Extent of Mass Participation

Extent of Mass Participation in Swadeshi and Boycott Movement

Students came out in large numbers to propagate and practice swadeshi, boycott and public burning of foreign cloth, picketing of shops selling foreign goods, all became common in remote corners of Bengal as well as in many important important towns and cities throughout the country. Women, who were traditionally home-centred, especially those of the urban middle classes, took active part in processions and picketing. Women refused to wear foreign bangles and use foreign utensils, washermen refused to wash foreign clothes and even priests declined offerings which contained foreign sugar.

New methods of mass mobilization

The movement also innovated with considerable success different methods of mass mobilization. Public meetings and processions emerged as major methods of mass mobilisation and simultaneously as forms of popular expression. Numerous meetings and processions, organised at the district, taluqa and village levels, in cities and towns, both testifies to the depth of Swadeshi sentiment and acted as vehicles for its further spread. These forms were to retain their pre-eminence in later phases of national movement.

Corps of volunteers (or samitis as they were called) were another major form of mass mobilization widely used by the Swadeshi Movement. The Swadesh Bandhab Samiti set up by Ashwani Kumar Dutt, a school teacher in Barisal was the most well-known volunteer organization of them all. Through the activities of this Samiti, whose 159 branches reached out to the remotest corners of the district, Dutt was able to generate an unparalleled mass following among the predominantly Muslim peasantry of the region. The samitis took the Swadeshi message to the villages through magic lantern lectures and swadeshi songs, gave physical and moral training to their members, did social work during famines and epidemics and organised schools, training in Swadeshi craft and arbitration courts. By August 1906, the Barisal Samiti reportedly settled 523 disputes through eighty-nine arbitration committees. Though the samitis struck their deepest roots in Barisal, they had expanded to other parts of Bengal as well. British officialdom was genuinely alarmed by their activities, their growing popularity with the rural masses.

The Swadeshi period also saw the creative use of traditional popular festivals and melas as a means of reaching out to the masses. The Ganpati and Shivaji festivals, popularized by Tilak, became a medium for Swadeshi propaganda not only in Western India but also in Bengal. Traditional folk theatre forms such as jatras were extensively used in disseminating the Swadeshi message in an intelligible form to vast sections of the people, many of whom were being introduced to modern political ideas for the first time.

Further, self-help and constructive work at the village level was envisaged as as means of bringing about the social and economic regeneration of the villages and of reaching the rural masses. In actual terms this meant social reform and campaigns against evils such as caste oppression, early marriage, dowry system, consumption of alcohol, etc. One of the major planks of the programme of self-reliance was Swadeshi or national education.

Self-reliance also meant an effort to set up Swadeshi or indigenous enterprises. The period saw a mushrooming of indigenous textile mills, soap and match factories, tannaries, banks, insurance companies, shops, etc.

It was, perhaps, in the cultural sphere that the impact of the Swadeshi Movement was most marked. The songs composed at the time by Rabindranath Tagore, Rajani Kanta Sen, Dwijendaralal Ray, Mukundra Das, Syed Abu Mohammed, and others later became the moving spirit for nationalists of all hues, 'terrorists, Gandhian or Communists' and are still popular.Rabindranath Tagore's Amar Sonar Bangla, written at that time, was to later inspire the liberation struggle of Bangladesh and was later adopted as the national anthem of the country in 1971.


In sum, the Swadeshi movements with its multi-faceted programme and activity was able to draw for the first time large sections of population into active participation in modern nationalist politics and still larger sections into the ambit of modern political ideas.

The social base of the national movement was now expanded to include certain sections of the zamindars, the students, the women, and the lower middle classes in cities and small towns and school and college students on a massive scale. Women came out of their homes for the first time and joined processions and picketing. This period saw, again for the first time, an attempt being made to give a political direction to the economic grievances of the working class.

However, the movement was unable to make any headway in mobilizing the peasantry especially its lower rungs. Also, the main drawback of the Swadeshi Movement was that it was not able to garner the support of the mass of Muslims and especially of the Muslim peasantry. The British policy of consciously attempting to use communalism to turn the Muslims against the Swadeshi Movement was to a large extent responsible for this.

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