India and Poland – so far away, yet so alike



The collective identity and public life of citizens of the two countries are based largely on the memory of the struggle for independence and resistance movements against foreign influence, which were crowned by success only in the second half of the 20th.

Poland became independent in 1918 as a result of the fact that the political map of Europe altered significantly after World War I (1914 – 1918). After more than a 120-year period of partitions between the three neighboring countries –Russia, Prussia (Germany) and Austria – a country that was longing for freedom, was given its land back. The victory was, however, paid by numerous uprisings pacified in a bloody way.  

Since the beginning of the 18th century, India was under the colonial rule of the British. Indians fought for their independence during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. It was then that Indians united for the first time to cast off the foreign yoke. The rebellion did not succeed and the British only tightened their control over the Indian subcontinent. Entering India, the British brought modernization. The urban intelligentsia of India was educated according to European standards, which enhanced national consciousness. Indians also wanted to rule their country. An especially active forum for fighters for independence was the Indian National Congress (founded in 1885).

In Poland, it was also members of intelligentsia that were leaders of change. During World War II, however, most citizens who were well educated and brought up in a patriotic spirit died or were mass-murdered during Nazi and Soviet special operations.

Not only did World War II caused spiritual and material damage in Poland, but also it took its independence away again. The country was under the Soviet influence for the next 50 years.

World War II brought a radical change to India too. Great Britain, which suffered a lot during the war, had to admit that it had no power to rule in the overseas empire. In order to avoid a religious civil war, it was decided that the British India had to be separated into two countries – Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. The separation of India was accompanied by massacres (death toll of 500 000) and relocations (10-14 million people).

Poland did not escape from Stalin’s and western governments’ partition of Europe either. The USSR appropriated Poland’s eastern part only to grant it land to the west of its borders, which had belonged to Germany. Mass relocations in both countries caused social instability. Today, many citizens of Poland still feel they do not belong to their land.

The history of granting both countries independence in the 20th century has its key-figures. For India, the symbol of the struggle for independence is Mahatma Gandhi, for Poland – Lech Wałęsa.

The former was a lawyer that was educated in England. When after completing his studies, he was thrown out of a train because he was traveling in the first class, which was allowed only for white people, he realized that the British allowed him to receive his education in order for him to be a slave and second-class citizen in his own country. He began nonviolent resistance movement – Satyagraha. Mahatma called for boycott of the British institutions – courts, offices, the revenue service – together with British products. He encouraged his compatriots to wear khadi (made of homemade fabric) instead of British clothing. Thus, he urged everybody to weave khadi to show support for the independence movement. Also, the women wove khadi, which made them join a political movement for the first time in history.

In contrast with Gandhi, Lech Wałęsa did not come from a privileged family and knew the life of common people very well. He worked as electrician in a big plant. At the end of the 1970’s when the economic situation in Poland worsened and people were not able to buy even basic products, Wałęsa realized that the communists in Poland acted against its citizens, especially against workers. He was the leader of the nationwide ‘Solidarity’ movement, which renounced the use of violence and focused on civil disobedience, which destroyed the communist regime in the Eastern Europe peacefully.

Although Lech Wałęsa and Mahatma Gandhi represent different continents, cultures and social groups, they have demonstrated that the striving for justice and respect of basic rights constitutes human’s universal need and no matter what country it is, peaceful methods can win freedom. Independence movements, especially the use of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance, allowed women to play an important part in the political life of the two countries. The fact that women were fighting not at the war front, but in everyday life allowed women to become important players in the changes that were taking place at the time. What distinguishes both Indian and Polish heroines of the 20th century from other women is their courage. Many times, they had to face situations in which they had to demonstrate their inner strength. Thus, they are often admired for being noble people, heroines of history – Indira Gandhi or Henryka Krzywonos certainly would not like their achievements to be evaluated only on the basis of their sex. Our heroines’ courage consisted also in pushing the limits as to what was appropriate for a woman to do, in breaking barriers and limits. In the end, women turned out to be important not only when fighting for independence and democracy, but also for building them.



