17.3 India Seeks Self-Rule

Indians had long struggled to end British control. Since 1885, the Indian National Congress party, called the Congress party, had pressed for self-rule within the British empire but had not yet called for full independence.

Photo of a group people dressed in unadorned white tunics and baggy white pants. The people are marching through a field, led by a small bald man.

The Salt March, shown here, began at Gandhi's ashram in Sabermati. When Gandhi reached the shore, he picked up a handful of salt and claimed he was shaking the British empire's foundation.


  • Explain the impact of World War I and the Amritsar massacre on Indian nationalism.
  • Evaluate the ideas of Mohandas Gandhi.
  • Analyze how Gandhi led resistance to political oppression in India.

Key Terms

  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • Amritsar massacre
  • ahimsa
  • civil disobedience
  • untouchable
  • boycott
  • Muhammad Ali Jinnah

India's Struggle for Independence Begins

During World War I, more than a million Indians had served overseas. Under pressure from Indian nationalists, the British promised Indians greater self-government in return for their service.

However, when the fighting ended, Britain proposed only a few minor reforms. The reforms did little to change the system of bureaucratic rule. The British continued to have little regard for Indian beliefs and customs. Indian frustrations continued to mount, and many began calling for independence from British rule.

A New Leader Emerges

Congress party members were mostly middle-class, Western-educated elite who had little in common with the masses of Indian peasants. Then a new leader named Mohandas Gandhi emerged and was able to unite Indians across class lines. Admiring Indians came to call him Mahatma, or “Great Soul.”

Gandhi came from a middle-class Hindu family. At age 19, he went to England to study law. Then, like many Indians, Gandhi went to South Africa. For 20 years, Gandhi fought laws that discriminated against Indians in South Africa. In his struggle against injustice, he began to develop a tactic of nonviolent, or passive, resistance. He called it satyagraha, or “soul force.”

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments