Civil Disobedience Movement

Civil Disobedience Movement

This article deals with ‘ Civil Disobedience Movement  – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


  • Anti Simon Movement didn’t immediately become Mass Movement because Gandhi was not convinced that it is appropriate time  & people were not ready for such movement . But now time was reap . People wanted to do some action & Gandhi came to active politics and attended Calcutta Session of December 1928 . He began to consolidate nationalist ranks & reconciled militant left wing under Nehru & Subash
  • Lahore Session – announced launching of Civil Disobedience Movement under full leadership of Mahatma Gandhi .
  • World Depression during this time led to downfall in prices & hit peasants substantially. Propertied peasant class wanted lowering of taxes from government. 
  • Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Viceroy if situation can be saved but discouragement was in store for him . 

11 Point Demand of Gandhi

In March 1930 , Gandhi again addressed Viceroy through English friend Reynolds in letter which went in vain. Demands were 

  • Prohibit intoxicant
  • Abolish Salt Tax
  • Reduce military expenditure
  • Accept Postal Reservation bill
  • Reserve coastal shipping for Indians
  • Impose custom duty on foreign cloth
  • Change in ratio between ₹ & £ (1.04 £ instead of 1.06£)
  • Reduce rate of land revenue
  • Release of political prisoners
  • Abolish CID or give its control to citizens
  • Issue license of arms to citizens for self protection
  • Reduce expenditure on Civil Administration

It was a compromise  formula, which included, according to Sumit Sarkar’s classifcation,

  • Six “issues of general interest”, like reduction of military expenditure and civil service salaries, total prohibition, discharge of political prisoners not convicted of murder, reform of the CID and its popu­lar control and changes in the arms act;
  • Three “specific bourgeois demands”, like lowering of the rupee-sterling exchange rate to 1 s 4d, protective tarrif  on foreign cloth and reservation of coastal traf­fic  for Indian shipping companies;
  • Two “basically peasant themes”, i.e., 50 per cent reduction of land revenue  and its subjec­tion to legislative control  and abolition of salt tax and government.
  • Salt monopoly,was a mixed package to appeal to a wide cross­ section of political opinions and unite the Indians once again under one overarching political leadership.

Dandi March

  • Started on 12 March 1930 with 78 chosen followers from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi(none was woman) & made salt in violation of salt law. This was  symbol of Indian’s refusal to live under British rules
  • Bombay Chronicle wrote, ” in history of national movements this event is most glorious & most important.”

Side Topic : Gandhi openly told Viceroy about his plans of Salt Satyagraha and also said they can arrest me if they think that was right . This can be seen in contrast with Communist Movement of Lenin which work under utmost secrecy. Gandhi didn’t believe in that. Infact , he equated secrecy with violence.

Side Topic : Why Salt?

  • 1882 Salt Act gave the British a monopoly on the collection and manufacture of salt, limiting its handling to government salt depots and levying a salt tax.Violation of the Salt Act was a criminal offence. Eventhough salt was freely available to those living on the coast (by evaporation of sea water), Indians were forced to purchase it from the colonial government.
  • Initially, Gandhi’s choice of the salt tax was met with incredulity by the Working Committee of the Congress,Jawaharlal Nehru and Dibyalochan Sahoo were ambivalent; Sardar Patel suggested a land revenue boycott instead. The British establishment too was not disturbed by these plans of resistance against the salt tax.
  • Gandhi had sound reasons for his decision. The salt tax was a deeply symbolic choice, since salt was used by nearly everyone in India. An item of daily use could resonate more with all classes of citizens than abstract demand for greater political rights.
  • The salt tax represented 8.2% of the British Raj tax revenue, and hurt the poorest Indians the most significantly.
  • Explaining his choice, Gandhi said, “Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life.”
  • Gandhi felt that this protest would dramatize Purna Swaraj in a way that was meaningful to the lowliest Indians. He also reasoned that it would build unity between Hindus and Muslims by fighting a wrong that touched them equally.

Programme of the movement was as follows:

  1. Salt law should be violated everywhere.
  2. Students should leave colleges and government servants should resign from service.
  3. Foreign clothes should be burnt.
  4. No taxes should be paid to the government.
  5. Women should stage a Dharna at liquor shops, etc.

