Role of Tamil Nadu in Freedom Struggle

29 Oct 2019

Role of Tamil Nadu in Freedom Struggle

Freedom Struggle in Tamil Nadu PDF:

Anti-colonial struggles in Tamil Nadu, Militant mass movement of the Congress in Tamil Nadu and Role of Tamil Nadu in Freedom Struggle given below:

1.1 Early Nationalist Stirrings in Tamil Nadu:

By the middle of the nineteenth century, a group of educated middle class emerged in Madras and began to show interest in public affairs. As in other parts of India, they formed political associations, such as the Madras Native Association and the Madras Mahajana Sabha to articulate their grievances.

(a). Madras Native Association:

The Madras Native Association (MNA) was the earliest organisation to be founded in south India to articulate the larger public rather than sectarian interests. It was started by Gazulu Lakshminarasu, Srinivasanar and their associates in 1852. It consisted primarily of merchants. The objective was to promote the interests of its members and their focus was on reduction in taxation. It also protested against the support of the government to Christian missionary activities. It drew the attention of the government to the condition and needs of the people. One of the important contributions of the MNA was its agitation against the torture of the peasants by revenue officials. These efforts led to the establishment of the Torture Commission and the eventual abolition of the Torture Act, which justified the collection of land revenue through torture. However, by 1862, the Madras Native Association had ceased to exist.

(b). Beginnings of the Nationalist Press: The Hindu and Swadesamitran

The appointment of T. Muthuswami as the first Indian Judge of the Madras High court in 1877 created a furor in Madras Presidency. The entire press in Madras criticized the appointment of an Indian as a judge. The press opposed his appointment and the educated youth realized that the press was entirely owned by Europeans. The need for a newspaper to express the Indian perspective was keenly felt. G. Subramaniam, M. Veeraraghavachari and four other friends together started a newspaper The Hindu in 1878. It soon became the vehicle of nationalist propaganda. G. Subramaniam also started a Tamil nationalist periodical Swadesamitran in 1891 which became a daily in 1899. The founding of The Hindu and Swadesamitran provided encouragement to the starting of other native newspapers such as Indian Patriot, South Indian Mail, Madras Standard, Desabhimani, Vijaya, Suryodayam and India.

(c). Madras Mahajana Sabha

Madras Mahajana Sabha (MMS) was the earliest organisation in south India with clear nationalist objectives. It was the training ground for the first generation of nationalist leaders. On 16 May 1884, MMS was started by M. Veeraraghavachari, P. Anandacharlu, P. Rangaiah, and few others. P. Rangaiah became its first president. P. Anandacharlu played an active role as its secretary. The members met periodically, debated public issues in closed meetings, conducted hall meetings and communicated their views to the government. The objective of MMS was to create a consensus among people of different parts of the Presidency on various issues of public interest and to present it to the government. Its demands included the conduct of simultaneous civil services examinations in England and India, the abolition of the Council of India in London, the reduction of taxes and reduction of civil and military expenditure. Many of its demands were adopted later by the Indian National Congress founded in 1885.

(d). Moderate Phase

Mahajana Sabha led to the formation of an all-India organisation, the Indian National Congress Leaders from different parts of India attended several meetings before the formation of the Congress. One such meeting was held in December 1884 in Theosophical Society. It was attended by Dadabhai Naoroji, K.T. Telang, Surendranath Banerjee and other prominent leaders apart from G. Subramaniam, Rangaiah, and Anandacharlu from Madras.

The first session of the Indian National Congress was held in 1885 at Bombay. Out of a total of 72 delegates, 22 members were from Madras. G. Subramaniam through his writings advanced the cause of nationalism. He ranks with Naoroji and Gokhale for his contribution to the understanding of the economic exploitation of India by the British.

The second session of the Indian National Congress was held in Calcutta in 1886, with Dadabhai Naoroji in the Chair. The third session was held at Makki’s Garden, now known as the Thousand lights, in Madras in 1887 with Badruddin Tyabji as president. Out of the 607, all India delegates of 362 were from Madras Presidency.

