The majority of us were first introduced to the term “boycott” in our 8th-grade Civics textbooks. We had learned about Gandhi’s Swadeshi Movement, as a part of which Indians were encouraged to boycott the use of Manchester cloth and salt from Liverpool.
The boycott hit the British the hardest, and their product sales fell rapidly all across the country. Thus, marking the initiation of Gandhi’s famous Dandi march, where our countrymen staked claim over their salt.
We generally associate the act of boycotting with noble purposes and peaceful revolutions.
Apart from India’s freedom struggle, it has also affiliated with history’s other revolutionaries like Martin Luther King Jr. And Nelson Mandela.
In today’s India, though, the boycott has just been reduced to a mere hashtag. It has become so overused that instead of a noble, non-violent protest against oppression or injustice, it has turned into a general populace’s way of throwing a tantrum over some dissatisfaction. It is a tool to spread misinformation and unnecessary hatred.
But this word, which has become a constant source dilemma for us in the 21st century,
where did it come from?
Curious? Well then.
Today, let us dig into
The meaning and origin of “boycott.”
Oxford defines ‘Boycott’ as withdrawal from commercial or social relations with (a country, organization, or person) as a punishment or protest.
It is an act of showing dissent through peaceful means. Non-violence does not make it harmless, though. A boycott can cause more damage to an organization or person than any other form of resistance.
For a conglomerate, it means a substantial fall in sales, near shutdown, and eventual bankruptcy.
And for a famous Individual, it means the end of their career. For example, Twitterati’s ‘cancelling’ of one of AIB (Viz. A Mumbai based comedy company’s) founders Tanmay Bhat on account of the #Metoo allegations on one of his co-workers.
It ended up in the immediate demise of AIB.
Before the 1880s, there was no ‘boycott’ in the English language. Until then, it was the name of a man. That man was Charles Cunningham Boycott, born in 1832.
After a reasonably good but monotonous life and education in Britain, he moved to Ireland. Boycott settled there as a landowner with his wife, Anne Dunne. The rich Lord of Erne in County Mayo then asked him to look after his 1500 acres of land.
Thereby setting in motion the chain of events that lead to his name forever be etched in history’s core whether he liked it or did not.
The boycott was a respectable good Samaritan based on his life history on paper. But according to the people of County Mayo, Ireland, majorly the tenants he was managing, he had a cold temperament and fined them all the time for not adhering to small rules. While his reputation amongst the residents was continually worsening, there was a new revolution brewing on the other side of the country.
The Irish National Land League. As the name suggests, farmers and farmers face discrimination in getting their well-deserved margin after their toil: this produce and profit due to the Irish potato famine of that time.
The leader of the league, Charles Parnell, then gave a speech that changed the lives of the oppressed worldwide for generations to come.
He handed them a weapon which prevented bloodshed, was forever useful and relentlessly sharp when he said, “What do you do with a tenant who bids for a farm from which his neighbor has evicted?…. When a man takes a farm from which another has already evicted him on the roadside when you meet him – you must shun him in the streets of the town – you must shun him in the shop – you must shun him on the fair green and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of the country, as if he were the leper of old – you must show him your detestation of the crime he committed.”
The masses were already enraged, and now they had been given away to direct their anger, there was no stopping them.
History of Boycott
Charles Boycott became the very first one to be caught in the crossfire. His tenants were late in paying the rent, and working for Lord of Erne gave him full power to evict them, and that’s precisely what he did. He sent them eviction notices, and things went downhill for him from there.
The tenants and other residents joined hands in publicly shunning him. His house help and other workers scared that they may quit their jobs. With no one to tend to his land, people were trespassing his property and destroying crops. Shop owners didn’t sell let his groceries. He became a total outcast, continually living in fear in his own home.
After having suffered and seeing no way out, letter to a British newspaper. In it, he told about his plight and asked for help. Help did come but coupled with tons of publicity. Helpers are sending to tend to crops and also reporters to see the situation with their own eyes. Even with all the commotion, he could no longer live there peacefully and went back to Britain.
From a different perspective, his exit from Ireland marked the first win for the new strategy of protest. The Incident was widespread in every corner of the world. Finally, his name became eponymous with the ordeal of Isolation he went through.
Eventually, the boycott is now officially integrating into the English language.
Records say that Charles Cunningham Boycott had a mundane existence for the years he was alive after returning. Probably one filled with regret or anger as well at whatever went down with him in County Mayo.
But I would like to imagine that he felt lucky too. In a way, he made a mark on time and became a symbol of hope, determination, and perseverance against all odds. In contrast to what boycotting has become today, it will forever stand as a significant chapter of resistance in many powerful nations’ original history. India is one of the tops.