Wednesday 3 August 2011

Women Warriors of India’s Freedom - IV

The beginning of the 20th century witnessed agrarian unrest fuelled by inflationary trends, rising prices, famine and plague, oppression of peasantry, exploitation of rural resources by the government, increase in land revenue and water rates in the canal irrigated areas, and the Land Alienation Act (1900) Amendment Bill (1907) which restricted agriculturalists to sell land without government permission. S. Denzil Ibbetson, Lt. Governor of Punjab, saw in these developments, the forebodings of another revolt. The establishment of an organisation, named Bharat Mata Sabha (Lahore,1907) by S. Ajit Singh(1881-1947) and his elder brother S. Kishan Singh, Sufi Amba Prasad (1858-1919), Mehta Anand Kishore, Lala Pindi Das and others, clearly shows that the ‘Mother’ principle was invoked to unite nationalists against the British Raj.
When Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928 ) and S. Ajit Singh were deported to Mandalay (June 2,1907), women showed resentment by registering protests till their release after about six months.
The war years witnessed a number of developments which had a direct bearing on the Indian national movement. More than 300% increase in defense expenditure, price rise, unemployment, heavy taxes etc., added to the woes of people.
The Home Rule league movements of Annie Besant (September 25,1915) and Bal Gangadhar Tilak(April 28,1916), Lucknow Pact(1916) which brought about a rapprochement between Congress and Muslim League, Lord Montague’s declaration (1917) that responsible  government would gradually dawn in India, Russian Revolution (1917) which ousted the Czarist regime and the Fourteen Points of Woodrow Wilson (January 8, 1918) which included the right to self determination for subject countries, seemed to augur well for the future.
However, the inadequacy of Montague Chelmsford Reforms led to a wave of indignation which compelled the government to pass the Rowlatt Bills in the teeth of opposition from Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress.
The anti-Rowlatt Act agitation in Punjab was spurred by Mahatma Gandhi’s call for Satyagraha. It was marked by hartals, demonstrations and violent incidents , culminating in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar on April 13,1919. General Dyer with his troops had fired indiscriminately on men, women and children assembled in the Bagh, leaving 379 persons dead and 1200 wounded, according to an official estimate. Subsequent to this ghastly episode, Martial Law was imposed in Punjab, and public flogging , or harassment or molestation of women became common in Lahore, Gujranwala, Kasur and other places. This clearly revealed Great Britain’s intention to rule India ‘not only by force but by bloodshed.’
Sarla Devi (1872-1945), Sarojini Naidu  and other enlightened women publicly condemned this ghastly act.
The emergence of Mahatma Gandhi on the political scene increased the level and extent of women participation, and brought them on the national scene. He  was convinced that women symbolised power (shakti) but had become oblivious of it, and allowed themselves to be exploited by men. He castigated men for ill-treating women, for depriving them of initiative, and of feeling of self respect. “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none to me, is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity, the female sex, not the weaker sex’, he wrote.
Women were nobler than men ‘and even today the embodiment of sacrifice, silent suffering, humility, faith and knowledge.’  He regarded Sita, wife of the legendary king, Sri Ramachandra of Ayodhya as the ideal role- model for women. He goaded women from affluent families to work for the amelioration of the poor, rural and low caste women.
Mahatma Gandhi considered women the incarnation of Ahimsa. To him Ahimsa meant infinite capacity for suffering. ‘Who but women, the mother of men, show this capacity in the largest measure?’ he argued. Carrying the argument further, he observed that women could become ‘the leader in Satyagraha which does not require the learning that books give but does require the stout heart that comes from suffering and faith.’
 Mahatma Gandhi  felt that women were stronger than men, in the finer sense of the term . ‘If by strength is meant brute strength, then indeed woman is less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior.’
He argued that moral persuasion rather than force, was akin to the innate nature of women, and that India could spin her way to Swaraj with their active support.
(to be continued)
Article by : Satish K. Kapoor
Source: Bhavan's Journal 30 April 2011
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