1.2 Swadeshi Movement

The partition of Bengal (1905) led to the Swadeshi Movement and changed the course of the struggle for freedom. In various parts of India, especially Bengal, Punjab and Maharashtra popular leaders emerged. They implemented the program of the Calcutta Congress which called upon the nation to promote Swadeshi enterprise, boycott foreign goods and promote national education. The Swadeshi movement made a deep impact in Tamil Nadu. Congress carried on a vigorous campaign for the boycott of foreign goods.

(a) Response in Tamilnadu

V.O. Chidambaranar, V. Chakkaraiyar, Subramania Bharati and Surendranath Arya were some of the prominent leaders in Tamilnadu. Public meetings attended by thousands of people were organized in various parts of Tamilnadu. Tamil was used on the public platform for the first time to mobilize the people. Subramanian
Tamil Nadu was then part of the Madras Presidency which included large parts of the present-day states of Andhra Pradesh(Coastal districts and Rayalaseema), Karnataka (Bengaluru, Bellary, South Canara), Kerala (Malabar) and even Odisha (Ganjam).

Bharati’s patriotic songs were especially important in stirring patriotic emotions. Many journals were started to propagate Swadeshi ideals. Swadesamitran and India were prominent journals. The extremist leader Bipin Chandra Pal toured Madras and delivered lectures that inspired the youth. Students and youth participated widely in the Swadeshi Movement.

Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company

One of the most enterprising acts in pursuance of swadeshi was the launching of the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company at Thoothukudi by V.O. Chidambaranar. He purchased two ships Gallia and Lavo and plied them between Thoothukudi and Colombo. However, due to cut-throat competition from the European company and the blatantly partisan role played by the government, V.O.C’s efforts ended in failure.

Tirunelveli Uprising

V.O.C joined with Subramania Siva in organizing the mill workers in Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli. In 1908, he led a strike in the European-owned Coral Mills. It coincided with the release of Bipin Chandra Pal. V.O.C and Subramania Siva, who organized a public meeting to celebrate the release of Bipin, were arrested. The two leaders were charged with sedition and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment. Initially, V.O.C. was given a draconian sentence of two life imprisonments. The news of the arrest sparked riots in Tirunelveli leading to the burning down of the police station, court building, and municipal office. It led to the death of four people in police firing. V.O.C. was treated harshly in prison and was made to pull the heavy oil press. Others to be arrested included G. Subramaniam and Ethiraj Surendranath Arya. To avoid imprisonment Subramania Bharati moved to Pondicherry which was under French rule. Bharati’s example was followed by many other nationalists such as Aurobindo Ghosh and V. V. Subramanianar. The brutal crackdown on Swadeshi leaders virtually brought the Swadeshi Movement to a close in Tamil Nadu.

(b) Revolutionary Activities in Tamil Nadu

As elsewhere the Swadeshi movement inspired the youth. Left leaderless, they turned to the revolutionary path. Pondicherry provided a safe haven for the revolutionaries. Many of these revolutionaries in Tamil Nadu were introduced and trained in revolutionary activities at India House in London and in Paris.

M.P.T. Acharya, V.V. Subramanianar and T.S.S. Rajan were prominent among them. Revolutionary literature was distributed by them in Madras through Pondicherry. Radical papers such as India, Vijaya, and Suryodayam came out of Pondicherry. Such revolutionary papers and Bharati’s poems were banned as seditious literature. These activities in Pondicherry intensified with the arrival of Aurobindo Ghosh and V.V. Subramanianar in 1910. These activities continued until the outbreak of the First World War.

Ashe Murder

In 1904 Nilakanta Brahmachari and others started Bharata Matha Society, a secret society. The objective was to kill British officials and thereby kindle patriotic fervour among the people. The Vanchinathan of Senkottai was influenced by this organisation. On 17 June 1911, he shot dead Robert W.D’E. Ashe, Collector of Tirunelveli in Maniyachi Junction. After this, he shot himself. Divorced from the people these young revolutionaries, despite their patriotism, failed to inspire and mobilize the people.

(c) Annie Besant and the Home Rule Movement

While the extremists and revolutionaries were the working classes by forming trade unions. Not only did they succeed in improving their working conditions, but they also made them part of the struggle for freedom. However, with the rise of Gandhi as a national leader Annie Besant and the Home Rule Leagues were eclipsed.

