The Limits of Civil Disobedience: Nationalism In India

In this blog, we are going to learn about the limits of civil disobedience movement. Not all social groups were moved by the abstract concept of swaraj. One such group was the nation’s untouchables’, who from around the 1930s had begun to call themselves Dalit or oppressed. For long the Congress had ignored the Dalits, for fear of offending the sanatanis, the conservative high-caste Hindus. But Mahatma Gandhi declared that swaraj would not come for a hundred years if untouchability was not eliminated. He called the ‘untouchables’ Harijan or the children of God, organized satyagraha to secure their entry into temples, and access to public wells, tanks, roads, and schools.

He himself cleaned toilets to dignify the work of the bhangi (the sweepers), and persuaded upper castes to change their hearts and give up ‘the sin of untouchability’. But many Dalit leaders were keen on a different political solution to the problems of the community. They began organizing themselves, demanding reserved seats in educational institutions, and a separate electorate that would choose Dalit members for legislative councils.

Political empowerment, they believed, would resolve the problems of their social disabilities. Dalit participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement was therefore limited, particularly in the Maharashtra and Nagpur region where their organization was quite strong. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who organized the Dalits into the Depressed Classes Association in 1930, clashed with Mahatma Gandhi at the second Round Table Conference by demanding separate electorates for Dalits.

When the British government conceded Ambedkar’s demand, Gandhiji began a fast unto death. He believed that separate electorates for Dalits would slow down the process of their integration into society. Ambedkar ultimately accepted Gandhiji’s position and the result was the Poona Pact of September 1932. It gave the Depressed Classes (later to be known as the Scheduled Castes) reserved seats in provincial and central legislative councils, but they were to be voted in by the general electorate. The Dalit movement, however, continued to be apprehensive of the Congress-led national movement. Keep reading to completely understand the Limits of Civil Disobedience Movement.

Some of the Muslim political organizations in India were also lukewarm in their response to the Civil Disobedience Movement. After the decline of the Non-Cooperation-Khilafat movement, a large section of Muslims felt alienated from Congress. From the mid-1920s the Congress came to be more visibly associated with openly Hindu religious nationalist groups like the Hindu Mahasabha. As relations between Hindus and Muslims worsened, each community organized religious processions with militant fervor, provoking Hindu-Muslim communal clashes and riots in various cities. Every riot deepened the distance between the two communities.

The Congress and the Muslim League made efforts to renegotiate an alliance, and in 1927 it appeared that such a unity could be forged. The important differences were over the question of representation in the future assemblies that were to be elected. Muhammad Ali. Jinnah, one of the leaders of the Muslim League, was willing to give up the demand for separate electorates if Muslims were assured reserved seats in the Central Assembly and representation in proportion to the population in the Muslim-dominated provinces (Bengal and Punjab).

Negotiations over the question of representation continued but all hope of resolving the issue at the All Parties Conference in 1928 disappeared when M.R. Jayakar of the Hindu Mahasabha strongly opposed efforts at compromise. When the Civil Disobedience Movement started there was thus an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust between communities.

Alienated from Congress, large sections of Muslims could not respond to the call for a united struggle. Many Muslim leaders and intellectuals expressed their concern about the status of Muslims as a minority within India. They feared that the culture and identity of minorities would be submerged under the domination of a Hindu majority.

Read More: Civil Disobedience Movement | Nationalism in India | Indian History

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