Venue: Gowalia Tank Maidan (August Kranti Maidan), Mumbai
Date: 9th August 1942
August Kranti Maidan has played a crucial role in the history of India’s Freedom struggle. It was this place where Mahatma Gandhi called upon his countrymen to launch the Quit India Movement.
To recall the events preceding the clarion call by Gandhi, the Congress Working Committee meeting at Wardha on 14th July 1942 had passed a resolution demanding complete independence from the British government. The draft proposed mass civil disobedience if the British did not grant the demands. The resolution declared “the immediate ending of British rule in India is an urgent necessity both for the sake of India and for the success of the cause of United Nations”. It declared that free India “will assure the success by throwing her great resources in the struggle for freedom and against the aggression of Nazism, Fascism and imperialism”.
The historic session of the All India Congress Committee began on 7th August 1942 and ended after midnight of 8th/9th August 1942 at Gowalia Tank Maidan, Mumbai. Known as ‘Quit India Resolution’, it created an ‘electrifying atmosphere’ in the country. Gandhi in his rousing speech gave a clarion call to the people for freedom from the British, giving the mantra “Do or die”.
In the early hours of 9th August, prominent leaders including Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Azad were put in prison without a trial, shortly after Gandhi’s speech. Most of them had to remain in jail for more than three years till World War Two ended. Protests and agitations were held throughout the country. Workers absented en masse and went on strike. There were violent demonstrations at some places with bombs exploding, government offices being burnt and electricity and communication lines, and transport being disrupted.
The British reacted by arresting thousands of people all over the country. The Government issued an order banning meetings, public processions and assemblies. In spite of the police warning, a large crowd had gathered at Gowalia Tank Maidan. With the arrest of all the national leaders, there was no leader to offer direction to the popular agitation. A young and till then relatively unknown Aruna Asaf Ali presided over the AICC session on 9th August and she hoisted the Indian flag. The Congress was then declared an unlawful organization. In addition to the arrests, the British also went ahead and abolished civil rights, freedom of press and freedom of speech.
The police used tear gas and lathi charge to disperse the large crowd which had gathered at Gowalia Tank Maidan. The national flag was pulled down and those who went to its rescue were thrashed. Hundreds of civilians were killed and injured during the movement.
During the movement, Aruna Asaf Ali and Usha Mehta (a student) were broadcasting the news through an underground radio station (42.34 metres). They kept shifting the broadcasting equipment frequently to avoid being caught and detained by the British Police.
The British were supported by the Viceroy’s Council (having a majority of Indians), the princely states, several Indian businessmen and others. However, support for the movement came from the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who applied pressure on the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to accept the demands of the Indians. The British decided not to grant independence immediately, stating that it could be considered only after the end of the World War.
The leadership of the Congress was isolated from the world for more than three years. Gandhi’s personal secretary and close associate Mahadev Desai died on 15th August 1942 and Gandhi’s wife Kasturba died on 22nd February 1944. Despite these events, Gandhi went on a 21-day fast. He was released owing to poor health. But he kept up the agitation to release the Congress leaders.
The Quit India movement generated controversies at that time. Furthermore, the British could easily crush this movement because of a lack of proper coordination and absence of a firm plan of action. Several nationalists were disappointed at the failure of the Quit India movement. However, it was during this movement that the British realized they would not be able to govern India successfully in the long run and began considering ways and means of leaving this country in a dignified and peaceful manner. This movement is considered as one of the most important landmark events of the Indian freedom struggle, which forced Britain to ultimately transfer power to the Indian leadership.
A monument commemorating this historic event is presently located in a garden inside the ground. Gowalia Tank Maidan is also known as August Kranti Maidan. The locality surrounding this ground is known as Gowalia Tank. The name ‘Gowalia Tank’ refers to the olden days when there was a water tank situated here where shepherds would bring their cows and sheep for water.
On this day, let us salute those brave freedom fighters for their great sacrifice.
Anup Y. Attavar
FOUNDER ADMINISTRATOR of Connecting Indians CIRCLE (LOCAL CIRCLES)
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