1.3 Non-Brahmin Movement and the Challenge to Congress

In the meanwhile, there was rapid growth was an increase in the number of educated non-discussed above politicized the educated non-Brahmins. They raised the issue of caste discrimination and unequal opportunities in government employment and representation in elected bodies, which were dominated by Brahmins. Further, Congress was also overwhelmingly composed of Brahmins.

(a) The South Indian Liberal Federation

The non-Brahmins organized themselves into political organizations to protect their interests. In 1912 the Madras Dravidian Association was founded. C. Natesanar played an active role as its secretary. In June 1916 he established the Dravidian Association Hostel for non-Brahmin students. He also played a key role in bridging the differences between two leading non-Brahmin leaders of the time, Dr. T.M. Nair and P. Thyagarayar. Both of them were earlier part of the Congress and were disillusioned by how non-Brahmins were sidelined in the organisation. On 20 November 1916, a meeting of about thirty non-Brahmins was held under the leadership of P. Thyagarayar, Dr. T.M. Nair and C. Natesanar at Victoria Public Hall in Chennai. The South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF) was founded to promote the interests of the non-Brahmins. They also launched three newspapers: Justice in English, Dravidian in Tamil and Andhra Prakasika in Telugu. Soon the SILF began to be popularly known as Justice Party after its English daily. The Justice Party also held several conferences throughout the Presidency to set up branches.

Demand for Reservation

The Non-Brahmin Manifesto was released outlining its objectives viz., reservation of jobs for non-Brahmins in government service, and seats in representative bodies. It opposed the Home Rule Movement as a movement of Brahmins and feared that Home Rule might give them more power. It also criticized the Congress as a party of the Brahmins. Montagu’s announcement of political reforms in the Parliament in 1917 intensified political discussions in Tamil Nadu. The Justice Party demanded communal representation (i.e. representation for various communities in society). The Madras Government was also supportive of the Justice Party as the latter believed that English rule was conducive for the development of the non-Brahmins. The Act of 1919 provided reservation of seats to non-Brahmins, a move criticized by the Congress but welcomed by the Justice Party.

Justice Ministry

The Congress boycotted the elections of 1920. The Justice Party won 63 of 98 elected seats in the Legislative Council. A. Subburayalu of the Justice Party became the first chief minister. After the 1923 elections, Raja of Panagal of the Justice Party formed the ministry. The Justice Party introduced various measures for the benefit of non-Brahmins. They were reservation of appointments in local bodies and education institutions, establishment of Staff Selection Board which later became the Public Service Commission, enactment of Hindu Religious Endowment Act and Madras State Aid to Industries Act, abolition of devadasi system, allotment of poromboke lands (waste government lands) to the poor for housing and extension of primary education to the depressed classes through fee concessions, scholarships and mid-day meals.

(b) Government’s Repressive Measures: Rowlatt Act

Given the important contribution of India (especially the soldiers who fought in far-off lands in the cause of Empire) in World War I Indians expected more reforms from Britain. However, a draconian Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act, after the name of Sir Sidney Rowlatt, who headed the committee that recommended it was passed in 1919. Under the Act, anyone could be imprisoned on charges of terrorism without due judicial process. Indians were aghast at this. Gandhi gave voice to the anger of the people and adopted the Satyagraha method that he had used in South Africa.

Rowlatt Satyagraha

On 18 March 1919 Gandhi addressed a meeting on Marina Beach. On 6 April 1919 hartal was organized to protest against the “Black Act”. Protest demonstrations were held at several parts of Tamil Nadu. Processions from many areas of the city converged in the Marina beach where there was a large gathering. They devoted the whole day to fasting and prayer on the Marina beach. Madras Satyagraha Sabha was formed. Rajaji, Kasturirangar, S. Satyamurty, and George Joseph addressed the meeting. A separate meeting of workers was addressed by V. Kalyanasundaram (Thiru. V. Ka), B.P. Wadia and V.O.C. An important aspect of the movement was that the working classes, students and women took part in large numbers.

(c) Khilafat Movement

Following the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre General Dyer who was responsible for it was not only acquitted of all charges but rewarded. After the First World War, the Caliph of Turkey was humiliated and deprived of all powers. To restore the Caliph the Khilafat Movement was started. Muslims who had largely kept from the nationalist movement now joined it in huge numbers. In Tamil Nadu, Khilafat Day was observed on 17 April 1920, with a meeting presided over by Maulana Shaukat Ali. Another such conference was held at Erode. Vaniyambadi was the epicenter of Khilafat agitation.

1.4 Non-Cooperation Movement

Tamil Nadu was active during the Non-cooperation Movement. C. Rajaji and E.V. Ramaswamy (EVR, later known as Periyar) provided the leadership. Rajaji worked closely with Yakub Hasan, founder of the Madras branch of the Muslim League. As a result, the Hindus and the Muslims cooperated closely during the course of the movement in Tamil Nadu. A Congress volunteer corps was set up to distribute pamphlets, carry flags during processions and to maintain order in the meetings. They also played an important part in the picketing of liquor shops.

(a) No Tax Campaigns and Temperance Movement

As part of the non-cooperation movement, in many places, cultivators refused to pay taxes. A no-tax campaign took place in Thanjavur. Councils, schools and courts were boycotted. Foreign goods were boycotted. There were a number of workers’ strikes all over the region, many of them led by nationalist leaders. One of the important aspects of the movement in Tamil Nadu was the temperance movement or movement against liquor. Toddy shops were picketed. Demonstrations and hartals were organized in all parts of the Presidency. There were also agitations by communities against the Criminal Tribes Act. In November 1921 it was decided to organize civil disobedience. Rajaji, Subramania Sastri, and EVR were arrested. The visit of Prince of Wales on 13 January 1922 was boycotted. In the police repression, two were killed and many injured. The Non-Cooperation Movement was withdrawn in 1922 after the Chauri Chaura incident in which 22 policemen were killed.

(b) E.V.R. and the Constructive Programme

E.V.R. played an important role in Tamil Nadu during this period. He campaigned vigorously for the promotion and sale of khadi. In his opposition to the consumption of liquor, he cut down an entire coconut grove owned by him. He also played a key role in the satyagraha for temple entry in Vaikom, then under Travancore. It was a time when the depressed classes were not even permitted to walk on the streets around the temple or come within a certain distance of the upper castes. After the major leaders of Kerala were arrested, EVR went to Vaikom and galvanized the movement. He was arrested and sentenced to one-month imprisonment. He refused to leave Vaikom even after his release. He was arrested again for making inspiring speeches and was sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment. When he returned to Erode after his release he was arrested for his speeches to promote khadi. In June 1925, the ban on the roads around the temple in Vaikom was lifted. For his contribution against caste discrimination and temple entry agitation in Vaikom, Periyar was hailed as ‘Vaikom Hero’.

Cheranmadevi Gurukulam Controversy

However, by this time E.V.R. had become increasingly dissatisfied with Congress. He felt it was promoting the interests of the Brahmins alone. The Cheranmadevi Gurukulam controversy and opposition to communal representation within the Congress-led E.V.R. to leave the Congress.

Agitation for Removal of Neill Statue (1927)

James Neill of the Madras Fusiliers (infantrymen with firearms) was brutal in wreaking vengeance at Kanpur (‘the Cawnpur massacre’, as it was called) in which many English women and children were killed in the Great Rebellion of 1857. Neill was later killed by an Indian sepoy. A statue was erected for him at Mount Road, Madras. Nationalists saw this as an insult to Indian sentiments and organized a series of demonstrations in Madras. Protesters came from all over the Madras Presidency and were led by S. N. Somayajulu of Tirunelveli. Many were arrested and sentenced to prison. Gandhi, who visited Madras during the same time, gave his support to the agitation. The statue was finally moved to Madras Museum when Congress Ministry, led by C. Rajaji, formed the government in 1937.

To further the cause of national education, a gurukulam was established in Cheranmadevi by V.V. Subramanianar. It received funds from Congress. However, students were discriminated against on the basis of caste. Brahmin and Non-Brahmin students were made to dine separately and the food served too was different. The issue was brought to the notice of E.V.R. who questioned the practice and severely criticized it along with another leader, Dr. P. Varadarajulu.

In the Kanchipuram Conference of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee held on 21 November 1925, he raised the issue of representation for non-Brahmins in the legislature. His efforts to achieve this since 1920 had met with failure. When the resolution was defeated, he left the Conference along with other non-Brahmin leaders who met separately. Soon E.V.R. left Congress and started the Self Respect Movement.

(c) Swarajists–Justicites Rivalry

Following the withdrawal of the Non- Cooperation Movement, the Congress was divided between ‘no-changers’ who wanted to continue the boycott of the councils and ‘pro- changers who wanted to contest the elections for the councils. Rajaji along with other staunch Gandhian followers opposed the council entry. Along with Kasturirangar and M.A. Ansari, Rajaji advocated the boycott of the councils. Opposition to this led to the formation of the Swaraj Party within the Congress by Chittaranjan Das and Motilal Nehru. In Tamil Nadu, the Swarajists were led by S. Srinivasanar and S. Satyamurti.

(d) Subbarayan Ministry

In the elections held in 1926, the Swarajists won the majority of the elected seats. However, it did not accept the office in accordance with the Congress policy. Instead, they supported an independent, P. Subbarayan to form the ministry. The Swarajists did not contest the 1930 elections leading to an easy victory for the Justice Party. The Justice Party remained in office till 1937.

(e) Simon Commission Boycott

In 1927 a statutory commission was constituted under Sir John Simon to review the Act of 1919 and to suggest reforms. However, to the great disappointment of Indians, it was an all-white commission with not a single Indian member. So the Congress boycotted the Simon Commission. In Madras, the Simon Boycott Propaganda Committee was set up with S. Satyamurti as the president. There was a widespread campaign among the students, shopkeepers, lawyers, and commuters on the train to boycott. The arrival of Simon Commission in Madras on 18 February 1929 was greeted with demonstrations and hartals. Black flags were waved against the Commission. The police used force to suppress the protest.

1.5 Civil Disobedience Movement

(a) Towards Poorna Swaraj

In the 1920s, Congress with Gandhi in leadership was transforming into a broad-based movement in Tamil Nadu. The Madras session of the Indian National Congress in 1927 declared complete independence as its goal. It appointed a committee under Motilal Nehru to frame the constitutional reforms in opposition to the Simon Commission. In the 1929 Lahore session of the Congress, Poorna Swaraj (complete independence) was adopted as the goal and on 26 January 1930, the national flag was hoisted by Jawaharlal Nehru on the banks of river Ravi as the declaration of independence.

(b) Salt March to Vedaranyam

When the Viceroy did not accept the demands put forward by Gandhi, he launched the Civil Disobedience Movement by setting out on a Salt Satyagraha with a march to Dandi on 12 March 1930. The Civil Disobedience Movement was a mass movement with the participation of students, shopkeepers, workers, women, etc. Demonstrations, hartals, the staging of swadeshi dramas and songs were the order the day in both rural and urban areas. Tamil Nadu was in the forefront of the Civil Disobedience Movement. In the city of Madras, shops were picketed and foreign goods boycotted. Rajaji organized and led a salt satyagraha march to Vedaranyam. The march started from Tiruchirappalli on 13 April 1930 and reached Vedaranyam in Thanjavur district on 28 April.

A special song was composed for the march by Namakkal V. Ramalinganar with the lines, “A War is ahead sans sword, sans bloodshed…Join this march.”

Despite a brutal crackdown by the police, the marching satyagrahis were provided a warm reception along the route. On reaching Vedaranyam 12 volunteers under the leadership of Rajaji broke the salt law by picking up salt. Rajaji was arrested. T.S.S. Rajan, Rukmani Lakshmipathi, Sardar Vedarathnam, C. Swaminathar, and K. Santhanam was among the prominent leaders who participated in the Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha.

(c) Widespread Agitations in Tamil Districts

The satyagrahis under the leadership of T. Prakasam and K. Nageswara Rao set up a camp at Udayavanam near Madras. However, the police arrested them. It led to a hartal in Madras. The clashes with the police in Tiruvallikeni which lasted for three hours on 27 April 1930 left three dead. Volunteers who attempted to offer salt Satyagraha in Rameswaram were arrested. Similar attempts at Uvari, Anjengo, Veppalodai, Thoothukudi, and Tharuvaikulam were stopped. Mill workers struck work across the province. Women participated enthusiastically.