Spread of Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM)

  • Reached northern extreme to North Western corner under Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan called frontier Gandhi . He organised pathans under society Khudai Khidmatgars / Red Shirts
  • In Peshawar , 2 platoons of Gadhwali soldiers refused to fire . Nationalism begun to penetrate into Army as well
  • In Eastern most corner ,  Manipuris took part & in Nagaland  Rani Gaidinliu ,16 years old took part in it &  jailed . She was freed in 1947 when India became free

Side topic – Rani Gaidinliu

  • Gaidinliu (1915–1993) was a Naga spiritual and political leader who led a revolt against British rule in India.
  • At the age of 14, she joined the Heraka religious movement of her cousin Haipou Jadonang.
  • Movement later turned into a political movement seeking to drive out the British from Manipur and the surrounding Naga areas. Within the Heraka cult, she came to be considered an incarnation of the goddess Cherachamdinliu.
  • Gaidinliu was arrested in 1932 at the age of 16, and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the British rulers.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru met her at Shillong Jail in 1937, and promised to pursue her release. Nehru gave her the title of “Rani”, and she gained local popularity as Rani Gaidinliu.She was released in 1947 after India’s independence, and continued to work for the upliftment of her people.
  • An advocate of the ancestral Naga religious practices, she staunchly resisted the conversion of Nagas to Christianity. She was honoured as a freedom fighter and was awarded a Padma Bhushan by the Government of India

Methods adopted

1 . Salt Satyagraha

  • Gandhi in Dandi
  • C Rajagopalachari in Madras province
  • In Dharsana , planned to be done by Gandhi but he was arrested . Sarojini Naidu, Imam sahib(Gandhi’s associate ) & Manilal (gandhi’s son) did that with 2000 volunteers & was non violent with police lathi charging them but they responded nothing . Injured comrades carried on stretchers & other column making way to take place . Widely reported by US reporter Webb Miller
  • Wadala suburb 
  • Balasor & Puri District of Odisha
  • Midnapore in coastal Bengal 
  • It was just a catalyst & beginning for rich variety of defiance

2. Boycott of foreign cloth & liquor

  • Vigorous boycott of foreign cloth and liquor shops and had especially asked the women to play a leading role in this movement. Along with the women, students and youth played the most prominent part in the boycott of foreign cloth and liquor
  • Traders’ associations and commercial bodies were themselves quite active in implementing  boycott, as were the many mill owners who refused to use foreign yarn and pledged not to manufacture coarse cloth that competed with khadi.
  • Liquor boycott brought Government revenues from excise duties crashing down

3. Chawkidari Tax

  • In Eastern India , there was refusal to pay the Chowkidari tax.
  • Chowkidars, paid out of the tax levied specially on the villages, were guards who supplemented the small police force in the rural areas in this region. They were particularly hated because they acted as spies for the Government and often also as retainers for the local landlords.
  • Widely took place first in Bihar
  • In Bengal , with onset of monsoon it was difficult to make salt . Hence movement shifted to anti- Chawkidari tax

4. No Land Tax

  • In Kheda district, Bardoli taluqa in Surat district, and in Jambusar in Broach, a determined no-tax movement was in progress — the tax refused here was the land revenue.
  • Villagers in  thousands, with family, cattle and household goods, crossed the border from British India into the neighbouring princely states such as Baroda and camped for months together in the open fields. Their houses were broken into, their belongings destroyed, their lands confiscated

5. No Revenue – No Rent

  • In UP
  • No-revenue part was a call to the zamindars to refuse to pay revenue to the Government, the no- rent a call to the tenants not to pay rent to the zamindars. In effect, since the zamindars were largely loyal to the Government, this became a no-rent struggle

6. Prabat pheris

  • Bands of men, women and children went around at dawn singing nationalist songs, became the rule in villages and towns.

7. Patrikas

  • Illegal news-sheets, sometimes written by hand and sometimes printed , were part of the strategy to defy the hated Press Act, and they flooded the country.

