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Bal Gangadhar Tilak

proponent of Swadeshi as a means of gaining independence for India

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born into a middle class family at Ratnagiri, on July 23, 1856. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from The Deccan College, Pune, in 1879, and his LLB from Elphinston College, Bombay, in 1882. In 1881, he helped found the New English School, in Pune.

Tilak believed that independence was of the utmost necessity for the well-being of India and that extreme measures should be employed to achieve it. As he phrased it: "Swarajya (freedom) is my birth right and I shall have it!" He based his independence movement on the principles of swadeshi (reliance on indigenous products), boycott, and education.

In 1881, Tilak founded two weekly newspapers -- Mahratta and Kesari -- which he used for anti-government propaganda. In 1894, he started the annual Shivaji and Ganapati festivals, both of which were designed to be platforms for ordinary people to join in the nationalist movement.

In 1897, after condemning plague prevention regulations instituted by the British Indian government, Tilak was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment. Considered by many to be the first mass leader of the Indian independence movement, Tilak was seen by the British as a dangerous threat to their rule. In 1908, the Governor of Bombay wrote to the Secretary of State for India in England: "He is one of the chief conspirators opposed to the British rule in India. He may even be the Chief conspirator. He has planned the Ganesha Festival, the Shivaji Festival, the Paisa Fund and the National Schools, with the sole aim of destroying British rule in India." The British government must have taken the letter seriously, as it once again had Tilak arrested and convicted for his "treasonous" activities. Sentenced to six years' imprisonment in a Mandalay prison, Tilak used the time to write the Gita Rahasya, a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred text of the Hindu religion.

After his release from prison, Tilak became active in the home-rule campaign, which by then was coming under the increasing control of Mohandas Gandhi. Although both men shared the same goal for India, they advocated drastically different methods for its achievement. Tilak did not believe that Gandhi's non-violent resistance campaign would be effective, and for a time was able to steer the Indian National Congress toward his campaign of more active, sometimes violent, resistance.

The British brought charges against Tilak for the last time in 1918. This time, however, Tilak put up an active defense and fought the charges both in India and England. In spite of his vigorous defense, Tilak was again found guilty. While in England awaiting sentencing, he headed the Home-Rule Commission, which was charged with debating India's constitutional demands.

Tilak's health was already on the decline by the time of his 1918 trial, and by the end of July 1920 he had become delirious. He died in Bombay on August 1, 1920.

Mohandas Gandhi

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This page was last updated on September 25, 2017.