The Swadeshi movement, part of the Indian independence movement and the developing Indian nationalism, was an economic strategy aimed at removing the British Empire from power and improving economic conditions in India by following the principles of swadeshi (self-sufficiency; Hindi: स्वदेशी svadēśī), which had some success. Strategies of the Swadeshi movement involved boycotting British products and the revival of domestic products and production processes. It was strongest in Bengal and was also called vandemataram movement.
The Swadeshi movement started with the partition of Bengal by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, 1905 and continued up to 1911. It was the most successful of the pre-Gandhian movements. Its chief architects were Aurobindo Ghosh, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai. Swadeshi, as a strategy, was a key focus of Mahatma Gandhi, who described it as the soul of Swaraj (self rule). Gandhi, at the time of the actual movement, remained loyal to the British Crown.
During 1900, Bengal had become the nerve centre for Indian nationalism. At that time it was the biggest province of British India and included parts of Bihar and Orissa. To weaken it, Lord Curzon (1899–1905) the Viceroy of India, proposed partition of Bengal. The official reason was stated as administrative inconvenience due to the size of Bengal. But partition itself was based on a religious and political agenda. Bengal was to be divided into two regions i.e. East Bengal and Assam out of the rest of Bengal. Thus to reduce the nationalist movement in Bengal and thereby in the entire country, Bengal partition was to take place on 16 October 1905.
H. H. Riseley, home secretary to the government of India, stated on 6 December 1904: "Bengal united is a power; Bengal divided will pull in several different ways. That is what Congress leaders feel; their apprehensions are perfectly correct and they form one of the great merits of the scheme... in this scheme... one of our main objects is to split up and thereby weaken a solid body of opponents to our rule".
So the British tried to curb Bengali influence on the nationalist movement and also introduced a new form of division based on religion to create challenges for the Indian National Congress, which was slowly becoming the main opponent to British rule.
But the Indian nationalists saw the design behind partition and condemned it unanimously, starting the anti-partition and the Swadeshi movements. The Swadeshi movement was also known as Vandemataram movement in deltaic Andhra Pradesh.
The proposal of partition of Bengal became publicly known in 1903, followed by immediate and spontaneous protests all over Bengal. 500 meetings were held in East Bengal alone. 50,000 copies of pamphlets with a detailed critique of partition were distributed. This phase is marked by moderate techniques of protest such as petitions, public meetings, press campaign, etc. to turn public opinion in India as well as in Britain against partition.
This movement also involved the boycott of British products. Western clothes were thrown onto bonfires.
To let the British know how unhappy the Indians were at the partition of Bengal, leaders of the anti-partition movement decided to use only Indian goods and to boycott British goods. People gathered at the cross roads and burnt the imported clothes that they had. People picketed the shops selling foreign goods, and imported sugar was boycotted. People also resolved to use things made only in India and this was called the Swadeshi movement.The Swadeshi movement had its genesis in the anti-partition movement which started to oppose the British decision to partition Bengal. There was no questioning the fact that Bengal with a population of 70 million had indeed become administratively unwieldy. Equally, there was escaping the fact that the real motive for partitioning Bengal was political, as Indian nationalism was gaining in strength. Tough affected in 1905, the partition was expected to weaken what was perceived as the nerve center of Indian nationalism. Though affected in 1905, the partition proposals had come onto the public domain as early as 1903. Therefore, since 1903, there was prepared the ground for the launch of the Swadeshi movement. In the official note, Risley, the Home Secretary to the Government of India said, “Bengal united is power; Bengal divided will pull several different ways”.
The partition of the state intended to curb Bengali influence by not only placing Bengalis under two administrations, but by reducing them to a minority in Bengal itself. In the new proposal, Bengal proper was to have 17 million Bengali and 37 million Oriya and Hindi speaking people. Also, the partition was meant to foster another kind of division-this time on the basis of religion, i.e. between the Muslims and the Hindus. The Indian Nationalist clearly saw the design behind the partition and condemned it unanimously. The anti-partition and Swadeshi movement had begun.
The Nature of the Swadeshi Movement
The Bengalis adopted the boycott movement as the last resort after they had exhausted the armoury of constitutional agitation known to them, namely vocal protests, appeals, petitions and Conferences to coerce the British to concede the unanimous national demand.
The original conception of Boycott was mainly an economic one. It had two distinct, but allied purposes in view. The first was to bring pressure upon the British public by the pecuniary loss they would suffer by the boycott of British goods, particularly the Manchester cotton goods for which Bengal provided the richest market in India. Secondly, it was regarded as essential for the revival of indigenous industry which being at its infant stage could never grow in the face of free competition with foreign countries which had highly developed industry.
Like the Boycott, the Swadeshi as a purely economic measure for the growth of Indian Industry was not an altogether novel idea in India. It was preached by several eminent personalities in the 19th century, Gopal Hari Deshmukh, better known as Lokahitawadi of Bombay, Swami Dayananda and Bholanath Chandra of Calcutta. But the seeds sown by them did not germinate till the soil was rendered fertile by the grim resolve of a united people, exasperated beyond measure; to forge the twin weapons of Boycott and Swadeshi in order to undo the great wrong which was inflicted upon them by an arrogant Government, callous to the voice of the people.
Later on, the economic boycott receded into background with the passage of time and it developed into an idea of non-cooperation with the British in every field and the object aimed at was a political regeneration of the country with the distant goal of absolute freedom looming large before the eyes of the more advanced section. Similarly, Swadeshi completely outgrew the original conception of promoting Indian industry. It assumed a new form based upon the literal connotation of the word swadeshi, namely attachment to everything Indian.
The Economic Boycott and Swadeshi
In the economic sense, Swadeshi would represent both a positive and a negative element. These have been discussed as under:-
The positive element of economic swadeshi was the regeneration of indigenous goods. The boycott of foreign goods led to the increase in demand of indigenous goods. The boycott of foreign goods led to the increase in demand of indigenous goods especially clothes which felt short of supply. The mill-owners of Bombay and Ahmadabad came to its rescue. The Boycott movement in Bengal supplied a momentum and driving force to the cotton mills in India and the opportunity thus presented was exploited by the mill-owners. It was complained at that time that the Bombay mill-owners made a huge profit at the expense of what they regarded as ‘Bengali Sentimentalism’, for buying indigenous cloth at any sacrifice and there maybe some truth in it but this is not sure.
Bengal had to supplement the supply from Bombay mills by the coarse production of handlooms. The weaving industry in Bengal was a very flourishing one till the British ruined it after they had established their rule over the province in the 18th century. The economic boycott movement seemed to be a suitable opportunity for reviving that industry. The clothes produce were very coarse but were accepted by the Bengalis in the true spirit of the Swadeshi Movement. A song which became very popular all over the country urged upon the people to give the place of honour to the coarse cloth which is the gift of the Mother, too poor to offer a better one.
The negative element of the economic swadeshi was the boycott and burning of foreign goods. Though Manchester cloth was the chief target of attack, the movement was extended to other British manufacturers also, such as salt and sugar as well as luxury goods in general. The ideas of Swadeshi and economic boycott was kept alive and brought home to every door by articles in newspapers, processions, popular songs, enrolment of volunteers to keep vigilant watch and by occasion bonfires of foreign cloth, salt and sugar. The old apparels of foreign made belonging to sundry people were placed in a heap and then it was set on fire. The blazing flames were looked upon as a special mode of homouring noted public leaders and the bonfires greeting them were regarded as of great value as a means of infusing enthusiasm for Swadeshi.
Fines were inflicted on anyone found using foreign sugar. Foreign cigarettes were bought and burnt in the streets, Brahmins refused to assist any religious ceremonies in houses where European salt and sugar in houses where European salt and sugar were used and Marwaris were warned of importing foreign articles. All these bonfires however affected the economy of the people. To burn ‘Manchester made goods’ bought at a high price literally affects the people but swept by national enthusiasm, people continued to eschew and burn foreign goods.
