UPSC Essentials: Historical Tidbits – Freedom Struggle, 20th Century Literature, and Premchand
Tricky questions about literature of the national movement are UPSC favorites for the prelims. In addition, questions in the sector can be framed a little in advance. The literature of the 20th century is different in many ways, it is not enough to know the names. The Indian Express try to cover this area keeping Premhand on point.
Preliminaries – History of India (Freedom Struggle, Modern Indian History)
Mains- GS I- Freedom Struggle, Modern Indian History
The role of literature is very important in the struggle for independence of India. Even before its appearance in many political programs, the idea of freedom had begun to express itself in literature. More importantly, it not only inspired people to participate in the struggle for freedom, but also at times challenged and pointed out the weaknesses of the nationalist movement. This aspect of Indian literature is most felt in the 20th century or more precisely during the last thirty years of the struggle for freedom.
At the beginning of the 20th century, literature revolved around the major theme like that of the last decade of the 19th century, which was freedom from British rule. Exploitation and poverty were discussed but were not very much woven into the larger issue of the national movement. Some notable examples can be Chhaman Atha Guntha or Six Bighas of Earth by Fakirmohan Senapati and the works of a great Hindi writer Radhacharan Goswami. But what that freedom would mean only became relevant after the First World War.
Who was Premchand? What were the particular elements of his stories and his novel that differed on the theme of nationalism?
One of the greatest Hindi-Urdu nationalist novelists, Premchand is also one of the most interesting 19th century writers to study. Born as Dhanpat Rai Shrivastava, Premchand was inspired by Gandhi. After attending a meeting in Gorakhpur where the ruler pleaded with the citizens to resign from their governmental positions, the author also quit his post as Deputy Inspector of Schools in Allahabad.
Premchand and nationalism went together, but in a different way
— Premchand paints a blind Surdas hero character in his Rangbhumi which represents Gandhi’s politics and leadership.
– In Ghana, Premchand raises the question of the importance of ideologies and the character of freedom of movement. Through one of his characters in GhanaPremchand gives a stern message to leaders that if they chase after luxury even when they are not in power, they will eat away at the people when they come to power.
– One of Premchand’s greatest works, Godan revolves around the theme of exploitation. Premchand successfully shows the importance of wealth and the materialistic world in nationalist politics. Godan clearly shows how the zamindars are part of a network of exploiting classes including businessmen, industrialists, etc. supported by the political order. A most striking message here is that freedom does not mean the freedom of the ruling class alone. Freedom in the true sense means freedom from the exploiters of society.
— This aspect is also highlighted in its new Ahati where Premchand tries to argue that freedom doesn’t just mean replacing the British with Indians. Rupmati, a character says, “Swaraj, does not mean that Govind sits in John’s place… If even after Swaraj is attained, property enjoys the same power and educated people remain as selfish as before then I would rather not have swaraj.”
– In Premasharam, Premchand shows how an angry young villager named Balraj is influenced by the Russian Revolution. Balraj persuades the oppressed villagers by telling them that in Russia the farmers have become the rulers.
— Two points can be clearly noted on reading Premchand’s work. First, works like Godan show the duality of class and nation. Furthermore, Premashram, unlike his earlier works, proves that like many other writers and leaders in the era of freedom struggle Premchand also oscillates between two opposing ideologies: socialism and Gandhism.
What other notable works from the late 20th century have helped us understand the last phase of the struggle for freedom?
— Pather Debi by Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay– Pather Dabi shows a contradiction between Chattopadhyay’s political position and his writing. An admirer of Gandhi and member of Congress idealized those who had chosen the path of violence for independence. Similarly, in Bipradas, he shows that the riyat revere their zamindar to such an extent that they show disagreement with the nationalist leaders. He chose to write this novel in the midst of civil disobedience.
—Ganadevata and panchagrama by Tarasankar Bandopadhyay- In Ganadevata and Panchagrama, Tarasankar Bandopadhyay talks about the disintegration of village society under the impact of exploitation and industrialization. It highlights how freedom of movement affects the community as a whole. Tarashankar in his novels successfully shows how ideological radicalism and social conservatism go hand in hand. What is most remarkable is that he writes about India during the struggle for freedom from the perspective of the deprived, oppressed and marginalized.
—Char Adhyay by Rabindranath Tagore– In Char Adhyay, Tagore clearly opposes revolutionary violence. Char adhyay looks more like a political manifesto than fiction.
— Divyachakshu by Ramanlal Vasantlal Desai– Desai was a Gujarati novelist known for his work, Divyachakshu. In Divyachakshuthe character Arjun changes from a violent character to a Gandhian.
(sources: Premchand and Indian Nationalism by Sudhir Chandra, https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/books/premchand-birth-anniversary-revisiting-some-of-his-most-celebrated-works-5865838/, ignou. ac.in)
Relevance of the literature of the last thirty years of struggle for freedom—
1. Alongside the strong demand for freedom, men and writers also became aware of the socio-economic issues of the time.
2. The literature of this period showed the influence of different and opposing ideologies. For example, Premchand’s writings showed both Gandhian and socialist influence.
3. The question was not only freedom but also what kind of freedom.
4. The authors also underlined the weakness of the national movement and of the leaders.
5. Exploitation and poverty were linked to the larger question of the national movement.
Things to consider:
1. In addition to inspiring people to make sacrifices for the country’s freedom, 19th century literature also exposed the weakness of the nationalist movement. Discuss.
2. List the main writings of the 19th century associated with the national movement.
Which of the following options does not match correctly?
a) Bangadarshan- Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya-
b) Nibandhamala – Vishnu Krishna Chiplunkar
d) Char Adhyay – Ramanlal Desai