The Swadeshi (“buy Indian”) movement developed in India as an integral part of Indian nationalism during India’s struggle for independence. The objective of this movement was to protest against British rule and establish ‘Swaraj’ or ‘self-rule’ in India.
The economic strategy of the Swadeshi movement was to revive indigenous manufacturing processes and produce domestic goods by boycotting the use of British products. The objective of boycott movement was to cripple the British economically by eschewing British products, especially the cotton goods. This would result in financial losses for the colonial rule thus creating pressure on the British Government. Another motive behind the movement was to revive the comparatively nascent Indian industries and help them grow and sustain while facing tough competition from highly-developed foreign industries.
The Swadeshi and Boycott movements involved different forms of agitation such as petitions, verbal protests and conferences. British products including western clothes were thrown and burnt in public bonfires, people pledged to use Indian goods, demonstrations were held outside shops selling foreign goods, and imported sugar was boycotted.
Looking at the economic side of the Swadeshi movement, it had both, positive and negative impacts. On the positive side, the Indian industries saw a revival with an increase in demand for native products including clothing. The Bombay and Ahmedabad cotton mill-owners undertook the filling of sudden shortage in supply of clothes due to the boycott movement in Bengal. Taking advantage of the public sentiment of buying only Indian clothes, these mill-owners made huge profits and got a big boost to foster the industry. The once prospering weaving industry of Bengal that was destroyed during the British rule also started supplying clothes to meet the sudden increase in demand. Several other business units including textile mills, soap factories, tanneries, shops, match factories, insurance companies, banks, etc., were also set up based more on the spirit of Indian nationalism rather than on the mindset of doing business.
The British faced the negative side of the Swadeshi movement, which was the very purpose of the movement. The foreign goods including clothing, sugar, salt and many other luxury items were completely boycotted and thrown in bonfires. The spirit of the Swadeshi movement was kept alive through continuous campaigns, bonfires of foreign goods, processions, singing of patriotic songs and publishing of articles in newspapers. Fines were imposed on those who were found using foreign sugar. Brahmins denied conducting pujas and ceremonies in houses of those who used European salt and sugar. Warnings were given to the Marwaris so that they refrain from the import of foreign articles. The Swadeshi movement also led to a social boycott of sellers of foreign goods in addition to the buyers. Those who opposed or helped the British Government in suppressing the movement in any way were also boycotted and banished from society.
Later on, the economic boycott got laid-back with the passage of time and it developed into an idea of non-cooperation with the British in every field. The ultimate aim was a political regeneration of the country with the distant goal of absolute freedom. Therefore, the movement that was initiated as a mere boycott of foreign goods eventually became widespread across the nation and became an integral part of the greater movement, the Indian independence movement. Emphasis was given on self-reliance or ‘Atma shakti’ thus professing national honour, dignity and confidence. With such an attitude, several Indian companies, organisations and institutions came into existence.
The Swadeshi movement inspired people to learn to challenge and disobey the British government explicitly without the fear of atrocities of the police and imprisonment. With time, every true Indian started expressing his love and respect for his motherland and opposition of the British rule. Soon the Swadeshi spirit acquired a strong character and became a concrete symbol of nationalism. It assumed a new form based upon the literal meaning of the word ‘swadeshi’, namely ‘attachment to everything Indian’
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