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Film on Usha Mehta Highlights Her Significant Role in the Quit India Movement


The recent release of a film portraying the life of freedom fighter Usha Mehta serves to underscore the importance of her historical contributions and sacrifices during the Quit India Movement. This cinematic tribute brings renewed attention to Mehta’s pivotal role in India’s struggle for independence, emphasizing her courage, dedication, and unwavering commitment to the cause of freedom. By commemorating Usha Mehta’s legacy, the film not only honors her memory but also educates and inspires future generations about the sacrifices made by individuals like her in shaping India’s history and securing its independence.


GS I: History

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Role of Usha Mehta in the Quit India Movement (QIM)
  2. Build-up to August 1942
  3. Extent of Mass Participation
  4. Brutal suppression of protests

Role of Usha Mehta in the Quit India Movement (QIM)

Background on Usha Mehta:

  • A 22-year-old law student inspired by Gandhi’s ideology, prompting her to abandon her studies and actively join the Quit India Movement.

Establishment of Congress Radio:

  • Recognizing the power of communication, Mehta conceived the idea of Congress Radio as a covert means of sharing information.
  • Faced challenges in funding and technical expertise, but with the help of associates like Nariman Printer, she worked to establish Congress Radio.
  • Despite British regulatory restrictions, Printer’s expertise led to the creation of a functional transmitter, allowing Congress Radio to make its first broadcast on 3rd September 1942.

Catalyzing Independence Through Broadcasts:

  • Congress Radio quickly became a leading news source for Indians, bypassing colonial censorship and sharing vital information about the movement’s progress.
  • In addition to news, the station broadcasted political speeches and ideological messages, bolstering people’s commitment to achieving independence.

Legal Consequences and Legacy:

  • The clandestine operations of Congress Radio drew the attention of British authorities, resulting in the arrest and subsequent trial of Mehta and her associates.
  • Mehta, affectionately known as “Radio-ben” for her groundbreaking efforts, continued to uphold Gandhian principles post-independence.
  • She received national recognition, including the Padma Vibhushan award in 1998.

Build-up to August 1942

  • While factors leading to such a movement had been building up, matters came to a head with the failure of the Cripps Mission.
  • With World War II raging, the beleaguered British government needed the cooperation of its colonial subjects.
  • With this in mind, in March 1942, a mission led by Sir Stafford Cripps arrived in India to meet leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League.
  • The idea was to secure India’s whole-hearted support in the war, and the return offer to Indians was the promise of self-governance.
  • But things did not go that way. Despite the promise of “the earliest possible realisation of self-government in India”, Cripps only offered dominion status, not freedom. Also, there was a provision for the partition of India, which was not acceptable to the Congress.
  • The failure of the Cripps Mission made Gandhi realise that freedom would come only if Indians fought tooth and nail for it.
  • The Congress was initially reluctant to launch a movement that could hamper Britain’s efforts to defeat the fascist forces.
  • But it eventually decided on mass civil disobedience. At the Working Committee meeting in Wardha in July 1942, it was decided the time had come for the movement to move into an active phase.
  • Gandhi made a call to Do or Die in his Quit India speech, followed by the launch of a mass protest demanding what Gandhi called “An Orderly British Withdrawal” from India.
  • Almost the entire leadership of the Indian National Congress was imprisoned without trial within hours of Gandhi’s speech.
The slogan ‘Quit India’
  • While Gandhi gave the clarion call of Quit India, the slogan was coined by Yusuf Meherally, a socialist and trade unionist who also served as Mayor of Bombay.
  • A few years ago, in 1928, it was Meherally who had coined the slogan “Simon Go Back”.
Extent of Mass Participation
  • The participation was on many levels.
  • Youth, especially the students of schools and colleges, remained in the forefront.
  • Women, especially school and college girls, actively participated, and included Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kripalani and Usha Mehta.
  • Workers went on strikes and faced repression.
  • Peasants of all strata were at the heart of the movement. Even some zamindars participated. These peasants concentrated their offensive on symbols of authority and there was complete absence of anti-zamindar violence.
  • Government officials, especially those belonging to lower levels in police and administration, participated resulting in erosion of government loyalty.
  • Muslims helped by giving shelter to underground activists. There were no communal clashes during the movement.
  • The Communists did not join the movement; in the wake of Russia (where the communists were in power) being attacked by Nazi Germany, the communists began to support the British war against Germany and the ‘Imperialist War’ became the ‘People’s War’
  • The Muslim League opposed the movement, fearing that if the British left India at that time, the minorities would be oppressed by the Hindus.
  • The Hindu Mahasabha boycotted the movement.
  • The Princely states showed a low-key response.
Lack of Unity
  • The British had the support of the Viceroy’s Council (which had a majority of Indians), of the All India Muslim League, the princely states, the Indian Imperial Police, the British Indian Army, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Indian Civil Service.
  • Many Indian businessmen profiting from heavy wartime spending did NOT support the Quit India Movement.

Brutal suppression of protests

  • The Quit India movement was violently suppressed by the British — people were shot and lathicharged, villages were burnt, and backbreaking fines were imposed.
  • In the five months up to December 1942, an estimated 60,000 people had been thrown into jail.
  • However, though the movement was quelled, it changed the character of the Indian freedom struggle, with the masses rising up to demand with a passion and intensity like never before: that the British masters would have to Quit India.

-Source: Indian Express

May 2024