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The Independence Movement

The struggle for independence from England began almost as soon as India became a colony. In 1857, Indians serving in the British army rebelled against their superiors. Indians consider this the First War of Independence. But the British think of it as the Sepoy Mutiny. The immediate cause was the use of animal fat in army rifles, which was unacceptable to both Hindus and Muslims. But that conflict symbolized a larger resistance to foreign control over Indian affairs. The revolt failed, and India was placed under even firmer rule. Over time, many more steps were taken, bringing independence from England in 1947.



The Indian National Congress (INC) was started by A.O. Hume in 1885. Its original purpose was to bring all Indians closer together and find a way to work with England for the good of India. The members were upper middle class Indians who worked in law, journalism, or politics. They met to debate political questions and protect the basic rights of Indians. But when England began passing laws that took away civil rights, the INC became more critical of British rule. They saw that England was not going to respect the Indian people or keep its promises of gradual self-rule. From that time forward, the INC became the center of the independence movement.


In 1906, a group of Muslim leaders split from the Indian National Congress to promote their own interests. Muslims felt they were not represented well in the Hindu majority and wanted to maintain their identity. They also supported reforms specifically to help Muslims work in government with the British. The Muslim League eventually joined the Congress call in 1916 to demand greater self-government by all Indians.

SWADESHI and SATYAGRAHA: Philosophies of the Indian Independence Struggle

The spinning wheel became the symbol of the swadeshi movement
Copyright www.mahatma.com

Swadeshi was a call for only Indian products to be bought and sold in India. Gandhi encouraged small village businesses and asked the people to stop buying anything made with British machines or in British factories. Instead, everyone began make their own goods, including spinning their own cloth! The Indian people were urged to become self-reliant, using what could be found locally and gaining the skill to support themselves. By practicing Swadeshi, Indians weakened the British industry and learned how to be economically independent.

Satyagraha comes from the Hindi words for "truth" and "holding firmly". It became the foundation of the Indian independence movement. Gandhi planned a non-violent resistance strategy to unjust laws. Freedom fighters would knowingly and openly break unfair laws and accept any punishment given to them-- just so that they could draw attention to the injustice of the British rule and reveal the truth. Indians also held non-violent marches and protests. Soon, Gandhi expanded satyagraha to include peaceful protest or boycott that limited British operations so much that England had to give in to protect its own interests.
To learn more about satyagraha in Gandhi's own words, click here.

  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak sparked the independence movement when he declared "Self-rule is my birthright, and I shall have it!" He published many newspapers and founded schools, doing all he could to raise awareness about the right to freedom.
  • Mohandas Gandhi guided the people of India to self-rule through his plan of non-cooperation and civil disobedience. Even though he was jailed many times, he always reached out to the people and moved them to act.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru led the INC in the years just before independence. He worked closely with Gandhi and other leaders, organizing a democratic government and building a network of leaders to support India in the future. Nehru became India's first prime minister in 1947.
  • Netaji Subhash Bose was an Indian military leader who fought for Indian independence. He called for a march to Delhi in 1943 and organized the army against English rule.
  • Sardar Patel was a close friend of Mohandas Gandhi and organized many of the demonstrations against British rule. He became Home Minister and Minister of States after independence and used strong leadership to consolidate the Indian states. Known as a good mediator and politician, Patel was also a firm supporter of religious freedom.


  • Mohandas Gandhi returns to India in 1915 after living in South Africa and working for the rights of Indians there. He starts the swadeshi movement to encourage Indians to make their own cloth and use their own goods instead of British imports. Gandhi also plants the seeds of satyagraha, a non-violent, strategical means of resisting British rule.

  • In 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru is elected president of the Indian National Congress and calls for full independence. Gandhi renews his call for civil disobedience.

  • 1930: Gandhi leads a non-violent march against the English salt tax, bringing thousands of Indians to the sea to "illegally" gather their own salt.

  • By 1935, England is forced to pass the Government of India Act. This act allows for elected government at the local level but maintains British control over national and foreign policy.

  • During the early 1940s, Congress leads several revolts against the British and promotes non-cooperation with British goals. There is increased suspicion of British promises of a gradual transition to self-rule. Many leaders are jailed.

  • 1942 begins the Quit India movement--a demand for immediate and complete independence at any cost along with a committment to non-cooperation and boycott of all things British. Many INC leaders were arrested for this view. Left weak after the end of World War II and unable to spend the needed money on maintaining India, England began a plan to transfer power to the Indians in 1944.

  • India becomes a fully independent nation on August 15, 1947

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The creator of this site would like to thank:
www.freeindia.org for information about India's leaders during the independence struggle.