Alcoholism – one of the biggest social problems in Poland. The addiction mainly affects males and indirectly – their families. The highest consumption of alcohol was observed in 1979 and 1980, when an average citizen of Poland had 8,5 liters of pure 100% alcohol.

Bengal – a region in the Bay of Bengal, which in 1947 was divided between two countries: India (western part) and Pakistan (eastern part). In 1971, the Indian army entered eastern Bengal supporting the fight of the Bengalese for independence from Pakistan. A year later, the independent Bangladesh was formed.

Caste – a closed group, community in the traditional Indian society, originally connected with people’s jobs. One belongs to a caste from the moment one is born. It is fairly uncommon for people from different castes to get married. The current constitution of India prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste.

Concentration camps from World War II – during World War II, Germany implemented its extermination plans of the Polish intelligentsia and Jews. Thus, they concentrated people in closed camps, where the prisoners had to face diseases, hunger, exhaustion and finally, death.

The Emergency – a period of the state of emergency in 1976-1977, which was introduced by Indira Gandhi in order for her to rule in India by means of decrees and orders without the Parliament.

The Independence of India – The inhabitants of modern India have always been characterized by collective identity. However, only with modernization that was imposed by the British in the 19th century, were the modern Indian nationalism and the will to build an independent country born. The Indian Independence Act was signed in 1947.

The Indian National Congress – a political party established in 1885, a party which at first assembled only well-educated Indians. After the Great War, it was opened up to different people and became representative of the whole Indian society that fought for Indian independence. Its spiritual leader was Mahatma Gandhi, who was supported by another great politician, later Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Indigenous people – native tribes of India that lived there before what we call today the Indian civilization was created 3000 years ago. There are approximately 70 million people in India who belong to indigenous tribes. The tribes usually live in the central forests of India, they have their own cultures and often speak endangered languages.

Intelligentsia – a social class that was the main carrier of national culture and patriotic force. Intelligentsia usually consisted of impoverished aristocracy and freelancers.

Karnawał Solidarności (‘the Carnival of the Solidarity Movement’) – a period of great social arousal and freedom that was palpable in the Polish public life, which followed the successful strike of the Solidarity movement in August 1980. It lasted until the Polish authorities imposed martial law in December 1981.

Misalliance – marriage with a person belonging to a lower social class, e.g. a marriage of a nobleman and a peasant woman was regarded as unequal and inappropriate.

Pakistan – a country created in 1947 when the British divided colonial India into India and Pakistan. The Muslim Pakistan consisted of the former Indian Sind province, Balochistan, part of Punjab and eastern Bengal, which was separated from the rest and soon became independent Bangladesh. Since then, India and Pakistan have had hostile relations.

Political prisoners – after World War II, Polish prisons were filled by Poles who, according to the new communist regime, conspired against the country. In reality, these were fighters for independence, often former prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps. They were incarcerated in order for the communist authorities to reign in Poland against the will of the majority.

Poverty – one of the biggest social problems in India. One third of the poorest people in the world live in India. According to the World Bank’s reports, 32.7% of Indians live below the poverty line, i.e. for under $ 1.25 a day.

Quit India – a campaign for independence. In 1942, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution concerning India’s independence and came out against the British authorities calling to Quit India. At the time, the British authorities arrested Gandhi, Nehru and other activists. In 1945, however, India joined the UN.

Socialist controlled economy – economy of the socialist countries was based not on the market laws of demand and supply, but on political plans. This kind of economy was the reason for the constant lack of basic products all over Eastern Europe.

The Solidarity movement – a nationwide anti-communist movement in Poland in 1980-1989, a movement that allowed Poland to become independent again and indirectly, led to the collapse of the USSR.

Tiranga – or triranga, a three-color flag of India, a symbol of Indian independence. Its design was proposed by Mahatma Gandhi during Indian Congress Committee in 1921.

World War I – also known as the Great War, 1914-1918, conducted all over Europe, which radically changed the situation on the continent. Many small countries became independent at that time.