77 years of Quit India Movement: Do or Die. We shall either free India or die in the attempt, said Gandhi
On this day 77 years ago, Mahatma Gandhi gave the call for a non-violent ‘Quit India’ movement
“Here is a mantra, a short one that I give you. You may imprint it on your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. The mantra is: ‘Do or Die’. We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery,” underscored Mahatma Gandhi on this day in 1942.
Even though this clarion call was given by Gandhi to launch the ‘Quit India’ movement and end the British rule at the session of the All-India Congress Committee in Mumbai. Calling for a non-violent struggle, Gandhi said, “Ours is not a drive for power, but purely a non-violent fight for India’s independence.”
The call came after the failure of the Cripps Mission. On March 22 of the same year, the British Government had sent Sir Stafford Cripps to engage with political parties to seek their support in the war that Britain was waging in Europe. The British government had offered a draft declaration to India which included the establishment of a dominion, the establishment of a constituent assembly and the rights of provinces to make separate constitutions. But, all this would happen only after the war. The Congress wasn’t pleased with this and they realised that they wouldn’t have a say in the decision-making process too. Then there was also the fear of Japan attacking India, terror in East Bengal.
All of this aggravated the call to remove the British from this country. A lot of deliberation went into the slogan 'Quit India'. Initially, the words 'Get Out' were suggested but were rejected by Mahatma Gandhi as they seemed to rude. 'Retreat' or 'Withdraw' were then suggested by C Rajagopalachari, which were also rejected. Yusuf Meheraly, a socialist Congress leader and also the Mayor of Bombay at that time came up with the slogan 'Quit India' which immediately got the nod.
During the speech at Gowalia Tank Maidan, which has now been renamed to August Kranti Maidan, Gandhi said that he understood that his call for a non-violent struggle has its imperfections, but “in Ahimsa there is no final failure or defeat. I have faith, therefore, that if, in spite of our shortcomings, the big thing does happen, it will be because God wanted to help us by crowning with success our silent, unremitting Sadhana for the last twenty-two years”.
Gandhi said he believed that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than India’s. “I read Carlyle's French Resolution while I was in prison, and Pandit Jawaharlal has told me something about the Russian revolution. But it is my conviction that inasmuch as these struggles were fought with the weapon of violence, they failed to realise the democratic ideal,” explained Gandhi.
“In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today. Once you realize this you will forget the differences between the Hindus and Muslims, and think of yourselves as Indians only, engaged in the common struggle for independence,” highlighted Gandhi.
“Under the Congress scheme of things, essentially non-violent as it is, there can be no room for dictatorship. A non-violent soldier of freedom will covet nothing for himself, he fights only for the freedom of his country.
In 24 hours of this speech almost the entire Congress leadership was jailed for the next three years until the World War ended and thousands of people from across the country rose in support of the Quit India Movement.
This appeal is powerful even now 77 years later when the country is facing an onslaught and assault on the freedoms the people have enjoyed since then.