Swadeshi and Social Boycott
The social boycott was an outcome of economic swadeshi movement. It was preached to go against the repressive measures of the Government. The social boycott was a very powerful weapon. A man selling or buying foreign goods or in any way opposing swadeshi Mmvement and helping Government in putting it down would be subjected to various degrees of humiliation. Such social ostracism would make a man quite unhappy, sometimes even very miserable and the Government could do very little to help him in his distress. But such non-violent ostracism was not the only form of persecution. Sometimes, the ‘renegade’ would suffer material loss and bodily or mental pain.
Swadeshi and National Education
Students in promoting the boycott and swadeshi movement drew upon them the wrath and violence of the British Raj. Circulars were issued forbidding the students under threat of severe penalty to associate themselves in any way with the Boycott movement even the cry of Bande Mataram in streets and other public places was declared to be a punishable offence. Scholars or colleges whose students disobeyed the order were not only threatened with the withdrawal of Government grants and even with disaffiliation, but their students were to be declared ineligible for Government Service. The authorities of the educational institutions were asked to keep strict watch over their pupils, and if unable to control them, were to report the names to the Education Department for taking necessary disciplinary action. The magistrates were asked to inform the teachers and those connected with the management of educational institutions, that of necessary they might be enrolled as Special Constables. The Direction of Public Instruction asked the principals of colleges to show causes why their students who took part in the picketing should not be expelled.
All this produced a storm of indignation in the country and the Indian-owned Press denounced the circulars in the strongest language. The people of Bengal took up the challenge. The students of some colleges in Rangpur defied the Government orders and when they were fined, the guardians refused to pay the fine and stabled a national school for the boys who were expelled. Teachers were also asked to resign for not whipping the boys.
The action of the authorities led to a movement among the students to boycott the Calcutta University which they described as Golamkhana (House of manufacturing slaves). At a conference attended by a large number of very eminent men of Bengal in different walks of life held on 10 November 1905, it was decided to establish at once a National Council of Education in order to organize a system of education-literary, scientific and technical- on national lines and under national control. The number of national schools also grew apace with time.
The enthusiasm with which the two Bengals responded to the idea of national education shows the way in which the swadeshi movement, like a mighty river was overflowing its bed and inundating vast stretches of country. It was no longer confined to its primary object of industrial regeneration and boycotting British goods. More important still, the movement with its extended connotation was no longer confined to Bengal but spread to the whole of India.
Swadeshi, Culture and Press
It was perhaps in the cultural sphere that the impact of the swadeshi movement was most marked. The songs composed at the time of Rabindranath Tagore, Rajani Kanta Sen, Dwijendralal Ray, Makunda Das, Syed Abu Mohammad and other later became the moving spirit for nationalist of all hues, ‘terrorists’, ‘Gandhian or Communists’ are still popular. Rabindranath’s Amar Sonar Bangla, written at that time, was to later inspire the liberation struggle of Bangaldesh and was adopted as the National Anthem of the country in 1971. Similarly, there were great improvements in Indian art.
The writings of Bande Mataram, practically revolutionized the political attitude of Bengal. The four leading newspapers of Calcutta- the Bengalee, the Amrita Bazaar Patrika, the Indian Mirror and the Hindu Patriot protested against this division of Bengal. Apart from this, vernacular newspapers such as the Sanjivani and the Bangabashi expressed open hostility against this proposal. The Amrita Bazaar Patrika in its issue of 14 December 1903 called on the people of East Bengal to hold public meetings in every town and village to prepare petition for submission to the government, which was signed by lakhs of people.
Repressive measures taken by the Government
Other than boycott and burning of foreign goods, people also resorted to ‘peaceful picketing’ which destined to become a normal feature in almost every type of political agitation in future. All these gave the police a good opportunity to interfere. The volunteers were roughly handled and if they resisted the police a good opportunity to interfere. The volunteers were roughly handled and if they resisted, the police beat them with lathis. These ‘Regulation Lathis’, as they were called, were freely used by the police in the first instance to drive away the picketers and to disperse crowds, whether rioters or peaceful, if they were supposed to be sympathetic to the picketing volunteers. The uttering of Bande Mataram was an indisputable evidence of such sympathy and later it was made illegal to shout Bande Mataram in a public place.
The official phrase, “mild lathi charge” to describe the assault of the police, was a misnomer. It was certainly not mild as the gaping wounds on the bodies loudly proclaimed. The Government also issued instructions to the educational institutions to control their boys and prevent them from participating in the swadeshi movement. Rural markets were controlled bans were put on processions and meetings, leaders were put into confinement without any trial and loyal Muslims were made to go against the recalcitrant Hindus.
Effects and Estimate of Swadeshi
It is difficult to form an accurate estimate of the effect of the Boycott movement on the import of foreign goods in Bengal, as no exact statistics are available. It appears, however, from the official and confidential Police reports that for the first two or three years, there was a serious decline in the import of British goods, particularly cloth.
Passive resistance could not go for long and its ultimate result could never be in doubt. This was the genesis of the sudden emergence of a network of secret revolutionary organizations which were determined to meet the Government on equal terms, by collectively arms and opposing terrorism by terrorism.
The Swadeshi partition and the Government measures also finally led to the split of Hindus and Muslims and virtually the formation of Muslim League in 1906.
Although Swadeshi was originally conceived as merely a handmade of boycott of foreign goods and meant only to be an urge to use indigenous in preference to foreign goods, it soon attained a much more comprehensive character and became a concrete symbol of nationalism. No less significant was that Swadeshi in Bengal brought into the vortex of politics a class of people-the landed aristocracy- who had hitherto held studiously aloof from the congress or any other political organization. Outside Bengal, it gave a rude shock of disillusionment to the whole of India and stimulated the political thoughts of the people. Swadeshi emphasized "atmasakti" or soul force. One particular aspect of the Swadeshi movement which M.K. Gandhi prized above everything else should be specially emphasized. It taught the people to challenge and defy the authority of the Government openly in public and took away from the minds of even ordinary men the dread of police assault and prison as well as the sense of ignominy which hitherto attached to them. To go to prison or get badge of honour and not as hitherto a brand of infancy.
Swadeshi after independence
The Post-Independence "Swadeshi Movement" has developed forth differently than its pre-independence counterpart. While the pre-independence movement was essentially a response to colonial policies, the post-independence Swadeshi movement sprung forth as an answer to increasingly oppressive imperialistic policies in the post-second world-war climate. For a nation emerging from two centuries of colonial oppression, India was required to compete with the industrialised economies of the west. While rapid industrialisation under the umbrella of "Five year Plans" were aimed at enabling a self-sufficient India, the need to balance it with a predominantly agrarian set-up was the need of the hour. This need to preserve the old fabric of an agrarian country while simultaneously modernising, necessitated a resurgence of a slightly recast "Swadeshi Movement". Forerunners of this resurgent movement was noted journalist, writer and critic S. R. Ramaswamy. Others of late in the movement include the likes of Rajiv Dixit and Swami Ramdev.
The word Swadeshi derives from Sanskrit and is a sandhi or conjunction of two Sanskrit words. Swa means "self" or "own" and desh means country, so Swadesh would be "own country", and Swadeshi, the adjectival form, would mean "of one's own country".
- E. F. Schumacher, author of Small is Beautiful, was influenced by Gandhi's concept of Swadeshi when he wrote his article on Buddhist economics
- Satish Kumar, editor of Resurgence, has promoted the concept of Swadeshi in his writing and teaching, including a section in his book You Are, Therefore I Am (2002).
- Indian independence movement
- Juche - The North Korean philosophy of self-reliance.
- Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. From Plassey to Partition - A History of Modern India (2004) pp 248–62
- Das, M. N. India Under Morley and Minto: Politics Behind Revolution, Revolution and Reform (1964)
- Gonsalves, Peter. Clothing for Liberation, A Communication Analysis of Gandhi's Swadeshi Revolution, SAGE, (2010)
- Gonsalves, Peter. Khadi: Gandhi's Mega Symbol of Subversion, SAGE, (2012)