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Rowlatt Act 1919, Meaning, Provisions, Rowlatt Satyagraha

The Rowlatt Act, enacted by the British government in March 1919, tightened their control over the populace by granting them the authority to arrest individuals without trial. To protest this oppressive law, Gandhi and other leaders organized a Hartal (suspension of work), known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha, to demonstrate Indians’ opposition to this unjust rule.

What is Rowlatt Act 1919?

  • The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, known as the Rowlatt Act, was passed by the British Legislative Council in February 1919.
  • This Act allowed the government to detain individuals accused of plotting against the British empire for up to two years without trial, potentially leading to execution without a jury.
  • Formulated based on the recommendations of the Rowlatt Commission (1918), it replaced the Defense of India Act (1915) and became a permanent statute.
  • Unlike its predecessor, which was enacted during World War I, the Rowlatt Act granted the British government increased control over Indians.
  • Mahatma Gandhi initiated the Rowlatt Satyagraha on April 6, 1919, in response to the enactment of the Rowlatt Act.
  • This nonviolent resistance movement aimed to protest against the oppressive measures introduced by the British government, particularly targeting the suppression of democratic protests in India.
Rowlatt Act, 1919
Long Title Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919
Territorial Extent The whole of British India
Enacted by Imperial Legislative Council
Enacted March 1919
Commenced March 1919
Status Repealed

Rowlatt Commission

The commission was appointed in 1918 by the British Government. The commission was headed by Sir Sydney Rowlatt other members of the commission were J.D.V Hodge, Basil Scott, Verney Lovett, PC Mitter and CV Kumaraswami Sastri.

The purpose of the commission was to investigate the revolutionary movement in India and also to prepare a detention policy. The commission recommended detaining or imprisoning the revolutionaries without any trials.

Rowlatt Act 1919 Provisions

Rowlatt Act was passed in February 1919. The act empowered the police to search the house, and detain or arrest any suspected individual as well as political activists without any warrant or trial. A special tribunal was established solely for the trial of the arrested individuals.

The three high court judges will preside over the tribunal. There was no provision for any legal aid with the arrested individual and he will be trialled in secrecy. Any judgement held by the judges will be final with no court of appeal.

Tribunals can accept all sorts of evidence even which are invalid under Indian Evidence Act. The British Government was also empowered to exercise strict control over the press and the ongoing revolutionary activities.

Rowlatt Satyagraha

Rowlatt Satyagraha was the first complete all-India uprising against British Rule (as the Revolt of 1857 failed to grab all Indian sentiment). Rowlatt was opposed by the nationalist leaders as well as the commons. There were anger and resentment against the British government across India regarding this law.

The resignation was handed over by the Indian elected representatives of the Legislature as Mazhar Ul Haq along with Madan Mohan Malviya and Md Ali Jinnah resigned from the council after voting against the bill.

Mahatma Gandhi initiated Rowlatt Satyagraha against this demonian act and in February 1919, he founded Satyagraha Sabha. He called for a mass protest at the Pan India level and asked the peasants and artisans for their political support.

In several parts of the country, the anti-colonial demonstration was started even before the Satyagraha was launched. Punjab during a similar demonstration witnessed the inhuman massacre of Jallianwala Bagh which shook the entire nation resulting in a movement on a bigger scale was launched in 1920 the Non-Cooperation Movement which merged with Khilafat Movement giving tremendous momentum to the Indian freedom struggle.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

On the Ground of Rowlatt Act provisions two nationalist leaders Dr Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew were arrested on 9th April 1919 when they were addressing a meeting, it was an alarming situation in Punjab as there were riots and protest opposing the Rowlatt act.

Martial Law was imposed in Punjab, as per which it will be unlawful if more than 4 people assemble at a place. On 13th April 1919 on the day of Baisakhi, a crowd of non-violent protesters gathered in a public garden at Amritsar.

Michael O’ Dwyer with his troops blocked the only entrance of the garden and fired on the unarmed crowd without warning which included children’s as well, killing thousands of innocent people and destroying the faith of Indians in the British system of Justice. To inquire about this heinous massacre British Government setup a commission named Hunter Commission.

Hunter Commission

British Government to investigate the wrongdoings of the Jallianwala Bagh incident appointed a commission named Hunter Commission on 14th October 1919. It was a 7 membered commission under the chairmanship of Lord William Hunter. The commission submitted its final report on March 1920, in which it condemned the act of General Dwyer. However, it did not impose any penalty or took any disciplinary action against General Dwyer.

Effects of the Rowlatt Satyagraha

The Rowlatt Satyagraha, which began on April 6, 1919, had several effects:
  • Galvanized the Indian people- The Rowlatt Satyagraha united the Indian people against British rule and inspired a new wave of protests and civil disobedience.
  • Heightened awareness- The Rowlatt Satyagraha increased awareness of the need for constitutional reforms and exposed the brutal nature of British rule.
  • Led to future movements- The Rowlatt Satyagraha laid the groundwork for future movements that led to India’s independence in 1947. It also served as a precursor to larger movements like the Non-Cooperation Movement and the Civil Disobedience Movement.
  • International condemnation- The Rowlatt Satyagraha led to international condemnation of British policies. 
The Rowlatt Act, which was passed in 1919, triggered widespread outrage among Indians. The Act allowed the British to imprison any Indian without trial if they were suspected of sedition. 

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What was the provision of Rowlatt Act?

The act empowered the British officials to arrest or detain any individual without warrant.

When the incident of Jallianwala Bagh took place?

It took place on the day of Baisakhi in April 13, 1919, when large number of people gathered to celebrate Baisakhi

How many members where there in Hunter commission?

Hunter commission which was appointed to investigate the Jallianwala Bagh incident has 7 members.

What is Rowlatt Act criticized?

It was criticized as it limits the freedom of people to assemble and shattered the dreams of the Indians of achieving self-government.

Why Gandhiji called of the Rowlatt Satyagraha?

As, Gandhiji saw the spread of violence post Jallianwala Bagh incident he withdrawn the movement.

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