The students took part in the Indian freedom struggle on a very wide scale for the first time when Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal in 1905. Since then, the students have been taking part in all the major national struggles. The youths were mainly behind the Indian National Congress at that time.
When the Congress was split into two groups of extremists and moderates in its Lahore Session in 1907, the students also distributed between these groups. They rallied round the leadership of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and later on, of Mahatma Gandhiji. Under the leadership and guidance of Gandhiji the students became a formidable force in India.
Role of Gandhiji in Student Unrest:
After his return from South Africa, Gandhiji entered politics, i.e., the freedom struggle in 1919 on the advice of his “political guru” Gopalakrishna Gokhale. Gandhiji launched his campaign against Rowlatt Act (1919), the Jallianwalla Bagh atrocities in 1919 in which the students had taken part in a big number.
Gandhiji called the nation to wage a passive resistance movement against the government; to boycott all things British, break links with the government, resign from posts, surrender titles and offices, and withdraw from schools and colleges.
The nation responded promptly and the students in a very big number boycotted schools and colleges. For the first time, the student force was organised and mobilised against the British rule.
In 1920, the First All-India Students’ Conference was Weld in Nagpur under the President ship of Lala Lajpat Rai. Students could now get the support and guidance of leader like, Subhas Chandra Bose and others.
Students took an active role in various campaigns launched by Gandhiji against the British such as — the ‘No Tax’ Campaign 1921, the Civil Disobedience Movement, the Dandi Satyagraha of 1930, etc.
They also took interest in Gandhiji’s constructive programmes such as — removal of untouchability and casteism, adult education, popularising the ‘Swadeshi’ articles and the use of ‘Khadi’, cleaning of the villages, promotion of communal harmony, and so on.
In 1936, The All-India Students’ Federation, the first student organisation of India, was born in order to support the Indian National Congress in its struggles. The followers of Gandhiji and also the communists supported this organisation in the beginning.
Due to the clash of personalities and differences of opinion regarding its principles the Students’ Federation was divided into two factions (in 1938) such as — the All-Indian Youth Congress and All-India Students’ Federation (AISF).
The Socialists within the Congress and the Gandhians supported the former, while the Communists who wanted to follow the violent methods took into their hands the latter. Since then, the AISF is in the hands of the Communists.
Role of Students in the Quit India Movement of 1942:
The ‘ Quit India’ Movement launched by the Indian National Congress under the Leadership of Gandhiji was an important event in the Indian Freedom Struggle. The students’ participation in the freedom struggle took a new dimension in this movement. It was almost the climax of the youth movement.
Students in the nook and corner of India took part in it. They came out of the schools and colleges and universities and boycotted the educational institutions. They organised mass processions and rallies in the towns and cities. They educated the uneducated and ignorant masses to fight for the cause of the nation.
The students took to some violent actions to paralyse the British administration. They resorted to such methods as cutting telephone wires, blocking transport routes, destroying public property, disturbing postal, police, banking and other services.
They ransacked government offices, burnt official documents and gheraoed police stations. They brought the government machinery to a standstill. They also kept in touch with the underground leaders and carried on the tempo of agitation.
The British Government resorted to suppressive measures. The police lathicharged on student gatherings arrested and imprisoned a number of them and gave physical harassment to many of them. Some of them were killed in police firings also.
The students made considerable sacrifice in this movement and demonstrated that the youths of India never lagged behind in the national struggle. They continued their struggle with the same spirit even upto 1947 that is till India got the Independence.
It is true that student movement was very much associated with politics before independence. But the student energy was spent for a national cause. From the political point of view, the youth movement in India before independence performed two important Political Functions: Firstly, the youths supported the national freedom struggle and joined hands particularly with the Congress to disrupt the British institutions and paralyse the government. Secondly, the youth organisations and movements served as recruitment centres for the political parties.
The then existing political parties (such as the Congress, Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha) were looking forward with eagerness to catch young and dynamic persons for their parties from these movements and organisations.