How did the railways contribute to the growth of Indian Nationalism? (250 W)

Mentors Comment:

In order to answer this question, mix the negatives of Railways under British government and subsequent Indian National Movement. We all know that while British claimed that they introduced railways for the benefits of Indian people, in contrary it only helped the prolongation of British rule and misery for people of subcontinent. Therefore, take cue from this theme and base your answer.

There can be many points to discuss like railways making it easy for leaders to meet and discuss, getting newspapers cheap and distributed to far off areas, showing Indian the reality of racial profiling by British, angering the peasants, artisans and industrialists by hampering their economy, becoming easy targets for revolutionaries etc. These all issues were raised by nationalist leaders and it helped in the arousal of nationalism among people.


Model Answer:

The first passenger train in India ran between Bombay and Thane on 16 April 1853. The political condition and the economic trend of the 19th century India induced the British to construct railways all over India. Railways, it was believed, would assist the economic development of India and provide both a market for British goods and a source of raw materials. It would also be helpful in the administration and protection of India by facilitating the movement of troops within the subcontinent. Under the guise of nation-building, the railways were primarily tools of economic exploitation and moral policing. But unknowing to British at that time, railways in India started contributing in the growth of Indian nationalism.

Connected Indians:

  • The railways was blessing in disguise because it connected people from hitherto unknown lands and they mixed with one another. Regional feelings began to disappear.
  • It took only a journey by train to remind Indians of the hostile treatment meted out to train-travelling Indians by the colonial administration and European passengers, as though they were second- or third-class citizens in their own country.
  • At the same time, with this connectivity, people gradually realised that all along Indian sub continent, British rule was responsible for the plundering of land and no area was exception to their loot.

Connected national leaders:

  • With railways, all educated nationalists, living in different parts of the sub-continent, came in contact with one another. They exchanged their ideas and discussed their problems which they were facing under the foreign rule.
  • The Indian National Congress used the railways as the umbrella to connect members from the “Indian intelligentsia and ascendant professional classes across the subcontinent.

Helped Vernacular Press:

  • Press played an important role in mobilising public opinion and growth of national consciousness.
  • The vernacular press got impetus because with railways, now they could penetrate the interiors of sub continent and their ideas and critique of British rule could be read by common people as well.
  • Also, because transportation with railways became easy, the newspapers became cheaper and in the reach of common people.

Provided easy targets for revolutionaries:

  • For anti-British sabotage the trains became the most symbolic as well as practical recourse.
  • The railways being both the substance of state power and the instrument of that power, attempts to isolate them from sites of insurgency was the chief terrorist strategy.

Mobilisation point for the movement:

  • The railway stations had transformed into sites of mass-nationalism.
  • In the 1920s and 1930s, the railway station was integral to familiarizing Indians with the ethics and politics of swaraj and satyagraha.
  • The railways were used for truly secular purposes by Gandhi. He had no qualms about seeking donations, aboard them, or on platforms for the satyagraha movement.

Economic Critique of British Government policies:

  • Railways ruined India’s traditional handicrafts industry which increased Anti-British feelings among artisans
  • Tariff policies of railways hampered Indian industries because they had conscious policy of charging higher rates for products of Indian industries and artisans.
  • The British government decided that guaranteed profits to the investors should be paid by an extra tax on the local peasantry. This angered the already poor peasantry.
  • The peasant called the railway as the devil’s engine and saw in it an instrument for riveting more firmly the bond of a hated alien rule.
  • The railways actually caused a huge drain on India’s finances and its resources and as the beneficiaries were British investors, nationalists like Dada Bhai Naoroji used the question of Railway to show drain of wealth theory.
  • In the long run, the railways under British rule did not alter the basic structure of the Indian economy. It was not until independence, when economic development became a conscious policy, that the railways began to realise their potential for assisting in the transformation of indian economy.

The invention that did most to keep the Indians in check proved to be double-edged, stimulating the nationalistic forces which eventually triumphed. If the British had nurtured the skills of their Indian workers and used the economic clout of the railways to stimulate the Indian economy, and if the companies had treated their third-class as customers rather than as chattels, much of the anger towards the colonial power might have been allayed. That is not to say independence would not have happened, as clearly decolonization was an irresistible historic force, but the horrors of Britain’s rapid departure might have been avoided.

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment