disobedience? Should those who engage in civil disobedience be prepared to suffer the consequences of their actions?

1. [c] when an army assembled by a British trading company defeated Indian forces.

2. [a] railroads.

3. [b] World War I.

4. [d] American blacks protesting for civil rights in the South.

5. [c] toleration of Muslims.

6. India and Pakistan both claim this territory. (Similar wording is acceptable.)

Peter Edidin is an editor for the Week in Review section of The New York Times.
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Author:Edidin, Peter
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 30, 2006
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