When Bengaluru shouted ‘Quit India’
The city has a long history of revolts and expressions of resentment against the British
Mysore Bank Square, August 17, 1942. For the ninth consecutive day, thousands of Bengalureans came out to protest peacefully in response to Gandhiji’s Quit India call. People surged and flowed along Avenue Road and slogans suffused with hope and anger rented the air: “Quit India!”, “Inquilab Zindabad!”
But that Monday, some protesters set fire to a post office at Aralepete; others broke into a police station and tried to attack the post office at Chickpet. When the police issued warnings, defiant protesters barricaded the road with carts and boulders and then hurled soda bottles at the policemen, while others threw stones from their rooftops.
The police opened fire, six people died and more than 30 were injured. Bengaluru has a long history of revolts and expressions of resentment against the British. Even in 1800, people were arrested for singing songs against the British and in praise of Tipu Sultan.
Twenty-five years before the First War of Independence swept through India, there was an attempted mutiny in Bengaluru by soldiers who dreamt of overthrowing the British here and then inciting mutiny all over India; their plan was thwarted by a snitch.
From the late 1800s, like the rest of the country, Bengaluru too was gripped with nationalistic fervour. This was fanned by the activities of organisations such as the Vokkaligara Sangha, established in 1906, which did much to raise awareness and education in the community, and the Theosophical Society, which established a branch here in 1886.
A big stimulus to the still-nascent freedom movement was the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa in January 1915. His first visit to Bengaluru was in May 1915. His second visit in 1920 ushered in a movement for spinning khadi. Khadi sales were frequently held, as were other gatherings — to celebrate Gandhiji’s ending a fast, to mourn the passing of C.R. Das, or protest against a water tax. Such meetings usually began with Gandhians speaking about non-cooperation, Hindu-Muslim unity, against untouchability, and against alcohol.
Hundreds attended these gatherings which were held in the so-called Gandhi Maidan opposite Minto Hospital, Doddanna Hall, which was opposite Bengaluru Fort, and sometimes, even Tipu Palace. Many such meetings had an attendee whose job was to report on them to the Mysore administration: one such report by a spy in 1925 records the speeches made and then dutifully notes that khadi worth Re. 1 and 2 annas was sold.
Except for when he was here to recuperate from illness, Gandhiji’s visits had him criss-crossing the city, holding meetings at Mahila Seva Samaja, the RBANMs school and grounds, a home on Lalbagh Road, a shop at Commercial Street, and so on. Thousands thronged to listen to him speak passionately about non-violence and the evils of untouchability. A meeting in a house on Victoria Road, for example, drew 2,000 people, at National High School, 25,000 people. Many people who attended these meetings donated generously to the cause, sometimes even giving away their jewellery.
But not everyone was so moved: some people held meetings where they denounced Gandhiji’s anti-caste stand as “subversive of Hindu dharma”. The 1920s and 1930s also saw frequent student rallies, boycott of classes, and picketing of shops selling foreign cloth. In that pre-WhatsApp and social media era, when even telephones were uncommon, how did organisers get the word out about upcoming meetings? Enter the cheap flyer. Hundreds of these indispensable handbills were churned out at several small presses around the city and were then distributed door to door, in markets, and stuck on strategic lamp posts.
A turning point in the freedom struggle in Bengaluru came in 1937 when K.F. Nariman, president of the Bombay Congress Committee, was invited to speak here. The Mysore government had banned him from addressing gatherings because of his earlier “incendiary” speeches. On October 24, at Banappa Park, as soon as Nariman came on to the stage to address a crowd comprising mainly students, he was arrested. The next day, when students gathered to protest his arrest, police opened fire on the unarmed protesters. One person was killed and 73 people were injured that day.
Little-known memorials at Banappa Park and at Mysore Bank Circle commemorate some of those who died in the 1937 and 1942 incidents.
(Meera Iyer is the author of ‘Discovering Bengaluru’ and the convenor of INTACH Bengaluru Chapter)