The Indian National Congress after dilly dallying for over three years since the beginning of the War finally launched the Quit India Movement against the British in 1942. The British immediately arrested the leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and also many other workers of the party and put them into jail. However, such had been the sufferings of the people due to constant levies in cash and kind from them to fund the War effort of the British that the whole of India erupted in a violent response to the call for revolt. Due to lack of leadership and prior preparedness for waging a concerted armed struggle for freedom, this spontaneous upsurge was soon quelled with the use of the armed forces including bombing by the airforce. But in East Midnapur a different story played itself out.
The Gandhians in East Midnapur initially undertook passive resistance and peaceful demonstrations against the British but this was mowed down by the armed forces and many including the matriarch Matangini Hazra were killed in police firing. Later the police and military forces resorted to looting and mass rape. This angered the Gandhians and they decided to jettison their non-violence and wage an underground violent struggle against the British. The region had for long had a very prosperous economy which was engaged in surplus trade with the rest of the world prior to the British occupation in the eighteenth century which had thereafter laid it waste. It was known in ancient times as Tamralipta. The rebels formed a parallel government naming it the Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar (TJS) or National Government of Tamralipta and began their underground war against the British, killing informers, collaborators and government officials. Such was the support it garnered among the masses and especially women that it continued its struggle successfully, proving a thorn in the side of the British despite its leaders being apprehended from time to time and sent to jail. The struggle finally stopped only after Gandhi in 1946 advised the leaders to desist and court arrest instead, reprimanding them for straying from the path of non-violence.
This rebellion has been almost forgotten and there are very few scholarly treatises on it. Madhusree has extensively interviewed men and women participants of this rebellion who are now all very old and some have since expired, to piece together a fascinating account supported by secondary research. This account, which in the book plays itself out as a meta narrative juxtaposed to the grand narrative of Churchill's racism and imperialism, appealed to me much more than the latter. After all the heroism of the subalterns is much more inspiring than the skullduggery of scoundrels.
There has been criticism that Gandhi's non-violence had prolonged India's subordination to the British rather than having brought about independence. It has been argued that a more aggressive armed struggle that harnessed the spontaneous uprisings of the masses right from the time of the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1921would have forced the British to flee much earlier and not as they did eventually because they were unable anymore in the post World War Two situation to hold on to India. The description of the rebellion in East Midnapur bears this out. The rebellion could sustain itself because it systematically eliminated the informers and collaborators of the British and so the underground activists were able to largely avoid arrest and continue their armed struggle. The British were able to conquer India because of treachery on the part of Indians and they were later able to rule for such a long time because of the support they got from informers and collaborators. The TJS, however, were isolated as elsewhere there were no such organised armed struggles and so they could not increase their footprint. However, if the Indian National Congress had adopted a policy of armed struggle from the 1920s as meticulously planned as that of the TJS, then very soon the British would have had to pack their bags being bereft of local support in the form of informers and collaborators. In the event due to long years of vacuous non-violent rhetoric and participation in the fraud of limited self government introduced by the British through the Government of India Act of 1935, the Congress was in no position to take advantage of the golden opportunity provided by World War Two to get rid of the British. Much of the British war effort in fact in terms of men and materials was extracted from India.
Ultimately the freedom that we got was an ersatz one which favoured the very informers and collaborators of the British who came to rule over the masses who had suffered the most. They were left high and dry to be ruled by the former in a dispensation that even today reeks of British colonialism. The story might have been radically different if more Gandhians had turned to the systematic violence of armed struggle like those of East Midnapur did in 1942.