The rise of national consciousness in India took place towards the latter half of the 19th century only. Before that, there were struggles and battles against British colonialism but they were all confined to smaller areas and in any case, did not encompass the whole of India. In fact, some scholars at the time did not consider India to be a country. These reasons raised awareness in people and led to revolts against the British. These revolts are important part of India Freedom Struggle which is part of UPSC mains GS paper 1


  • Major causes of Indian Freedom struggle


Political union had occurred in the past under great kings like Ashoka and Akbar and under the Marathas to an extent, they were not permanent. However, cultural unity was always seen and foreign powers always referred to the subcontinent as India or Hind as being one entity, despite being ruled by many rulers.

It can be said that the national movement, with the political and social emancipation of the people as its aim, arose in India in 1885, with the formation of the Indian National Congress. Causes of the rise of the national movement in India

Western education

Macaulay had instituted a western educational system in India with the sole aim of creating a class of educated Indians who could serve their colonial masters in the administration of the ‘natives’. This idea sort of backfired because it created a class of Indians who became exposed to the liberal and radical thoughts of European writers who expounded liberty, equality, democracy and rationality. Also, the English language united Indians from various regions and religions.

Vernacular languages

The 19th century also saw the revival of vernacular languages. This helped the propagation of the ideas of liberty and rational thought to the masses.

End of the old social order

British imperialism put an end to the old social order of the country. This was resented by many Indians.

Socio-religious reform movements

Socio-religious reform movements of the 19th century helped a great deal in the rise of nationalism in India. These movements sought to remove superstition and societal evils prevalent then, and spread the word of unity, rational and scientific thought, women empowerment and patriotism among the people. Notable reformers were Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyotiba Phule and so on.

Economic policies of the British

The oppressive economic policies of the British led to widespread poverty and indebtedness among the Indians especially farmers. Famines which led to the deaths of lakhs were a regular occurrence. This led to a bitter sense of suppression and sowed the seeds of a yearning for liberty from foreign rule.

Political unity

Under the British, most parts of India were put under a single political set-up. The system of administration was consolidated and unified throughout in all regions. This factor led to the feeling of ‘oneness’ and nationhood among Indians.

Communications network

The British built a network of roads, railways, post and telegraph systems in the country. This led to increased movements of people from one part of the country to another and increased the flow of information. All this accelerated the rise of a national movement in India.

Growth of the modern press

This period also saw the rise of the Indian press, both in English and in the regional languages. This also was an important factor that helped in the dissemination of information.

Lord Lytton’s policies

Lord Lytton was the Viceroy of India from 1876 to 1880. In 1876, there was a famine in south Indian which saw the deaths of almost 10 million people. His trading policies were criticised for having aggravated the famine. Also, he conducted the grand Delhi Durbar in 1877 spending huge amount of money at a time when people were dying of hunger.

Lytton also passed the Vernacular Press Act 1878 which authorised the government to confiscate newspapers that printed ‘seditious material’. He also passed the Arms Act 1878 which prohibited Indians from carrying weapons of any kind without licenses. The act excluded Englishmen.

Legacy of the Revolt of 1857

After the Revolt of 1857 and its bitter crushing by the British, there was a deep racial tension between the British and the Indians.

Ilbert Bill controversy

In 1883, the Ilbert Bill was introduced which gave Indian judges the power to hear cases against European, by the then Viceroy Lord Ripon and Sir Courtenay Ilbert, the legal advisor to the Council of India. But there was a huge outcry against this bill from Britishers in India and in Britain. Arguments made against this bill displayed the deep racial prejudice the English had for Indians. This also exposed the true nature of British colonialism to the educated Indians.

The Indian Association

• The most important of the pre-Congress nationalist organization was ‘The Indian Association of Calcutta’.
• The younger nationalists of Bengal had been gradually getting discontented with the conservative and pro-landlord policies of the British India Association. They wanted sustained political agitation on issues of wider public interest.
• Led by Surendranath and Anandamohan Bose, the younger nationalists of Bengal founded the Indian Association in July 1876.
• The Indian Association set before itself the aims of creating a strong public opinion in the country on political questions and the unification of the Indian people on a common political programme.
• In order to attract large numbers of people to its banner, it fixed a low membership fee for the poorer classes.
• The first major issue it took up for agitation was the reform of the Civil Service regulations and the raising of the age limit for its examination, Surendranath Banerjee toured different parts of the country during 1877-78 in an effort to create an all-India public opinion on this question.
• The Indian Association also carried out agitation against the Arms Act and the Vernacular Press Act and in favour of protection of the tenants from oppression by the zamindars.
• During 1883-85 it organised popular demonstrations of thousands of peasants to get the Rent Bill changed in favour of the tenants.
• It also agitated for better conditions of work for the workers in the English-owned tea plantations where conditions of near-slavery prevailed.
• Many branches of the Association were opened in the towns and villages of Bengal and also in many towns outside Bengal.
• The existing organizations had served a useful purpose but they were narrow in their scope and functioning. They dealt mostly with local questions and their membership and leadership were confined to a few people belonging to a single city or province.
• Even the Indian Association had not succeeded in becoming an all-Indian body.
• The Indian Association sponsored an all-India National Conference at Calcutta in December 1883. This Conference was attended by several leaders from outside Bengal. It adopted a programme very similar to the one adopted by the Indian National Congress with which it merged in 1886.

National movements outside the country

There were many national movements outside the country that inspired the Indian nationalists like the French Revolution, the American War of Independence and so on.

The reasons given in the article above gave a push to the feeling of nationalism in India. Its important for the students to understand these reasons to analyse how the the Indian freedom movement got its shape and what led to the formation of Indian national Congress. To read more articles on Modern India History click here