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”.