Rukmani Lakshmipathi was the first woman to pay a penalty for violation of salt laws. Police used brutal force to suppress the movement. Bhashyam, popularly known as Arya, hoisted the national flag atop Fort St. George on 26 January 1932. Satyamurti actively picketed shops selling foreign clothes, organized processions, and distributed pamphlets. N.M.R.Subbaraman and K. Kamaraj also played an important role.

Martyrdom of Tirupur Kumaran

On 11 January 1932, a procession carrying national flags and singing patriotic songs was brutally beaten by the police in Tirupur. O.K.S.R. Kumaraswamy, popularly Tirupur Kumaran, fell dead holding the national flag aloft. He is hailed as Kodikatha Kumaran. Thus, the civil disobedience movement was one of the largest mass movements in Tamil Nadu with the participation of people from all sections of society.

(d) First Congress Ministry

The Government of India Act of 1935 introduced Provincial Autonomy. The Council of Ministers, responsible to the legislature, administered the provincial subjects. However, the Governor was empowered to disregard the advice of the elected government. In the 1937 election, the Congress emerged victoriously. The Justice Party was trounced. Congress’s victory in the elections clearly indicated its popularity with the people.

Rajaji formed the first Congress Ministry. He introduced a prohibition on an experimental basis in Salem. To compensate for the loss of revenue he introduced a sales tax. On the social question, he opened temples to the ‘untouchables’. Efforts of T. Prakasam led to the appointment of a committee to enquire into the condition of the tenants in the Zamindari areas. However, excepting debt conciliation boards to reduce rural indebtedness, no other measure was adopted. When the British involved India in the Second World War without consulting the elected Congress ministries, the latter resigned.

(e) Anti-Hindi Agitation

One of the controversial measures of Rajaji was the introduction of Hindi as a compulsory subject in schools. This was considered to be a form of Aryan and North Indian imposition detrimental to Tamil language and culture and therefore caused much public resentment.

E.V.R. led a massive campaign against it. He organized an anti-Hindi Conference at Salem. It formulated a definite program of action. The Scheduled Castes Federation and the Muslim League extended its support to the anti-Hindi agitation. Natarajan and Thalamuthu, two of the enthusiastic agitators died in prison. A rally was organized from Tiruchirappalli to Madras. More than 1200 protestors including E.V.R. were arrested. After the resignation of the Congress Ministry, the Governor of Madras who took over the reins of administration removed Hindi as a compulsory subject.

1.6 Quit India Struggle

Failure of the Cripps Mission, wartime shortages and price rise created much discontent among the people. On 8 August 1942, the Quit India resolution was passed and Gandhi gave the slogan Do or Die’. The entire Congress leadership was arrested overnight.

K. Kamaraj while returning from Bombay noticed that at every railway station the police waited with a list of local leaders and arrested them as they got down. Kamaraj gave the police the slip and got down at Arakkonam itself. He then worked underground and organized people during the Quit India Movement. Rajaji and Satyamurti were arrested together when they went about distributing pamphlets. The movement was widespread in Tamilnadu and there were many instances of violence such as setting fire to post offices, cutting off telegraph lines and disrupting railway traffic.

Undying Mass Movement

All sections of the society participated in the movement. There were a large number of workers strike such as strikes in Buckingham and Carnatic Mills, Madras Port Trust, Madras Corporation and the Electric Tramway. Telegraph and telephone lines were cut and public buildings burnt at Vellore and Panapakkam. Students of various colleges took an active part in the protests. The airport in Sulur was attacked and trains derailed in Coimbatore. Congress volunteers clashed with the military in Madurai. There were police firings at Rajapalayam, Karaikudi, and Devakottai. Many young men and women also joined the INA.

The Quit India Movement was suppressed with brutal force. The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny, the negotiations initiated by the newly formed Labour Party Government in England resulting in India’s independence but sadly with the partition of the country into India and Pakistan.

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