July 3 1908 – Bal Gangadhar Tilak Is Arrested for Sedition by the British

On July 3rd 1908, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was arrested for sedition by the British. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, born Keshav Gangadhar Tilak and popularly known as Lokmanya Tilak, was a popular Indian nationalist and Independence activist who was one of the first popular leaders of the freedom movement.

Tilak was born on July 23rd 1856 in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. His father Gangadhar Tilak was a school teacher and Sanskrit scholar who died when Tilak was sixteen. Tilak later went on to graduate from the Deccan College in Pune in 1877. After graduating from college Tilak became a mathematics teacher in a private school in Pune. He later left the job when he had certain ideological differences with his colleagues. Following his resignation, Tilak formed the Deccan Education Society along with a few of his college friends whose aim it was to improve the quality of education for India’s youth. The Deccan Education Society taught its students nationalist ideas along with an emphasis on Indian culture.

In 1890, Tilak joined the Indian National Congress and was critical of their lukewarm attitude towards the fight for self-governance. Tilak gradually emerged as one of the most important revolutionaries of his time. Towards the end of 1896, a severe plague epidemic had spread from Mumbai (then Bombay) to Pune. By January 1897, the diseases had taken on a worrying proportion. It was then that British troops were brought in to deal with the emergency. The measures taken by the troops included entering private houses, inspecting the occupants and evacuating the diseased to hospitals and destroying people’s personal possessions to prevent the plague from entering or leaving the city. The epidemic was finally brought under control by May 1897.

Even though the actions of the British were well meant, they were perceived as acts of dictatorship and oppression. Following this, Tilak published fiery articles in his Marathi newspaper Kesari against the British. This eventually led to the murders of British officers W.C Rand and Lt. Ayester, who were heading the Special Plague Committee at that time. The British charged Tilak with “incitement to murder” and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. Upon his release from prison, Tilak was regarded a national hero. By then he had also coined the famous slogan “Swaraj [self-rule] is my birthright and I shall have it”.

In 1905, the state of Bengal was portioned, which was a strategy by Lord Curzon who wanted to weaken the nationalist movement which was at its peak then. Tilak then pushed the swadeshi movement and the movement to boycott British goods. The boycott movement involved boycotting foreign-made goods and also the social boycott of Indians who used foreign goods. The swadeshi movement comprised of using goods made by oneself or produced in India. Once the foreign goods were boycotted, the gap created would then be filled by goods produced in India. Hence, Tilak considered the boycott movement and the swadeshi movement as two sides of the same coin.

Tilak was a staunch supporter of nationalism and swaraj and opposed the moderate views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale and was supported by fellow nationalists Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. This trio was popularly known as: "Lal - Bal - Pal”. In 1907, during the annual session of the Congress in Surat, tension erupted between the moderate and radical ends of the party over the selection of the new President of the Congress. The party was then split into the Jahal Matavadi led by Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lajpat Rai and Maval Matavadi.

On April 30th 1908, two young revolutionaries Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose threw a bomb onto a carriage in Muzzafarpur in order to kill the Chief Prisidency Magistrate Douglas Kingsford, but by mistake killed two women in the carriage instead. Chaki commited suicide before he was caught, while Bose was hanged.

In his newspaper Kesari, Tilak defended the two young men and called for immediate swaraj. This was followed by the immediate arrest of Tilak by the British on charges of sedition. The Parsi judge, Dinshaw. D Davar trying the case, termed Tilak’s articles in Kesari as “seething with sedition” and accused him of glorifying violence and approving of murder. By the end of the case, Tilak was sentenced to a jail term from 1908 to 1914 in Mandalay in Burma. While in prison, Tilak read and wrote extensively and developed his ideas on the Indian nationalism movement. During his time in prison, Tilak wrote Shrimad Bhagvat Gita Rahasya which went on to become very popular. Many copies of this book were sold and the money was put towards freedom fighting.

By the end of his jail term in June 1914, Tilak had quieted down considerable due to diabetes and the hardships he had undergone in prison. At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Tilak contacted the King Emperor of Britain and assured him of his support and used the power of his oration to get new recruits for war efforts. He also embraced the Morley-Minto Reform passed by the British and thought this was a good way to increase the trust between the British and the Indians. Tilak also tried to convince Mahatma Gandhi to leave the idea of complete non-violence and attain swaraj by all means possible. Though Gandhi had immense respect for Tilak, he did not change his mind and stuck to his path of non-violence. 

Tilak is remembered for books penned by him which include The Arctic Home in the Vedas and Shrimad Bhagvad Gita Rahasya. The Kesari newspaper started by him is still published as a daily newspaper in Marathi. In 2007, the government of India released a coin to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Bal Gangadhar Tilak.


Also On This Day:

1350 - Saint Namdev passes away.

1941 - Adoor Gopalakrishnan, cinematographer, is born.

1972 - Shimla Non-Arm Agreement on Kashmir is signed between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

1979 - Construction of the main second Howrah Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu) starts. 

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