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UPSC Essentials: Historical Tidbits- Freedom struggle, 20th century literature and Premchand

20th-century literature integrated socio-economic questions with the freedom movement. This was well highlighted in Premchand's writings. Aspirants must know about the role of literature in different phases of the national movement for UPSC-CSE. Also don't miss to solve the MCQ below.

Written by Manas Srivastava | New Delhi |
June 30, 2022 4:09:08 pm
upsc, premchand, upsc cse current affairs, historical tidbits, upsc essentials, upsc history, modern indian history. current affairs today, 20th century literature and independence struggle, godhan, government job, sarkari naukriOne of the greatest Hindi-urdu nationalist novelist, Premchand is also one of the most interesting writer of the 19th century to study. (File image)

Tricky questions on national movement’s literature are UPSC’s favourite for prelims. Also, questions in the mains can be framed a little advance. The 20th-century literature is different in many aspects, just knowing the names won’t be enough. The Indian Express tries to cover this area by keeping Premchand in focus.


Prelims- History of India ( freedom struggle, Modern Indian History)

Mains- GS I- Freedom struggle, Modern Indian History

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The role of literature is very significant in India’s struggle for independence. Even before its emergence in many political programmes, the idea of freedom had started to be expressed in literature. Most importantly, it not just inspired people to participate in the freedom struggle but also at times questioned and pointed out the weaknesses of the nationalist movement. This aspect of Indian literature is most felt in the 20th century or specifically during the last thirty years of the freedom struggle.

In the beginning of the 20th century, literature revolved around the major theme like that of last decade of 19th century, which was freedom from the British rule. Exploitation and poverty were discussed but were not much weaved with the larger issue of national movement. Some notable examples can be Chhaman Atha Guntha or Six Bighas of land by Fakirmohan Senapati and the works of a leading Hindi writer Radhacharan Goswami. But what would this freedom mean only became relevant after the first world war.

Who was Premchand ? What were the special elements in his stories and novel differ from on the theme of nationalism?

One of the greatest Hindi-Urdu nationalist novelist, Premchand is also one of the most interesting writer of the 19th century to study. Born as Dhanpat Rai Shrivastava, Premchand was inspired by Gandhi. After attending a meeting in Gorakhpur where the leader had entreated citizens to resign from government jobs, the author too had left his job as a Deputy inspector of schools in Allahabad.

Premchand and nationalism went hand in hand, but in a different way

— Premchand paints a character of a blind hero Surdas in his Rangbhumi who represents Gandhian politics and leadership.


— In Ghaban, Premchand raises the issue of importance of ideologies and the character of freedom movement. Through one of his characters in Ghaban, Premchand gives a stern message to the leaders that if they run after luxuries even when they are not in power, they would eat eat away the people on coming to power.

—  One of Premchand’s greatest work, Godan revolves around the theme of exploitation. Premchand shows successfully the importance of wealth and materialistic world in the nationalist politics. Godan clearly shows how zamindars are a part network of exploiting class including businessman, industrialists etc. supported by political order. A most striking message here is that freedom does not mean freedom of only dominant class. Freedom in true sense means freedom from exploiters of the society.

— This aspect is also highlighted in his short story Aahuti where Premchand tries to argue that freedom doesn’t mean just replacing British with Indians. Rupmati, a charachter says, ” Swaraj, does not mean that Govind sits in John’s place… If even after Swaraj is attained, property enjoys the same power and the educate people remain as selfish as before, then I would rather not have swaraj.”


— In Premasharam, Premchand shows how a young angry villager named Balraj is influenced by Russian Revolution. Balraj persuades the oppressed villagers by telling them that in Russia the cultivators have become the rulers.

— Two points can be clearly pointed out after reading Premchand’s work. Firstly, works like Godan show duality of class and nation. Also, Premashram in contrast to his earlier works proves that like many other writers and leaders during the time of freedom struggle Premchand too swings between two opposing ideologies- Socialism and Gandhism.

What were some other notable works of the late 20th century which help us to understand the last phase of freedom struggle?

—  Pather Debi by Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay– Pather Dabi shows a contradiction between Chattopadhyay’s political position and his writing. An admirer of Gandhi and a member of Congress idealised those who chose the path of violence for independence. Similarly, in Bipradas, he shows that the riyat worships their zamindar to an extent that they show disagreement with the nationalist leaders. He chooses to write this novel in the midst of Civil Disobedience Movement.

—  Ganadevata and Panchagrama by Tarasankar Bandopadhyay- In Ganadevata and Panchagrama, Tarasankar Bandopadhyay talks about the disintegration of village society under the impact of exploitation and industrialization. He highlights how freedom movement affects the community as a whole. Tarashankar in his novels successfully shows how ideological radicalism and social conservatism go hand in hand. What is most remarkable is that he writes of India during the freedom struggle from the perspective of deprived, oppressed and marginalised.


—  Char Adhyay by Rabindranath Tagore– In Char Adhyay, Tagore clearly opposed revolutionary violence. Char adhyay seems more like a political manifesto than than a fiction.

—  Divyachakshu by Ramanlal Vasantlal Desai– Desai was a Gujarati novelist known for his work, Divyachakshu. In Divyachakshu, the character Arjun transforms from a violent character to a Gandhian.


(sources: Premchand and Indian Nationalism by Sudhir Chandra,,

Relevance of literature of last thirty years of freedom struggle


1. Along with the strong demand of freedom, people and writers were also becoming aware of the socio-economic issues of the times.

2. The literature of this period showed the influence of different and opposing ideologies. For example, Premchand’s writings showed both Gandhian and socialist influence.

3. The question was not only freedom but also what kind of freedom.

4. The writers also highlighted the weakness of national movement and leaders.

5. Exploitation and poverty were weaved with the larger issue of national movement.

Points to ponder:

1.Besides inspiring people to make sacrifices for country’s freedom, literature of 19th century also brought out the weakness of nationalist movement. Discuss.

2. List the major writings of 19th century associated with national movement.


Which of the followings options are not correctly matched?

a) Bangadarshan- Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya-

b) Nibandhamala- Vishnu Krishna Chiplunkar

c) Karmabhumi- Premchand

d) Char Adhyay- Ramanlal Desai

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First published on: 30-06-2022 at 04:09:08 pm

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