The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act, was a legislative council act passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in Delhi on 18 March 1919, indefinitely extending the emergency measures of preventive indefinite detention, incarceration without trial and judicial review enacted in the Defence of India Act 1915 during the First World War. It was enacted in light of a perceived threat from revolutionary nationalists to organisations of re-engaging in similar conspiracies as during the war which the Government felt the lapse of the Defence of India Act would enable. Referred to as the ‘black act’, the Rowlatt Act was passed during the first world war in 1991, by the British government. The act took away the freedom of expression of the Indians and those who were accused were also denied the right to information. Indian opposed these acts by rallies, closing down of shops, strikes etc.
It was the Rowlatt Act which brought Gandhi to the mainstream of Indian struggle for independence and ushered in the Gandhi Era of Indian politics. Jawaharlal Nehru described Gandhi’s entry into the protests in his Glimpses of World History – “Early in 1919 he was very ill. He had barely recovered from it when the Rowlatt Bill agitation filled the country. He also joined his voice to the universal outcry. But this voice was somehow different from others. It was quiet and low, and yet it could be heard above the shouting of the multitude; it was soft and gentle, and yet there seemed to be steel hidden away somewhere in it; it was courteous and full of appeal, and yet there was something grim and frightening in it; every word used was full of meaning and seemed to carry a deadly earnestness. Behind the language of peace and friendship, there was power and quivering shadow of action and a determination not to submit to a wrong…This was something very different from our daily politics of condemnation and nothing else, long speeches always ending in the same futile and ineffective resolutions of protest which nobody took very seriously. This was the politics of action, not of talk.”
The British government passed the Rowlatt Act which gave powers to the police to arrest any person without any reason whatsoever. The purpose of the Act was to curb the growing nationalist upsurge in the country. Gandhi called upon the people to do Satyagraha against such oppressive “Act”. Passed on the recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee and named after its president, British judge Sir Sidney Rowlatt, this act effectively authorized the government to imprison any person suspected of terrorism living in British India for up to two years without a trial, and gave the imperial authorities power to deal with all revolutionary activities.
The unpopular legislation provided for stricter control of the press, arrests without warrant, indefinite detention without trial, and juryless in-camera trials for proscribed political acts. The accused were denied the right to know the accusers and the evidence used in the trial. Those convicted were required to deposit securities upon release, and were prohibited from taking part in any political, educational, or religious activities. On the report of the committee, headed by Justice Rowlatt, two bills were introduced in the central legislature on 6 February 1919. It is also called as a Black Act by Indian . These bills came to be known as “Black Bills”. They gave enormous powers to the police to search a place and arrest any person they disapproved of without warrant. Despite much opposition, the Rowlatt Act was passed on 18 March 1919. The purpose of the act was to curb the growing nationalist upsurge in the country.
Mahatma Gandhi, among other Indian leaders, was extremely critical of the Act and argued that not everyone should be punished in response to isolated political crimes. Madan Mohan Malaviya and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a member of the All-India Muslim League resigned from the Imperial legislative council in protest against the act. The act also angered many other Indian leaders and the public, which caused the government to implement repressive measures. Gandhi and others thought that constitutional opposition to the measure was fruitless, so on 6 April, a hartal took place. This was an event in which Indians suspended businesses and went on strikes and would fast, pray and hold public meetings against the ‘Black Act’ as a sign of their opposition and civil disobedience would be offered against the law. Mahatma Gandhi bathed in the sea at Mumbai and made a speech before a procession to a temple took place. This event was part of the Non-cooperation movement.
However, the success of the hartal in Delhi, on 30 March, was overshadowed by tensions running high, which resulted in rioting in the Punjab and other provinces. Deciding that Indians were not ready to make a stand consistent with the principle of nonviolence, an integral part of satyagraha, Gandhi suspended the resistance. The Rowlatt Act came into effect on 21 March 1919. In Punjab the protest movement was very strong, and on 10 April two leaders of the congress, Dr Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew were arrested and taken secretly to Dharamsala. The army was called into Punjab, and on 13 April people from neighbouring villages gathered for Baisakhi Day celebrations and to protest against the deportation of two important Indian leaders in Amritsar, which led to the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919. Accepting the report of the Repressive Laws Committee, the Government of India repealed the Rowlatt Act, the Press Act, and twenty-two other laws in March 1922. The year 1919 is a very prominent year in the Indian History.
