Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_Indian independen

Was Britain divided about Indian independence, 1930-47?

The sources have been carefully selected from the Churchill Archive so that students can explore for themselves whether Britain was divided over the issue of Indian independence from 1930 to 1947 and, if so, why. As a collection of sources they can be used to build up a picture of different attitudes towards the campaign for Indian independence and to consider how this changed between the First and Second World Wars and then during and after the period of conflict from 1939 to 1947. Teachers could ask students to work through the entire collection or get individuals or pairs or small groups to look at a smaller number of sources and then report back. However, it’s probably better to try to get students to use the entire collection if possible. This way they can move beyond the sources as a batch of individual documents and use them more in the way a historian would, as a grouping of documents which illustrate the past more effectively as a coherent collection.

With this basis in mind, students who have looked at all the documents might then be challenged with tasks which extend their thinking and understanding. For example:

Activity 1: What evidence can we find to show the division in attitudes towards Indian independence?

  1. Direct evidence based on observation from a single document
  2. Inferred evidence based on a single document
  3. Constructed evidence from comparing and contrasting several documents

You might ask students if the sources provide an answer to the question posed by this enquiry.

Source Provides evidence AT FACE VALUE that Britain was divided over Indian independence. Does not provide evidence AT FACE VALUE that Britain was divided over Indian independence. Reasons why the source is strong or weak evidence about this particular issue (eg date of source, typicality, whether the source is well informed or just an opinion).

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Activity 2: What kind of picture do we get about Indian independence from these sources?

Students can sometimes fall into the trap of assuming that documents represent ‘the whole’ of the story rather than being part of the puzzle which historians have to piece together. It might be useful to ask them to discuss the following assertions in groups:

  1. Letters and telegrams definitely tell you about what is happening at the time.
  2. Personal letters and telegrams definitely tell you about what the letter writer thinks.
  3. A document written by a member of a political party will only tell you about the views of that political party.
  4. A document that is critical of political opponents is of no use to the historian.
  5. Personal letters are useless as sources because they only tell you about one person.

Activity 3: What was the reason for differing attitudes towards Indian independence in Britain?

  1. Ideological – people disagreed on the whole principle of imperialism and whether India should be independent?
  2. Strategic – people disagreed whether Britain would be more or less powerful if India became independent?
  3. Pragmatic – people disagreed on whether the British could maintain effective rule in India and how much support there was for the independence movement?

The sources provide interesting starting points for students to investigate the question of what different views existed about Indian independence and how these show up in the sources. Sources 1, 3 and 5 show views from supporters of Churchill’s standpoint, from both within Britain and India, while Sources 2 and 4 show evidence of both Churchill’s own views and his opinion on his political opponents. Source 7, although written from India, shows useful opinions about the different standpoints within the British political parties. This is also supported by the correspondence between Churchill and Attlee, both during and after the Second World War (Sources 8 and 9). Students could find much useful material to investigate these questions through further searches in the Churchill Archive. After that they might want to look at the UK National Archives websites on ‘The British Empire and The Road to Partition’. Relevant links to all of these resources can be found in the ‘Background’ section.

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