Bal Gangadhar Tilak | Indian Freedom Fighters


Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920, Maharashtra), was a social reformer and freedom fighter who was the first popular leader of the Indian Independence Movement. His famous quote, "Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it", created waves all across the country during the initial period of national wide freedom struggle movement. The British  derogatorily called him as "Father of the Indian unrest". He was also conferred with the honorary title of Lokmanya, which literally means "Accepted by the people". He was one of the first and strongest advocates of "Swaraj" (self-rule). Tilak was considered the political and spiritual leader of Gandhi. When Tilak died in 1920, Gandhi paid his respects at his cremation in Bombay, along with 200,000 people. Gandhi called Tilak "The Maker of Modern India". Tilak is also today considered the father of Hindu Nationalism. He was the idol of Indian revolutionary Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who penned the political doctrine of Hindutva.

He was a strong critic of Western education system and English because of its disrespectful to India's heritage. He organized the Deccan Education Society with a few of his college friends to improve the quality of education for India's youth. Tilak founded the Marathi daily Kesari (The Lion) which fast became a popular reading for the common people of India. Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in 1890. He opposed its moderate attitude and was one of the most eminent radicals at the time. In 1891 Tilak opposed the Age of Consent bill which raised the age for sexual intercourse for all girls, married or unmarried, from ten to twelve years. The Congress and other liberals supported it, but lokmanya Tilak termed it an interference with Hinduism. Tilak opposed the moderate views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and was supported by fellow Indian nationalists Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. In 1907, the party split into the "Jahal matavadi" (extremists), led by Tilak, Pal and Lajpat Rai, and the "Maval matavadi"(moderates) at the Surat session. When arrested on charges of sedition in 1908, Tilak asked a young Mohammad Ali Jinnah to represent him. But the British judge convicted him and he was imprisoned from 1908 to 1914 in Mandalay, Burma.

Upon his release, Tilak was eager for reconciliation with Congress and had abandoned his demand for direct action and settled for agitations ‘strictly by constitutional means’ - a line advocated by his rival Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Tilak saw the spark in Gandhi and tried his best to convince Gandhi to leave the idea of "Total Ahimsa" and try to get "Swarajya" by all means. Gandhi though looked upon him as his guru, did not change his mind. Tilak also helped found the All India Home Rule League in 1916-18 with Annie Besant and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He was the first Congress leader to suggest that Hindi, written in the devanagari script, should be accepted as the sole national language of India, a policy that was later strongly endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi. Tilak transformed household worshipping of Ganesha into Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav and he also made Shiva Jayanti (birth anniversary celebrations of Shivaji) as a social festival. His call for boycott of foreign goods also served to inspire patriotism among Indian masses. Tilak was a critic of Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of non-violent, civil disobedience. Although once considered an extremist revolutionary, in his later years Tilak had considerably softened his attitude towards Gandhiji's strategies.

Tilak authored the well-regarded The Orion, or, Researches into the antiquities of the Vedas (1893) in which he used astronomy to establish that the Vedic people were present in India at least as early as the 4th millennium BC. Later, in 1903, he wrote the much more speculative Arctic Home in the Vedas.He also authored 'Geetarahasya' - the analysis of 'Karmayoga' in the Bhagavadgita, which is known to be gist of the Vedas and the Upanishads. He also wrote a book named 'Oorayan' when he was imprisoned at Mandalay in Burma.

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