8. Vanar & Manjari Sena

  • Children were organized into vanar senas or monkey armies and at least at one place the girls decided they wanted their own separate manjari sena or cat army!

Gandhi Irwin Pact


  • 1930 : British Government summoned first Round Table Conference (RTC) to discuss Simon Commission Report but Congress boycotted . That proved to be abortive
  • For a conference on Indian affairs without Congress was like staging Ramlila without Rama & government now tried to negotiate agreement with congress so that it would attend RTC
  • On 26 Jan 1931 , Gandhi with other members of Congress working committee were released . Negotiations for settlement began &  Gandhi Irwin Pact was signed by Gandhi on behalf of Congress & Lord Irwin on behalf of British government 
  • Importance placed Congress on equal footing with Government

Side Topic : First Round Table Conference (RTC)

  • Before Simon Commission had submitted report, Torries fell and Labour Government came in Britain. They showed intention to make Constitutional changes after ascertaining views of all shades and called for RTC.
  • But when First RTC held, Congress was deeply involved in Civil Disobedience Movement . Government was well aware that without taking Congress on board these negotiations would not yield anything
  • Congress placed some conditions for attending RTC and prominent was

Recognition of India’s right to secede at will and grant of fully responsible government both at Central and Provincial levels

This wasn’t  acceptable to government and they proceeded without Congress

  • First Round Table Conference (RTC) was held in Nov 1930 – 89 Persons participated in it
    • 16 from British Political Parties
    • 58 various Indian Political Parties
MR Jayakar Hindu Mahasabha
TB Sapru Liberals
Agha Khan , Shafi , Fazlul Haq ,  Jinnah Muslims
Ambedkar Depressed Classes
KT Paul Christians
Members representing interests of Princely States  
  • Despite all its handicaps , it did arrive at two important things
    • It recommended the formation of an All India Federation of British Indian Provinces & Indian States.
    • It also proposed to establish a responsible government at the centre with certain safeguards for the transitional period. However, to the disappointment of the nationalists, the period of transition was not clearly specified.

Outcomes of Pact

  • Struggle was provisionally suspended
  • Disobedience prisoners were to be released (but relatively little attempt seems to have been made for saving the life of Bhagat Singh)
  • Remission of all fines not yet collected
  • Return of confiscated lands not yet sold to third parties
  • Lenient  treatment for those government employees who had resigned
  • Government also conceded the right to make salt for consumption to villages along the coast
  • Right  to peaceful and non-aggressive picketing
  • Congress demand for a public inquiry into police excesses was not accepted, but Gandhis insistent request for an inquiry was recorded in the agreement.
  • Gandhi agreed to participate in RTC on three principles
    1. Establishment  of Federation  of India
    2. Establishment of responsible government
    3. Certain safeguards for British Government which would get due place in future constitution of India
  • But why Gandhi signed Pact is mystery. There is some evidence that the crucial role was played by business pressures. A surcharge of 5% had been imposed on cotton piecegoods imports in early February, despite some Cabinet opposition and loud protests from depression affected Lancashire obviously on political grounds. Purshottamdas went to see Gandhi at Allahabad in order to try to put commercial pressure on him. Thakurdas was in Delhi during the negotiation

Yusuf Meher Ali, soon to become a prominent Socialist leader, denounced unequivocally ‘the politics of compromise’ and ‘change of heart’, and bitterly attacked ‘the Birlas, Purshottamdas Thakurdas’, Walchand Hirachands, Husainbhai Laljis, who are now out and busy in making efforts to obtain the fruits of the suffering and sacrifices of others’.

