Road to Indian independence

Six maps illustrating the crisis of British imperial involvement in India and the growth of Indian nationalism.

1885: Indian National Congress becomes the leading party for Indian nationalists

  • Britain’s relationship with India was complex and many Indians, especially the rich and powerful, believed that British rule was good for India in the second half of the 19th century.
  • The Indian National Congress was established by Indian elites that wanted greater freedom within the British Empire.

1893: Gandhi experiences the prejudice at the heart of the British Empire in South Africa

  • Whilst travelling through South Africa a young Mahatma Gandhi was thrown off a train because he refused to move out of the first class carriage he had paid for to sit in the third class ‘coloured’ section.
  • Whilst working as a lawyer, mostly for South Africa’s growing community of Indians, Gandhi began to campaign for the civil rights of Indians and famously encouraged his fellow protestors to symbolically burn their identification passes and to demand the right to vote.

1900: Lord Curzon imposes stricter control over India

  • Lord Curzon is one of the most important viceroys in the history of British India. Although he respected Indian languages and customs he was interested in one thing above all and that was securing British power in India.
  • The Indian National Congress (INC) grew in influence during Curzon's reign (1899-1905), especially amongst the educated Hindus of Bengal. Lord Curzon’s solution was to partition Bengal so that these educated Hindus could not be in a position to increase their power.
  • This caused great resentment and anger amongst the Indians and although the changes were reversed in 1911, many Indians continued to believe that the British attitude to ruling India would always be to ‘divide and rule’.

1914: Indian soldiers serve on the Western Front in World War One

  • The INC were not taken seriously by successive British viceroys and after contributing significant sums of men and money to Britain’s efforts in World War One, the moderate INC became much more militant when Britain refused to give Indians greater control over their own government.

1919: Amritsar Massacre

  • The massacre of unarmed protestors at Amritsar gave an opportunity for the charismatic leader of the INC, Mahatma Gandhi, to lead demonstrations and non-violent protests that would continue until 1947 when India and Pakistan were granted independence.

1930: Gandhi’s Salt March

  • To demonstrate to the world the injustice of British rule, Gandhi and an increasing number of followers marched to the coast to collect salt. The aim was to make Indians and the wider world think about the nature of British rule in India and how it was based on exploitation.