Bangalore (now Bengaluru) may not be a city that is found highlighted in the annals of India’s struggle for freedom, but the flavour of the movement here and the players in it were distinct, say researchers and historians, as the metropolis wakes up to 75th Independence Day on Sunday.
The spirit of the national struggle in Bangalore was marked by a huge participation of textile mill workers and students, along with Congressmen, in several movements for about two decades.
From two sides
Though it was low key compared to other big cities of the time, the freedom movement saw the participation of intelligentsia, including students, teachers and lawyers, with the boisterous voice coming from the trade unions representing the textile mills that dotted the city’s landscape back then. If the study circles, patronised by the intelligentsia, played their role in the dissemination of ideas through booklets and pamphlets, the mill workers and students provided the strength on the ground, making it an eclectic mix.
“The Congress-led national movement was sluggish in Mysore (now Mysuru) generally, though fairly visible and active in Bangalore, KGF, and Bhadravati. By the 1940s, there was greater Congress presence, and in Quit India Movement in 1942, Bangalore was the scene of quite a lot of strikes by labourers in support of nationalist demands, as well as by students,” said historian Janaki Nair.
Central College, Government Engineering College, Law College, and Maharani’s College provided platforms for like-minded teachers and students, and workers of Binny Mills, Raja Mills and Minerva Mills actively supported the movements.
The late freedom fighter H.S. Doreswamy, a Congressman who passed away recently, has recollected in his memoir Nenepina Surali Tegedaga about the Congress-led freedom movement, especially the Quit India Movement, with the support of Left leaders.
“Bengaluru did not witness much violence or mammoth protests. The Congress was seen as being cordial to the Wadiyars of Mysore, which muted the response. Unlike presidencies, Mysore was also not under the direct rule of the British. Autonomously, trade unions and students were opposed to the colonial rule,” recalled G. Ramakrishna, an English professor, author, and associate of many freedom fighters.
Earlier to this phase of ferment, a Congress committee had been formed in Bangalore in 1921. The Khilafat movement (1920-1922) found widespread support among the Hindus and Muslims in both the city and Civil and Military Station. In 1921, mob violence erupted in a protest against the visit of the Prince of Wales. This period also marked multiple visits of Mahatma Gandhi, with his first visit coming in May 1915, soon after his return from South Africa. His address attracted thousands, and one such public meeting at Glass House in Lalbagh in August 1927 is believed to have attracted 50,000 people.
Even as visits of moderate national leaders influenced freedom fighters in Bangalore, literature with revolutionary ideas of Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad made their way into the student and youth circles in Bangalore. Mysore Bank Square witnessed several protests, but barring a few, they were non-violent.
Dr. Nair identifies two waves of strikes in 1942. The first following the arrest of Gandhiji was short-lived, spontaneous, and marked by an alliance between school/college students and workers. The primary attack was on government property. Five people were killed in one police firing on mobs.
The second wave followed regular meetings of workers in Malleswaram and Srirampuram. “More local leaders, and workers themselves organised these strikes which were for specific labour demands,” said Dr. Nair. Binny, Minerva and Mysore mills workers were on strike for nearly one and a half months. Workers showed extraordinary strength during the Quit India Movement, but by November the spirit of Quit India had waned, not just in Mysore but all over, she said. Several important sites of the movement in the city, such as the mills, have all but disappeared, while some such as Bannappa Park or Mysore Bank Circle carry little bearing the stamp of history.
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