Nationalist and Revolutionary Literature
Nil Darpan is a Bengali play written by Dinabandhu Mitra in 1858–1859. The play was published in Dhaka in 1860, under a pseudonym of the author. The play was essential to Nil Vidroha, better known as the Indigo Revolt of February–March 1859 in Bengal, when farmers refused to sow indigo in their fields to protest against exploitative farming under the British Raj. It was also essential to the development of theatre in Bengal and influenced Girish Chandra Ghosh, who in 1872 would establish the National Theatre in Calcutta (Kolkata), where the first play ever commercially staged was Nildarpan.
Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay was one such author who used literature to spread the message of patriotism. In Anandamath (1882), set during the famine in Bengal in 1770 B.C.E., Chattopadhyay highlighted various patriotic acts of and sacrifices made by his characters, ordinary people who left their homes and families to fight against subjection, and in service of “the Mother.” He envisaged an insurgency against the British by untrained soldiers who succeeding in beating the more experienced British soldiers through sheer grit and determination, while embodying a sense of patriotism. The novel was banned by the British and the ban was lifted by the Government of India only after independence. Our national song, Bande Mataram was first published as a poem in this novel as the rallying cry of the characters who used it to give themselves courage and to urge people to fight against the British.
In a case of fact imitating fiction, Bande Mataram served this purpose during the freedom struggle as well. Despite being banned, the general public would recite the poem, or sing the song in front of British officials and many were carted off to jail for doing so. Due to its tradition of sacrifice and its success in bringing a country together against the British, in 1937, the first two verses of Bande Mataram were adopted as the national song by the Indian National Congress.
In 1884, Chattopadhyay published Devi Chaudharani, which became an inspiration to women to take up the cause of independence. In this novel, he reiterated his belief that an armed conflict is the only way to win independence but he made a woman the protagonist and leader of the struggle. Anandamath also featured a strong woman character, and in both books, while women do take up arms, they fight while embodying the values of love.
Bharatendu harishchandra was a great hindu poet. A large proportion of Bharatendu’s literature is concerned with the question of subjection. For example, in a public lecture on the promotion of Hindi (1877) he asked the people the following poignant question: ‘How come, as human beings we became slaves and they (the British) kings?’ This was a question that touched the very essence of India’s political situation, and did so in such a simple and moving manner that even the most ordinary men and women could understand it. This, however, was a question that could drive among people a feeling of importance in the face of their all-powerful ‘kings’. Bharatendu, consequently, inspifed them with yet another question which was intended to remove their despair. ‘How long’, he asked, ‘would you suffer these sorrows as slaves?’ He went on, in this lecture, to warn against the paralysing tendency of depending on foreigners for the country’s salvation. He spurred the people on to set aside their fear and mutual differences, and to stand up to uphold the dignity of their language, religion, culture and country. This lecture, it may be mentioned, was delivered in the form of very simple couplets that could touch the very core of their listeners and readers.
Bharatendu, thus, employed poetry to carry to the people the message of patriotism. He even used popular and conventional poetic, and other literary, forms for the purpose. For example, he wrote bhajans that were intended to describe the state of the country. In this manner he could enlarge the field of his appeal and message. He also advised his contemporaries to make use of popular literary forms. This, it may be noted, was a development that reached its climax during the heyday of the freedom movement when popular songs were composed and sung during prabhat pheries and public rallies. Many of these songs the British Indian government was forced to proscribe, though without much success.
Until about the first world war (1914-18) and the Russian Revolution (1917) the general trend of the discussion of freedom and subjection followed, by and large, the pattern that had emerged during the later decades of the 19th century. Freedom was seen as the natural condition to which any people should aspire. India could be no exception to this rule. Instead of specific grievances and specific concessions, an integrated critique of British rule evolved over the years and freedom seemed the only solution. What this 1 freedom would mean in concrete terms, however, did not become the dominant theme of discussion during this long phase. It is not that issues like poverty and exploitation within the Indian society as against the exploitation by the British did not figure I in Indian literature before the 1914-18 war. They often did. Indian literature of this period offers many examples of escriptions of the poverty of peasants. Perhaps the most outstanding of these examples provided by Chhaman Atha Guntha (1897) -Six Bighas of Land – a novel mohan Senapati, one of the makers of modern Oriya literature.
The Hindustan Ghadar was a weekly publication that was the party organ of the Ghadar Party. It was published under the auspices of the Yugantar Ashram (Advent of a New Age Ashram) in San Francisco. Its purpose was to further the militant nationalist faction of the Indian independence movement, especially amongst Indian sepoys of the British Indian Army. In 1912–1913, the Pacific Coast Hindustan Association was formed by Indian immigrants under the leadership of Har Dayal, with Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president, which later came to be called the Ghadar Party. With donations raised with the help of the Indian diaspora, especially with the aid of Indian students at the University of California, Berkeley, the party established the Yugantar Ashram at 436 Hill Street where a printing press was set up with the donations. The first Urdu edition of Hindustan Ghadar appeared on 1 November 1913, followed by a Punjabi edition 9 December 1913.
The issues were first handwritten before being printed on the press. Careful measures were taken to shield the party and its supporters from British intelligence, which included the measure of memorising over a thousand names of the subscribers so that no incriminating evidence could fall into the hands of the British government.
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