Negative Impact- Peasants took it as betrayal because neither there was any promise of tax reduction nor their confiscated land was returned. The pact, rather than police lathis, broke the morale of the Peasants

Achievements of first phase

  • The vast mass of the people were undoubtedly impressed that the mighty British Government had  to treat their movement and their leader as an equal and sign a pact with him. They saw this as a recognition of their own strength, and as their victory over the Government. Thousands who flocked out of the jails as a result of the pact were treated as soldiers returning from a victorious battle and not as prisoners of war returning from a humiliating defeat. They knew that a truce was not a surrender, and that the battle could be joined again, if the enemy so wanted.
  • Marked a critically important stage in the progress of the anti-imperialist struggle. The number of people who went to jail was estimated at over 90,000 — more than three times the figure for the Non Cooperation Movement of 1920- 22.
  • Imports of cloth from Britain had fallen by half; other imports like cigarettes had suffered a similar fate.
  • Government income from liquor excise and land revenue had been affected. Elections to the Legislative Assembly had been effectively boycotted. A vast variety of social groups had been politicized on the side of Indian nationalism
  • The participation of Muslims in the Civil Disobedience Movement was certainly nowhere near that in 1920-22. The appeals of communal leaders to stay away, combined with active Government encouragement of communal dissension to counter the forces of nationalism, had their effect. Still, the participation of Muslims was not insignificant, either. Their participation in the North-West Frontier Province was, as is well known, overwhelming.
  • Support that the movement had garnered from the poor and illiterate, both in town and in the country, was remarkable indeed.
  • For Indian women, the movement was the most liberating experience to date and can truly be said to have marked their entry into the public space

Karachi Congress of 1931

Congress met in Karachi on 29 March 1931 ie 6 days after Bhagat Singh , Rajguru & Sukhdev have been executed . All  along route , Gandhi was greeted with black flags .

Main resolutions passed at Karachi Session of 1931

1 . About Bhagat Singh’s death

  • Drafted by Gandhi by which it, ‘while dissociating itself from and disapproving of political violence in any shape or form,’ admired ‘the bravery and sacrifice’ of the three martyrs.’

2. About Delhi Pact(Gandhi Irwin pact)

  • Congress endorsed the Delhi Pact and reiterated the goal of Poorna Swaraj

3. About Fundamental Rights

Eventhough the Congress had from its inception fought for the economic interests, civil liberties and political rights of the people, this was the first time that the Congress defined what Swaraj would mean for the masses. 

  • Guaranteed the basic civil rights of free speech, free press, free assembly, and freedom of association; equality before the law irrespective of caste, creed or sex; neutrality of the state in regard to all religions
  • Elections on the basis of universal adult franchise
  • Free  and compulsory primary education.
  • Substantial  reduction in rent and revenue, exemption from rent in case of uneconomic holdings, and relief of agricultural indebtedness and control of usury
  • Better conditions for workers including a living wage, limited hours of work and protection of women workers; the right to organise and form unions to workers and peasants
  • State  ownership & control of key industries, mines and means of transport.
  • The culture, language and script of the minorities and of the different linguistic areas shall be protected.

The Karachi resolution was to remain in essence the basic political and economic programme of the Congress in later years.

Resolution on fundamental rights and economic policy  has often been interpreted as a major concession to placate the Left. It is true that some officials suspected in it the hand of M.N. Roy . But there was in reality precious little of ‘socialism’ in the 20-points of the Karachi Resolution, which combined general democratic demands (civil liberties, legal equality, adult suffrage, free primary education, and a state policy of religious neutrality) with much of Gandhi’s 11-points of 1930, plus fairly   modest promises to labour (living wages, an end to forced labour, trade union rights, etc.), a vaguely worded clause about control by the state of key industries and mineral resources, and a very moderate programme indeed of agrarian change. Only ‘substantial reductions’ were promised in land revenue and rent, there was no reference to the burning issue of rural indebtedness, and obviously no intention at all of eliminating landlordism or redistributing land. 

Second Round Table Conference (RTC)

  • Held in London but nothing much was expected
  • In the intervening period the situation had  undergone a change. On 26 August 1931 , MacDonald’s Labour Cabinet resigned and a new coalition government dominated by the Conservatives was formed under him. Wellingdon succeeded Lord Irwin in Delhi in April 1931. Sir Samuel Hoare a leading conservative became Secretary of State for India.
  • Overwhelming majority of Indian delegates to RTC, hand-picked by the Government, were loyalists, communalists, careerists, and place-hunters, big landlords and representatives of the princes. They were used by the Government to claim that the Congress did not represent the interests of all Indians
  • The Second Session ended on 1 December, 1931 and made recommendations on the matters such as:
    1. Composition of the Indian Federation
    2. Structure of the Federal Judiciary
    3. Mode of accession of States to the Federation
    4. Distribution of Financial Resources.