When was the Rowlatt Act passed? Why did Indians oppose the Rowlatt Act?
Rowlatt Act what is it ?
The success of Satyagraha movements in Champaran, Kheda and Ahmedabad gave a boost to the morale of the oppressed Indian. In light of a perceived threat by the growth of Satyagraha and out of the feeling of similar kinds of conspiracies, the British government decided to exert more control over public activities. As a result, they proposed the Rowlatt Act. The Rowlatt Act was passed in 1919 named after its chairman Sir Sidney Rowlett. The power to detain political prisoners without trial for two years was given to the courts with the aim to curb the political activities in the country. This executed authoritarian control of the press, detention of political prisoners without trial, imprisoning any suspected person etc. The accused were given no right to know who accused them and what was the evidence used in the trial; there was freedom of expression. Upon being released, the convicted had to deposit securities and were not allowed to participate in any education, religious or political activities.
Rowlatt act provisions
The ‘ Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, ‘ also known as the ‘ Rowlatt Act, ‘ was enacted by the British government to discourage Indians from rising against them by suppressing revolutionary groups and depriving Indians of their right to personal expression and liberty. On basis of the report of the S.A.T. Rowlatt committee, it replaced the Defence of India Act (1915) which was instituted during the First World War.i.e. WWI with a permanent law that gave the British government more control and more power over Indians. some of the major provisions of the act:
- The ‘Rowlatt Act’ envisaged the arrest and deportation of any person on mere suspicion of sedition and revolt.
- It allowed the declaration of possession of treasonable literature as a punishable offence.
- Allowed the British to imprison protestors without a trial of those arrested.
- It also provided for the press to be controlled even more strictly.
- Arrest without warrant: It gave sweeping powers to the police to search premises and arrest anyone merely on suspicion without needing a warrant.
- It also gave the police the right to indefinitely detain suspects without trying them and to conduct in-camera trials for forbidden political acts without any jury.
- Denied right to information to the undertrials regarding the identity of their accusers as well as the nature of the evidence presented against them for their alleged crimes.
- It mentioned the trial of those arrested by special tribunals established for that purpose
- It made the convicts to deposit securities and prohibited them from participating in political, religious, or educational activities.
Why Indians were Outraged by the Rowlatt Act?
The Rowlatt Act was passed in 1919 giving permission to the government to imprison any person living in British India without a trial and the imprisonment could be up to two years. This Act also gave power to the imperial authorities for dealing with revolutionary activities. With this Act, the British government got enormous powers that allowed them to curb the political activities and it also allowed detention of political prisoners for two years without trial.
- Indian members were completely against this law but it got passed hurriedly through the Imperial Legislative Council.
- Freedom of expression got limited due to this Act.
- The authority of the police got expanded.
- Any individual suspected of sedition and treachery, living in British India could be arrested by the government without any warrant.
Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act
The father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi opposed this Act by starting a peaceful Satyagraha. He suggested civil disobedience beginning with a strike on 6th April 1919. Rallies, closing down of shops and strikes by railway workers were the chosen methods. In a nutshell, the day-to-day work of the country was brought to a grinding halt. The British got threatened that this huge mass movement could break all lines of communication in the country and so they decided to suppress the Nationalists. Many local leaders were arrested by the British government and entering Delhi got prohibited for Mahatma Gandhi.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
In Amritsar, police opened fire on a peaceful procession. Angered by this brutal action, people attacked post offices, banks and railway stations. Consequently, Martial law was imposed on Amritsar under the command of General Dyer. The event that took place on 13th April 1919 is always remembered for the most heinous aggression of the British. Unaware of the Martial law, to attain a cattle fair, people from several villages had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh. To crush the people and create terror, General Dyer came to the ground with fifty armed soldiers and blocked all the entry points to the ground and opened fire on the innocent crowd. This firing left hundreds of people including children and women dead and badly wounded.