The 20th century saw a turning point in India's struggle for freedom. The era of prayers
and petitions to the British government gave way of agitation for political rights and
administrative reforms. Lord Curzon, the new viceroy was determined to stifle this rising
tide of nationalism. With utter disregard for the people's feelings, he passed a series of
repressive laws. The gulf between the rulers and the ruled widened.
This period also saw the unfortunate death of Swami Vivekananda, who died at a very young
age of 39 in 1902. Swami Vivekananda, the founder of the Ram Krishna Mission. He devoted
his life to working for social reforms such as encouraging care of the poor and the sick
and eliminating child marriage and illiteracy. At the World Parliament of Religions in
Chicago in 1893, he won the thunderous applause for his first words, "Sisters and
Brothers of America". The International headquarters of the Ram Krishna Mission was
in Belur Math, eight kilometers from the Calcutta (now Kolkata). When viewed from
different angles, its architecture represents a church, a mosque and a temple. His statue
at the Kanyakumari where the waters of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian
Ocean merge, for millions of people is a place of pilgrimage. Every year on 12th January,
Indian celebrates National Youth Day, on the occasion of Vivekananda's Jayanti (Birthday).
Meanwhile, Lord Curzon, the viceroy considered the presidency of Bengal unwieldy and too
big for effective administration. And so, he announced the partition of Bengal on July
19th, 1905, into 2 provinces viz. Eastern Bengal and Assam with Dacca as the capital and
the West Bengal with Calcutta as the capital. On October 16, 1905, when the partition came
into force, throughout Bengal it was observed as a day of mourning. Both Hindu and Muslim
Bengalis felt that Lord Curzon's aim was to break up their unity and stir up religious
differences. To protest against the move, a huge procession was taken out on the streets.
In the same year there was a call to "Buy Indian - Swadeshi". It was on August
7th, 1905, at a meeting in Calcutta, when thousands of people resolved to boycott British
goods until the partition proposal was withdrawn. Under the leadership of a farmer ICS
officer, Surendranath Banerjee, the swadeshi movement, as it was, became the symbol of
resistance. Public bonfires were made for British goods and shops selling them were
picketed. In India's struggle for freedom, swadeshi became a major weapon. For Indian made
textiles, this led to a spurt in demand. Nearly 200 "Swadeshi Mills" sprang up
in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, manufacturing swadeshi cloth. The agitation spread like wild fire
in Bengal affecting the whole country.
To form a political association of their own to rival the Hindu - dominated Indian
National Congress, formed in 1885, Nawab Salimullah of the new province of Eastern Bengal
invited Muslims from all over India to Dacca. And thus, the All India Muslim League was
born on December 30, 1906. The partition of Bengal was supported by the league and aimed
at safe guarding the political and other rights of the Muslims. The British, who had
encouraged the formation of the Muslim League, thus succeeded in their 'Divide and Rule'
policy and in sowing the seeds of the partition of India, which took place in 1947.
The partition of Bengal led many youths to resort to arms. In different parts of the
country a number of secret societies sprang up, particularly in Bengal and Maharashtra. To
terrorize the British officers, they trained members, mostly students in the use of
fire-arms. In this, Aurobindo Ghosh and his associates Bengal and one Chapekar brother and
the Savarkar brothers in Maharashtra were quite active. By assassinating unpopular British
officials and their Indian agents, their main method was to spread terror. Attempts were
made on the lives of Lt. Governor of Bengal and the Viceroy. Khudiram Bose, a 16 year old
fired a shot at a district judge on April 30, 1908, which accidentally killed two english
women instead. He was caught, flogged and hanged.
In the same year came up the Alipore conspiracy case. Soon after, the discovery of a
factory making bombs and explosives on the outskirts of Calcutta led to the arrest of
several persons who were accused of conspiracy against the state. Aurobindo Ghosh, who was
known for his revolutionary activities, was also arrested for inciting people through his
writings. Their trial, which took place at Alipore, Calcutta, was popularly known as the
Alipore conspiracy case. Aurobindo was acquitted after a lengthy trial. He went through a
spiritual transformation, during the year he spent in prison. He became one of India's
greatest spiritual leaders.
In 1909, although the British government was able to repress the terrorist attacks, it was
convinced that the demand by Indians for power sharing and constitutional changes had to
be conceded. And so, the Morley - Minto Reforms or the Indian Councils Act was passed. The
principle of election was recognized for the first time and the number of nominated and
elected members in the provincial and central councils was increased. The Act
unfortunately introduced communal electorates that is, it conceded the Muslim demand for
"Separate Electorates", where members to the seats reserved for Muslims were to
be elected by Muslim voters only. To widen the gulf between the Hindus and the Muslims in
India, this was another step by the British government.