In the 1830s, the British East India Company educated select Indians, mainly from Calcutta, described by Thomas Babington Macaulay as ‘a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect’.
In 1858, Queen Victoria announced ‘equal opportunity’ for all races and the ambitious young Indians felt they may be able to breathe life into their desire to pursue jobs in law, journalism, education and the Indian Civil Service. This was soon thwarted and in 1905, the Indian government divided Bengal into two provinces, leaving the western-educated elite a minority in its homeland – a successful attempt to undercut any growing power.
In response, Bengalis peacefully protested and boycotted British imports, specifically cloth. It is worth mentioning the harrowing reality of the East India Company cutting off the thumbs of weavers of the highly sought after Bengali muslin, to promote British textiles. India continued to grow cotton, but many Bengali weavers became beggars.
Protestors burned British-made saris and cried ‘swa-deshi’. Instead, Indian made cloth was worn as a blazing emblem of Indian pride.