Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home |Volume 6, Issue 02, Tuesday, January 11, 2011


indomitable spirit of rebellion

If Mughal reign is characterised by splendid architecture, flourishing art and good governance, British Rule was imperialistic, marked by political instability. It was, and quite naturally so, an age of defiance.
Tracing this indomitable spirit of rebellion, LS goes back two hundred and fifty years and looks into the socio-political picture that has seen the progression of two parallel movements, active and passive, for freedom.

The men wore khaadi panjabis, a loose pyjama and carried totes on the left shoulder. They raised their voices to cry “Vande Mataram”, smoked cheap, local cigarettes saying no to foreign brands. By the 1930s, influenced by the Swadeshi movement and Gandhian philosophy of Swaraj, the youth of the subcontinent shared one dream -- self rule.

Women, confined within their homes, learnt of political developments through the word of mouth. Some enlightened with literacy, read banned newspapers printed underground, hiding from the vigilant eyes of the police and their local, traitorous spies. Those who dared to step out of the household and join their rebel brothers will be forever remembered -- Pritilata Waddedar, Kalpana Datta and countless nameless stalwarts who shaped our country.

The active rebellion against the British possibly began with the first war of independence, when people en masse including some ruling Rajas and Maharanis joined the Sepoy Mutiny proclaiming sovereignty, declaring Bahadur Shah Zafar as Emperor. The rebellion spread across the land like wild fire and in major cities like Dhaka, shook the framework of the colonial Raj.

Almost fifty years later, the concept of Swadeshi (self-sufficiency) was the far cry as Bengal was proposed to be partitioned. Although a considerable number of people, mostly elite and middle class Muslims of East Bengal, favoured this move, the vast majority residing in West Bengal refrained from subscribing to such a proposal.

Bengal, at that time, was the seat of political, social and cultural thinking in India. To separate the two would mean the segregation of the Indian psyche. Men and women vigilantly protested as did the elite.

After a long time, India seemed to have found its identity. Although a section of the masses preferred passive forms of protest, a section of the educated people took up arms and participated in active revolutions.

Guns fired, canons rolled; men were martyred and women widowed but the revolution continued. While Pritilata, Surjya Sen and others maintained their stance for active resistance, a simple looking revolutionary, clad in a dhoti and a khaadi shawl, put the subcontinent in flames.

Mahatma Gandhi, reiterating the popular concept of the Swadeshi Movement, put forward the concept of self-rule, self-governance and requested the nation to boycott British goods. Gandhi wrote - Swaraj (self-rule) without Swadeshi (country made goods) is a lifeless corpse and if Swadeshi is the soul of Swaraj, khaadi is the essence of Swadeshi.

Gandhi's words were instrumental in redirecting the youth's attention to alternative norms of resistance. Although Netaji Shubhash and many others like him still walked through the roads of active resistance, it was the Gandhinian philosophy of passive resistance that gained acceptance and truly turned global attention towards the independence struggle of India.

The iconic picture of a revolutionary has transcended time and remained with us almost 100 years later. Even today, a man clad in buff khaadi panjabi or fatua, coupled with a black shawl and loose pyjama seems to draw our attention as someone trying to make a statement. Women clad in a simple handloom sari and a contrasting blouse seem to present a similar air.

The popularity of Swadeshi probably lies in the simplicity behind the concept -- unless we learn to cherish our own industry, traditions and culture we can never make a mark in the global scene. After over hundred years, the spirit of swadeshi, self sufficiency and self rule lives on.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Chaity and Shaon
Makeup: Farzana Shakil


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