Broadly literature means the entire body of writings dealing with a particular area of subject. Literature has played immense role in the struggle for independence of India as it existed as one of the important sources of mass communication medium to bring awareness and arouse nationalistic consciousness among the masses. There are many reputed individuals who contributed their writings in different styles to express their feelings of anguish and concern for the condition the people of the country going through under the ruthless colonial rule of Britishers. The different genres of writing which immensely impacted the emotional framework included poems, essays, articles, stories in newspapers, Books, novels, etc.
To understand the contribution of the literature in independence we need to contextualise a little the modern history of India including the British imperial expansion, the start of freedom struggle and the coming of press in India. The Britishers expanded their presence in India out of the imperialistic intent. The imperialistic expansion of the territories by British East India Company started with the battles of Plassey (1757) ,Buxar (1764), Mysore (1768-1799), Maratha (1775-1819), Panjab (1845-46’1848-1849), Sind (1843) and Awadh (1856). These battles established the rule of Britishers in most of the Bharat in the 19th century. The struggle of freedom started from the First Freedom Struggle which started from 1857’s military revolt of the Indian soldiers of the British Army. After this first incident of struggle for freedom there were many uprisings in India which created the momentum of the unrest in the society. These included Neel Revolt (1859-60;Bengal), Pawana revolt (1873-76; Bengal), Daccan revolt (1875;Maharashtra), Aika revolt (Awadh), Vardolli revolt (1928;Surat) etc. In this time of severe dissatisfaction due to the presence of the outsiders at power positions of rule, people got exasperated and gave outlet to their distressed emotions from the literary works of different forms.
First printing press came in India at Goa in 1576 by Portuguese. In 1686, East India Company established its first press in Bombay. The first newspaper was published by this press in 1780 and it was The Bengal Gazette. After the publishing of the first newspaper, many educated youth of India who were already harbouring the patriotic emotions to free their motherland from the shackles of Britishers started publishing. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the first Indian freedom fighter who was jailed in 1891 and 1908 for criticism of Britishers in Kesari, his Marathi newspaper.
The nationalist literature was not restricted in any one language. The use of the local language connected common people to take part in India’s freedom struggle. The British could see the impact of the literature in local language which was adverse to their gains so they came up with a Vernacular Press Act (1878) in time of the Lord Lytton. The same act was abolished by Lord Ripon in 1881. The famous social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy is credited with establishing of national press as he was the first Indian to publish newspaper. In 1882 he published “Sambad Kaumudi” in Indian language –Bengali.
There are many literary people who contributed their work that aimed to make people aware and unite with a common emotion of patriotism. Their writing styles may be different but the aim was one. These people not only wrote with the focus on freedom from Britishers but also wrote on freedom from the social evils of that time. These literary stalwart are enlisted below with the mention of their literary work. The list is not exhaustive but is indicative of the works which had influence in the period of freedom struggle.
Anandamath written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay which got published in 1882 is fiction based novel. The author set in the background the sannyasi rebellion while surfacing the struggle of the protagonists Mahendra and Kalyani. This rebellion of saints took in the late 18th century against the Britishers. The song Vande Mataram written in 1876 was published in this novel which later became the clarion call to rise and fight for the justice and freedom. Bankim Chandra’s another novel which has left indelible mark on the literature in the realm of freedom struggle is Devi Chaudharani (1884). This novel is centred on the core values of Indian society. The protagonist of the novel is female character Prafulla. The story of Prafulla acted as inspiration to many women to give expression and come forward to actively join the independence struggle. The impact of the novel can be realised by the fact that it was banned by the British.
Bharatendu Harishchandra is the father of modern Hindi literature. He is known as the one who sowed the seeds of hindi nationalism and hindi theatre. He was poet, playwright and writer. His contributions like Vaidika Himsa Himsa Na Bhavati, Satya Harishchandra, Bharat Durdasha, Nilasdevi and Andher Nagari Chaupat Raja not only depicts freedom struggle of the time but also created awareness for seeking freedom from the social vices.
Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak published two newspapers namely Mahratta and Kesari in 1881. These newspapers became the mouthpiece of then freedom struggle of India.
Rabinder Nath Tagore, the recipient of Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 has so many creative labels attached that he seems to be a subject in himself. He is credited with creating two national anthems, India’s Jan Gan Mana ; and Bangladesh’s Amar Shonar Bangla . Tagore has produced 12 novels. Gora (1909) is the 5th in the line. The novel is based on the love story of two couples which is set in the background of philosophical debate on politics and religion covering varied other sub-theme including liberation, nationalism and others. Ghare Baire (1916) is another novel of. The characters in the novel represent inner conflict going on inside youth of that time in deciding on the path of freedom struggle by taking either the side of opposing violence or siding with any means to reach goal. Such novel undoubtedly must have attracted young blood of India to settle down their inner conflict set in by the different ideologies prevailing at that time. Char Adhyay (1934), the last novel of Tagore also narrates well the political environment of the time and the revolutionary events post non-cooperation movement.
