Glancing through my daughter’s history book, I find generous references to the role played by stalwarts of our freedom movement. On Independence Day, she had also taken part in a play with the clichéd theme that the British were a blood-thirsty lot out to butcher the heroic natives at the slightest hint of resistance or the faintest murmur of the words, “ Vande Mataram”.
Our history books, of course, will tell us only that version of the story and much of it is probably true. But, till recently, the average citizen did not have easy access to other versions and so could never attempt a detached, dispassionate study, removing the filter of nationalism. Google Books, fortunately, provides an avenue to gain another perspective. What was the mind-set of the British people in those times?
Much as we like to give the entire credit to our brave freedom fighters for throwing out the British, a fact that was also responsible for the softening of their imperial stand was the growing consciousness among the British people, starting from the Victorian era, that much wrong had been done in the name of colonialism.
After the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, many in
Dr. Rod Thornton, in a paper , touches on this incident and narrates how the mores and values of British society were undergoing structural changes by the beginning of the twentieth century, so much so, that an increasingly affluent middle class came to be influenced by a sentiment that manifested itself in a distinct turn towards liberal values and philanthropic action. Among other things, he says, a desire was generated among Government ministers and other opinion-makers of the time to correct certain wrongs committed in the name of imperial expansion up to that point. This sentiment stressed the virtue of humanitarianism and urged that imperial expansion, if at all, must be compatible with the new ideals of honour, duty and use of minimum force. These ideals, explains
So, by the time the freedom movement gained momentum, there was a corresponding softening of the stance already taking place on the other side. And, it was only a question of time, when both these forces would combine and hasten the departure of the British.