Published On : Wed, Aug 9th, 2017

Did you know Nagpur’s significant role in Quit India movement,Why Nagpur has so many Zenda chowks ?

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Yesterday was 8th August, the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement that was announced by Mahatma Gandhi at the session of All india Congress Committee in Mumbai in 1942.

But did you know the precursor to Quit India was Non-co operation movement; the call for which gathered strength at the Nagpur AICC convention in December 1920?

The Rowlatt Act, followed by the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre and the Khilafat issue had embittered Gandhi’s feelings towards the British government. Gandhi urged the Congress to launch a Non-Cooperation Movement on these three issues.

In September, 1920, a special session of the Congress, presided by Lala Lajpat Rai was convened at Calcutta to approve the scheme.

The Non-Cooperation resolution garnered mixed responses. Pundit Motilal Nahru and Anil Ali Brothers supported the resolution, whereas Mrs Annie Besant, Pt. Malaviya and Shri C. R Das vehemently opposed it. They feared that large scale mass action against the British government would lead to violence on a wide scale, as occurred during Rowlatt satyagraha.

In December 1920, at the Nagpur Congress, the resolution on Non-Cooperation was repeated again. This session garnered greater support in favor of the resolution.

Highlights of the Nagpur session (As chronicled by Shyam Pandharipande)

A resolution calling for complete non-cooperation and boycott, virtually amounting to a war cry against the British rule in India, was the hallmark of the Nagpur session.

Of the 15,000 delegates to the session, where Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the Ali brothers were special invitees, more than 1,000 were Muslims apart from 169 women.

It was at this session that Gandhi outrightly rejected British Labour Party invitees’ counsel to reconsider the non-cooperation resolution as a confrontationist stance of the Congress would make it difficult for the British well-wishers of India to lobby for them in England.

Gandhi declared that Indians have no true friends outside India. “The people of India have to shape their own destiny, and self-reliance and non-cooperation are the legitimate non-violent weapons of our struggle for which we are preparing ourselves.”

Dalit leader Vitthal Shinde was felicitated in Nagpur, and Hindus were called upon to remove the scourge of untouchability. Lokmanya Tilak’s disciple N.C. Kelkar described the Nagpur gathering as a landmark one.

The call led to boycott of government colleges, bonfire of foreign goods and picketing of liquor shops. This rattled British rulers so much that they tried to suppress it, using brute force.

Police fired upon a massive procession in Nagpur’s Budhawari area on March 27, 1921, killed nine people and injured many more. Probably why the area is also called ‘Golibar chowk’ which ironically now is known for Saoji restaurants!

Over 20,000 people were dumped in the region’s jails – majority being in Nagpur’s Central jail.

Vallabhbhai and Vitthalbhai Patel successfully led a spectacular ‘zenda satyagraha’ (flag agitation) in the city Aug 18, 1922. Women also participated in the movement even as the police used canes and flogged public at will. Is that why Nagpur has so many ‘Zenda chowks?’ ( In Dharampeth, Dhantoli, Sitabaldi etc. to name a few.)

While a woman activist, Durgabai Joshi, led the Salt Satyagrah in Nagpur April 21, 1929, three others went all the way to Nashik in western Maharashtra to take part in similar action.

About 1,000 women took part in a 21,000-strong ‘swadeshi’ procession taken out by traders in the city June 26. An unprecedented ‘jungle satyagraha” at Talegaon, a small town near Nagpur, attracted 75,000 people from the region.

In a hair-raising account of the action in the city’s Gadikhana area, (Now known as Gadikhadan?) Gedam, a freedom fighter himself. writes about 12-year-old Doma Bante who raised a “bal sena” (children’s army) that stormed a bank and hoisted the tricolour atop it amidst a volley of bullets.

Even as one batch of children was enacting the valorous drama in one part of the city, another lad hoisted a flag right on top of the district collector’s office in the presence of a huge cheering crowd, provoking a British officer to open fire on unarmed people.

Enraged by police firing, in the following three days, irrepressible multitudes burnt several police outposts apart from the Itwari post office, clashed with the police at several places and even attacked the army at the famous Cotton Market square.

It will be good if our present day leaders keep in mind what Nagpurians are capable of, if inflamed!

Sunita Mudaliar ( Executive Editor )