Anushilan was a revolutionary organisation founded by Barindra Kumar Ghosh, Abhinash Bhattacharya and Bhupendranath Dutt in 1906. In the freedom movement of India, Bengal played a prominent as it the place which ushered not only the imperialistic adventures of Britishers but also the revolts by those who felt subjugated and suffocated. The fouonders launched newspapers and magazines like Jugantar, Sandhya, Vandematram and Bhawani Mandir.
The 1857 revolt was first mentioned as First War of Independence by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his book The Indian War of Independence (1909). The book’s time of publishing is relevant too as it was published in response to the 50th anniversary of the revolt and was published from London, the land of Britishers. The book has contribution in bringing Indian Movement to the western world and was also inspirational to many back home.
Besides the above the literary works of the revolutionaries working from the London house of the India Home Rule society created a significant literature which was required to add focussed energy to the freedom movement of India. On the lines of London House, G.D Kumar established Swadesh Sevak House in Vancouver, Canada. To give voice to the freedom struggle, a newspaper named Swadesh Sevak was started.
In 1906 Ram Nath Puri migrated to America in a situation when he became eye sore to the Britishers due to his anti-colonial pamphlets and political cartoons. In America he founded Hindustan Association. There he became editor of Circular-i-Azadi, a publication critical of the British Raj.
To overthrow the British rule, the Indian diaspora in USA started Ghadar Movement in 1913. This was later spread to the India and the Indian diaspora around the world. The revolutionaries of this movement started newspaper Hindustan Ghadar from San Francisco, California.
Pathar Dabi Bipradas (1926) by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya is a novel. Sabyasachi and Apurba are the protagonist of the novel. The story around them depicts both the focused efforts for freedom by a strong character and another by a sensitive and weak character symbolising the various types of personalities engaged in their own way in struggle for independence. The storyline depicts many things relevant of the societal framework too that needed overhauling.
Bhagwati charan Vohra was associated with Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. He contributed an article co-writen with others – The Philosphy of Bomb. In this the writers expressed their severe anguish on the British rule. In this write up they mentioned “Deliberate misrule has reduced us to paupers, has bled us whilte. As a race and a people, we stand dishonoured and outrages. Do people still expect us to forget and to forgive?” . Bhagwati Charan Vohra was closely associated with chander Shekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh
Divyachakshu by Ramanlal Vasantlal Desai is a Gujarati novel which published in 1932. This novel in based on a plot in the backdrop of freedom struggle along side love triangle.
Ramesh Chander Dutt (R.C. Dutt) was one among the earlier Indian civil servant. He is also known as economic historian. He along with freedom fighter Dada bhai Naraoji and Dinahaw wacha put forward “Drain Theory” to explain British exploitation. . He propounded the theory of de-industrialization of India under the British rule remains forceful argument against narrative of Britishers’ benevolence. His literary works are the Economic History of India, History of Civilization in Ancient,Samaj, etc.
M.K. Gandhi has many literary works to his credit. Among the many his two books namely Hind Swaraj or India Home Rule (1938) and From Yervada Mandir (1932) needs specific mention as these were relevantly produced to address the issues of freedom movement. In 1919 and 1933, he started publication of newspapers namely Young India and Harijan respectively.
K. S. Venkataramani was both lawyer and writer from south India. His work Kandan the Patriot (1932) gives inspiration and motivations needed to focus energy for one cause i.e. freedom. Kandan is dedicated to “the unknown volunteers in India’s fight for freedom,” the patriots of local life.
An Indian Pilgrim is a work entirely devoted to the expression of the unrest and the struggle that kept moving the life of Subash Chader Bose and it was penned down by him in 1937
Untouchable (1935) by Mulk Raj Anand is novel which speaks about the social taboos of the time which needed freedom too from the social fabric of the society at large. Across the Black Waters (1939) , his another novel depicts the dilemma of many who had been on the battle ground on behalf of British army in world war. The story plot is in the backdrop of the India’s freedom struggle. The agony of the soldiers who had nothing to do with war and were from humble background is one of the ignored sides of oppression by the British government. Such write up draws clarity to the many misgivings of the colonizers. His work The Sword and the Sickle (1942) speaks about the political and social structure and gives clarity needed to understand the transforming India nearing to the time of independence.
Kanthapura (1938) is a novel by Raja Rao which through its storyline depicts on how Gandian approach of non-violence worked with the characters of the story in a village named Kanthapura in south India.
Tomorrow is Ours- A Novel of the India of Today (1943) by K.A Abaas is motivational, giving hope and affirmation to anyone aspirant of seeking better future after struggle for freedom.
The relevance of literature can thus be realised in keeping the freedom momentum alive through these mentioned literary contributions.