How did India become Independent?
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India's Independence

large group of Indian men
Indian National Congress (1885)

April 2017 - By the 1880s, India was becoming a very poor country, while Britain got richer and richer by taking all of India's wealth (as in Iran, and many other countries). In 1885, Indian resisters organized the Indian National Congress to try to get more Indian men into power in the government.

two indian soldiers kneeling
Indian soldiers in Burma during World War II

During World War I, the British asked a lot of Indian men to serve in the British army fighting the Germans, and this gave the Indian National Congress more power. First, Britain was much weaker after fighting World War I and losing so many men in the war. Second, more Indian men, especially Sikhs, were trained in modern warfare and could fight the British. Third, Britain needed to stay friends with India in case they needed Indian men to fight for them again. The Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Mohandas Gandhi, began to push for full Indian independence.

bald indian man with glasses and white robe
Mahatma Gandhi

When Britain called for Indian men to fight in World War II, Gandhi asked for independence in exchange - and the British put the entire Indian National Congress in jail! Indian soldiers fought for Britain in World War II anyway, but other Indians, like Netaji Subhash Bose, supported Nazi Germany and Japan, and Japan fought the British in India. After the war, Britain was even weaker, and India's fighting abilities were stronger. Britain tried to keep control of India and its wealth by promising more rights for Indians, but more and more Indians participated in the huge non-violent demonstrations Gandhi led to end the hated salt tax and pressure Britain for full independence.

In 1947, the Indian National Congress negotiated a deal for independence from Britain, but Britain insisted on breaking India into two countries. Pakistan (divided into two pieces, West Pakistan and East Pakistan) would be an Islamic country, while India would be a Hindu country. Gandhi fought to make India and Pakistan back into one country, but in 1948 a Hindu man shot and killed him. Ten million Indians moved to live in the "right" country for their religion, and a million more died in the riots that pushed people to move.

Learn by doing: get training in non-violent civil disobedience
Modern India
More about India

Bibliography and further reading about Indian history:

More about India home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 28 April, 2017