Movement for Indian Independence from Britain
At the time that Narayan was writing ‘‘Forty-Five a Month,’’ India was a colony of the British empire and was struggling to gain independence from Great Britain. This independence, declared in 1947, was not fully achieved until 1950, when India established its own constitution and declared itself a republic. During the early 1940s, the efforts to establish an independent India were complicated by World War II (1939–1945). Some leaders in the Indian government urged support of the British army, whereas other factions within the country aligned themselves with the Japanese, whom the British were fighting. Many conflicts within the country—during the war and previously—were rooted in rifts between Hindus and Muslims. In 1942, the Indian National Congress sought to rally support for the movement against British imperialism by issuing a call for Indians to join what was known as the Quit India movement (Indians wanted the British to ‘‘quit,’’ or leave, India). Countless Indians, including women in large numbers, participated in a movement often guided by principles of nonviolence and noncooperation urged by Mahatma Gandhi. Indians were instructed to peacefully resist the British governing forces. Strikes and boycotts were organized. Violence did erupt, however. Police stations and railway stations were bombed, and telegraph and rail service was disrupted. The British, under Viceroy Linlithgow (the viceroy served as the head of the British administrative rule in India), ordered a large-scale repression of the movement, including the massive deployment of troops. Many Indians were arrested, and some lost their lives. Given the number of Indians who participated and the amount of British manpower required to contain the movement, the Quit India movement was viewed as ultimately successful, despite the casualties, in preventing a long-term continuation of British rule in India following the end of World War II.
Caste and the Working Class in World War II India
Because of India’s involvement in World War II, an involvement engineered by the British governing bodies in India, the economy in India was mobilized for the manufacture of goods and services needed for the war effort. However, India was forced to initially finance much of its own participation in the war. While many people were employed in the manufacture of wartime necessities, the government in India also raised taxes and printed more money, resulting in inflation and severe economic stress for many Indians, many of whom were considered working class or lower middle class. Individuals in this category had little savings and lived from paycheck to paycheck, working long hours, often for low pay. In some manufacturing and textile industries, workers organized into unions to help protect their rights; the Communist and Socialist parties had been present in India for some time and contributed to both the empowerment and the unrest of workers in various industries.
Related to the idea of class structure is the notion of caste, a term that refers to the Hindu belief in inherited social class affiliation. Members of various castes are often associated with a particular group of occupations or with wealth and land ownership. Lower castes did not possess the same rights and opportunities as those with a higher caste status. In the 1940s, political efforts were made, with the involvement of Gandhi, toward the goal of the social equalization of the castes, that is, toward nondiscrimination based on caste status. However, as John Keay observes in India: A History, ‘‘in pursuit of caste equality, caste identity was not being eroded but actively promoted.’’ In other words, government attempts to level the social, educational, and professional opportunities of all Indians had the effect of drawing attention to caste rather than ignoring it, as a means of supporting social equality.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, R. K. Narayan, Published by Gale Group, 2001.