Struggle Of Kashmiris & Gandhi’s Call To Boycott Schools, Colleges During India’s Freedom Struggle


Co-Written By Dr. P.S. Sahni&Shobha Aggarwal

“Hands that should carry books and laptops have been given stones.”

  • Prime Minister of India (Times of India, 9 August, 2016)

“Go after those instigating youngsters … in Jammu and Kashmir.”

  • Home Minister of India (Times of India, 12 September, 2016)

“Children should not be indulging in agitation. They should be going to schools and colleges.”

  • Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (Business Line, 16 August, 2016)

The Indian Prime Minister’s statement along with his photograph published in the Times of India dated 9 August, 2016 carried a huge banner in the backdrop with the image of Mahatma Gandhi in one corner and that of Chandrashekhar Azad in the other corner. The irony should not be lost sight of. A glimpse into the political ideology and involvement in political struggles of Gandhi, Chandrashekhar Azad and Modi juxtaposed in the context of recent uprising in Kashmir in in order.

Mahatma Gandhi’s call for Non-cooperation movement included boycott of educational institutions; this was part of the manifesto duly approved by the Indian National Congress in December 1920.Thousands of students left schools and colleges established by the colonial government to join this movement.[a]

Chandrashekhar Azad was an active member of Hindustan Republican Association (later reorganized as Hindustan Socialist Republican Association). He was involved in the attempt to blow up the Viceroy’s train in 1926. The revolutionary Chandrashekhar Azad had planned with comrades Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev to kill James A. Scott, a senior police official to avenge Lala Lajpat Rai’s death. In a case of mistaken identity John P. Saunders, another senior police official was shot on 17 December, 1928. Later Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutt threw two bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly, New Delhi on 8 April, 1929. The nominal intention was to protest against interalia the Public Safety Bill which had been rejected by the Assembly but the Viceroy had got it enacted using his special powers. Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and thousands of others all over the country decided to be in revolutionary politics. What these revolutionaries showed was that it is possible to cling to books and yet rise to the calling of revolutionary acts to give an impetus to the freedom struggle. Since the Indian Prime Minister has a Master’s degree in Political Science – with a first class at that – he would appreciate that holding books and being in a struggle are not mutually exclusive.

Gandhi had announced his plans to begin Non-cooperation movement for several reasons; one, as a consequence of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on 13 April, 1919 which resulted in the killing of 379 -1000 people and injuries to 1200-1500 people who were unarmed and peacefully protesting; secondly in support of the Khilafat movement; thirdly as a sequel to the Rowlatt Act passed in 1919 which allowed the British government to intern Indians suspected of sedition without a trial; provided for stricter control of the press; arrest without warrant, indefinite detention without trial and juryless in-camera trials for proscribed political acts. Aptly, the Rowlatt Act was referred to as “No dalil; no vakil; no appeal.”

When Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal in 1905 students participated in large numbers for the first time. [b] Lord Curzon’s attempt to divide Hindus and Muslims in Bengal faced stiff resistance. ‘Terrorists’ and allied movements as a result of political unrest forced the British government to announce the annulment of Bengal’s partition in 1911. During 1906-1918 about one-third of the persons convicted with revolutionary activities were students. In 1912 at the second all-India College student Conference held at Ahmedabad, the theme was Charka Swaraj first and education later!In 1930 during the second Non-cooperation movement students led processions, organized hartals and courted arrest in big numbers in Punjab, United Provinces, Bengal and Bombay.[c]

Again during the Quit India movement in 1942 students were instrumental in shutting down most of the colleges and provided the link between the movement and the underground leaders. All over the country students organized mass rallies in towns and cities. A section of students resorted to violent actions with a view to paralyze the British administration by blocking transport routes, cutting telephone wires, causing destruction to public property, disturbing services like banking, postal and police. The government machinery came to a grinding halt; students were jailed, tortured and killed in firings by the police. [b]

On 5 February, 1922 the Churichaura police station was set on fire by an angry mob; 22 policemen got burnt alive and died. Mahatma Gandhi decided to suddenly suspend the Non-cooperation movement. This action left many senior leaders of the struggle surprised. Gandhi was arrested on 10 March, 1922 and on 18 March, 1922 a British colonial court convicted him of sedition. Sentenced to a six year jail term he was made to serve only two years.

Navnirman movement: Students and middle class people in Gujarat launched this movement in December 1973 which lasted till March 1974 against corruption in public life and rising cost of living. A duly elected state government was uprooted through agitational methods including protest marches, hunger strikes, riots etc.

An indefinite strike in schools and colleges was called from 7 January, 1974. A state wide strike was organized on 25 January, 1974 which resulted in clashes between protesters and police in at least 33 towns; curfew was imposed in 44 towns as the agitation spread throughout the state. The army was called in to restore peace in Ahmedabad on 28 January, 1974. Finally on 16 March, 1974 the state assembly was dissolved bringing an end to the agitation which caused death of a hundred people; injuries to 1000-3000 persons; and arrest of around 8000 people. [d]

The students had become more violent and there was considerable loss of public and private property during the movement. The then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi had underestimated the determination of the protesting students. Both the state and the central governments failed to quell the movement. Narendra Modi – howsoever peripheral his role – was part of the movement which provided him a foothold in active politics; he was around 23 years old at that time. As a young Pracharak and associate of ABVP, Modi had joined the Navnirman movement; he had just his higher secondary education to his credit at that time. Modi received a degree in B.A. (Political Science) in 1978/79. In 1982/83 he obtained a post graduate degree in M.A. (Political Science). Considering that his school education was over in 1967 Modi took 15 years more to complete his post graduation; ordinarily this journey should be over in 5 years. Obviously Modi was not carrying books – particularly course books – during the extra 10 year period in question, the early part of which was spent in Navnirman movement. It was his first encounter with mass protests. It also led Modi to the first post of his political career viz. general secretary of the LokSangharshSamiti in Gujarat in 1975.Modi himself alternated between pursuing formal education and being in struggle.

The Navnirman movement no doubt was fuelled by a corrupt and inefficient state government but the casualty was not just the then duly elected state government of Gujarat but also the rule of law and the provisions of the Indian Constitution. True, inefficiency and corruption have to be resisted.


Number of persons affected Present Kashmir Uprising 2016 already about 12 weeks duration Navnirman Movement

Lasted for about 12 weeks

Injured 11000 to 13000; (apart from 4000 security personnel) 1000-3000
Dead 90 (apart from 2 security personnel) At least 100
Arrested The number ranges from 1000 to 3200upto 7000

(including 250-300 under Public Safety Act)


Table shows the number of injured, dead and arrested persons during the present Kashmir uprising (2016) and Navnirman movement, Gujarat (1973-74).

Some social scientists have opined that Navnirman movement provided impetus to right reactionary forces to grow in strength whereas the struggle of the people of Kashmir is rooted in the non-implementation of solemn assurances given by the Government of India to the Kashmiris since 1947. Article 370 of the Constitution of India as it stands today lies completely stripped of its pristine glory through subterfuge of successive rulers in Delhi since 1947. The promise of plebiscite has not been kept. The Indian National Congress – having been in power for almost six decades at the centre since independence – has much to account for.

The present Kashmir uprising

Since 8 July, 2016 the usual daily reports appearing in English language newspapers published from New Delhi mention that peaceful protesters in some village/ town/ district/ city in Kashmir march out publicly protesting against say police high-handedness or to express condolence to the family members of those who have lost a near one in firing by security forces or to attend a march to the U.N. office to submit a memorandum or to attend a funeral of a fellow protester; then on the way the marchers are stopped. Soon a peaceful protest is converted to an arena of stone pelting protesters and pellet/ bullet/ teargas firing by the police/ paramilitary forces!! Why can’t peaceful protests be permitted? Blocking such protests results in violence.

The armed apparatus of the state is all pervading. There is the heavy presence of an estimated 700,000 plus personnel of the Indian army based in Kashmir; this is perceived by the locals as an army of occupation. Draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act (PSA) are used to incarcerate thousands upon thousands of Kashmiris in jails. These laws compare favourably with the Rowlatt Act in their infamy.

It needs to be stressed that the Rowlatt Act and JallianwalaBagh massacre ignited even a preacher of non-violence, Mahatama Gandhi to launch a non-cooperation movement. Again, the nominal intention of Bhagat Singh as he threw two bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly, New Delhi was to protest interalia against the Public Safety Bill and not to kill any of the legislative members.

For the last three months schools, colleges and universities stand closed; shops, business establishments are practically not functioning except during few hours of relaxation on occasions; public sector banks, government offices, post offices have been rendered non-functional; public transport is off the roads, mobile telephony, internet services, local television channels have been shut down. The recent arrest of a prominent human rights activist under PSA and the ban on publication of an English language newspaper brought out from Kashmir are a pointer to the shape of things to come.

Local, Indian and international human rights organizations have documented at length over the last twenty-five years the number of Kashmiris who have simply disappeared or have been killed, injured, arrested, tortured and raped. The attempt of the present rulers in Delhi to have separate colonies for Kashmiri Pundits appears to be a crude attempt at dividing the Hindus and Muslims and has shades of Curzon’s attempt to divide Bengal in 1905.

And yet even in the present uprising since the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani on 8 July, 2016, the demands centre around Article 370 of the Constitution of India; plebiscite; United Nations resolution pertaining to Kashmir; withdrawal of Indian army; complete and continuous withdrawal of the curfew; release of prisoners; detained protesters to be treated as political prisoners; withdrawal of draconian laws like AFSPA and PSA; withdrawal of all forms of censorship on newspapers; restoration of telecommunication system viz mobile telephone, internet and unhindered broadcast of television channels; ban on use of pellet guns fired by security personnel and which has led to eye injuries/ blindness of hundreds of protesters.

The political resolution of the crisis warrants discussions with all the stake holders after the Government of India first unilaterally announces a period of ‘truce’ and ‘amnesty’.









Shobha Aggarwal & Dr. P.S. Sahni are members of PIL Watch Group and can be contacted at:[email protected]


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