These were same as had been suggested earlier by the Nehru Committee Report. The proceedings of the conference were bogged down by the communal issues. 

  • British Government refused to concede the basic Indian demands.  Gandhi came back at the end of December 1931 to a changed political situation.
  • Delhi Pact  had raised the political prestige of the Congress and the political morale of the people and undermined and lowered British prestige. New Viceroy believed that the Government had made a major error in negotiating and signing a truce with the Congress, as if between two equal powers. They were now determined to reverse it all.

British Policy after 2nd Round Table Conference

British policy was now dominated by three major considerations

  • Gandhi must not be permitted to build up the tempo for a massive mass movement, as he had done in 1920-1 & 1930
  • The Government felt that  functionaries — village officials, police and higher bureaucrats — and the loyalists — ‘our friends’ — must not feel disheartened that Gandhi was being ‘resurrected as a rival authority to the Government of India,’ and that the Government was losing the will to rule.
  • Nationalist movement must not be permitted to gather force & consolidate itself in rural areas

Gandhi came back & crushing of movement

  • While Gandhi was in London, Government prepared secret plans for coming showdown & decided to launch hard & immediate blow against any rival movement at very outset.
  • JL Nehru was arrested in UP, Abdul Gaffar Khan was arrested in NWFP & in Bengal government was ruling thru draconian ordinances .  Whole state was converted into Civil Martial Law . Within week, leading Congressmen were behind jails &  80,000 satyagrahis were jailed
  • The non-violent movement was met by relentless repression. The Congress and its allied organizations were declared illegal and their offices and funds seized. Nearly all  Gandhi Ashrams were occupied by the police.
  • Peaceful picketers, Satyagrahis  were lathi-charged, beaten and often awarded rigorous imprisonment and heavy fines, which were realised by selling their lands and property at throw away prices. Prisoners in jail were barbarously treated.
  • No-tax campaigns in different parts of rural India were treated with great severity. Lands, houses, cattle, agricultural implements, and other property were freely confiscated.
  • Wrath of the Government fell with particular harshness on women. Conditions in jails were made extraordinarily severe with the idea of scaring away women from the Satyagraha.
  • The freedom of the Press to report or comment on the movement, or even to print pictures of national leaders or Satyagrahis, was curtailed. Within the first six months of 1932, action was taken against 109 journalists. Nationalist literature — poems, stories and novels — was banned on a large scale.

End of Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM)

  • In 1933 ,Gandhi confessed failure of movement & resigned his membership of congress & confined his work to upliftment of Harijans . Harijan upliftment became his principle concern . He started All India Anti Untouchability League in Sept 1932 & weekly Harijan in Jan 1933 even before his release . He went out on Harijan tours between Nov 1933 & Aug 1934
  • Gandhi personally decided to abstain from it after his final release from jail in April 1933  . It was suspended temporarily in June 1933 &  was finally withdrawn in April 1934

If the colonial policy of negotiations by Irwin had failed earlier, so had the policy of ruthless suppression by Willingdon. People had been cowed down by superior force; they had not lost faith in the Congress. Although the movement from 1930 to 1934 had not achieved independence and had been temporarily crushed, the Indian people had been further transformed. The will to fight had been further strengthened; faith in British rule had been completely shattered

Civil Disobedience Movement versus Non Cooperation Movement

Feature CDM NCM
Objective Complete independence Swaraj and redressal of two issues
Methods Non cooperation and violation of unjust laws Only non cooperation
Govt reaction Ruthless repression Moderate repression
1 Muslims Low (only under frontier Gandhi) Huge on account of the khilafat issue
2 Women High Marginal
3 Lawyers & students Low High
4 businessmen More Less
5 Peasant Less More
Imprisonments 3 times than in NCM  
Level of control Was there but some violence seen in Sholapur Very controlled
Outcome Communal Award – Revolutionary Activities
– Swarajist Party  

Leave a Comment