The Non-cooperation movement was a significant phase of the Indian struggle for freedom from British rule. It was led by Mahatma Gandhi and was supported by the Indian National Congress. After the Jallianwala Bagh incident, Gandhi started the Non-Cooperation movement. It aimed to resist British occupation in India through nonviolent means. Protestors would refuse to buy British goods, adopt the use of local handicrafts, picket liquor shops, and try to uphold the Indian values of honor and integrity. The ideals of Ahimsa and nonviolence, and Gandhi's ability to rally hundreds of thousands of common citizens towards the cause of Indian independence, were first seen on a large scale in this movement through the summer 1920, they feared that the movement might lead to popular nonviolence.
The eminent Hindi writer, poet, play-wright, journalist and nationalist Rambriksh Benipuri, who spent more than eight years in prison fighting for India's independence writes of Non-cooperation movement as:
When I recall Non-Cooperation era of 1921, the image of a storm confronts my eyes. From the time I became aware, I have witnessed numerous movements, however, I can assert that no other movement upturned the foundations of Indian society to the extent that the Non-Cooperation movement did. from the most humble huts to the high places, from villages to cities, everywhere there was a ferment, a loud echo.
Among the significant causes of this movement were colonial oppression, exemplified by the Rowlatt Act and Jallianwala Bagh massacre, economic hardships to the common man due to a large chunk of Indian wealth being exported to Britain, ruin of Indian artisans due to British factory-made goods replacing handmade goods, and popular resentment with the British over Indian soldiers dying in World War I while fighting as part of the British Army, in battles that otherwise had nothing to do with India.
The calls of early political leaders like Muhammad Ali Jinnah (who later became communal and hardened his stand), Annie Besant and Bal Gangadhar Tilak (Congress Extremists) for home rule were accompanied only by petitions and major public meetings. They never resulted in disorder or obstruction of government services. Partly due to that, the British did not take them very seriously. The non-cooperation movement aimed to ensure that the colonial economic and power structure would be seriously challenged, and British authorities would be forced to take notice of the people's demands.
Mahatma Gandhi had shown a similar movement in South Africa and in 1917-18 in Champaran, Bihar and Kheda, Gujarat that the only way to earn the respect and attention of British officials was to actively resist government activities through civil disobedience.
Now in Champaran and Kheda in 1918 he led impoverished farmers, mired in social evils like unhygienic conditions, domestic violence, discrimination, oppression of women and untouchability. On top of their miseries, these people were forced to grow cash crops like indigo, tobacco and cotton instead of food, and for this they were virtually not compensated. In addition, they had to pay taxes despite a famine.
The Governments of the affected regions signed agreements suspending taxation in face of the famine, allowing the farmers to grow their own crops, releasing all political prisoners and returning all property and lands seized. It was the biggest victory against the British Empire since the American Revolution.
India was assisted by a new generation of Indian revolutionaries like Rajendra Prasad and Jawaharlal Nehru. In Kheda, the entire revolt had been led by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was to become Gandhi's right hand man.
A meeting of unarmed civilians was being held at Jallianwala Bagh near the Golden temple in Amritsar. The people were fired upon by 90 soldiers under the command of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer. He also ordered the only exit to be blocked. The massacre resulted in the deaths of some 370 protestors while over 1000 were injured in the shooting. The outcry in Punjab led to thousands of unrests, protests and more deaths at the hands of the police. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre became the most infamous event of British rule in India.
Gandhi was horrified. He lost all faith in the goodness of the British government and declared that it would be a "sin" to cooperate with the "satanic" government.
Factors that led to the movement
Non-cooperation was recommended by Gandhi to Babu Muhammad Ali and Babu Shaukat Ali for the Khilafat Movement. After the failure of Khilafat Movement, the Congress decided that Non Cooperation was the only way out for India. The movement was undertaken to (a)restore the status of the ruler of Turkey (b) to avenge the genocidal Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and other atrocities in Punjab and (c) to secure Swaraj (independence) for India. Gandhi promised Swaraj in one year if his Non Cooperation Programme was fully implemented.
Gandhi's call was for a nationwide protest against the Rowlatt Act. All offices and factories would be closed. Indians would be encouraged to withdraw from Raj-sponsored schools, police services, the military and the civil service, and lawyers were asked to leave the Raj's courts. Public transportation and English-manufactured goods, especially clothing, was boycotted.
Veterans like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Annie Besant and Sammed Akiwate opposed the idea outright. The All India Muslim League also criticized the idea. But the younger generation of Indian nationalists were thrilled, and backed Gandhi. The Congress Party adopted his plans, and he received extensive support from Muslim leaders like Maulana Azad, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Abbas Tyabji, Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali.
Success and suspension
The success of the revolt was a total shock to British authorities and a massive encouragement to millions of Indians. Then on February 5, 1922, in the Chauri Chaura, after violent clashes between the local police and the protesters in which three protesters were killed by police firing, the police chowki (pron.-chau key) (station) was set on fire by the mob, killing 22 of the police occupants.
Mahatma Gandhi felt that the revolt was veering off-course, and was disappointed that the revolt had lost its non-violent nature. He did not want the movement to degenerate into a contest of violence, with police and angry mobs attacking each other back and forth, victimizing civilians in between. Gandhi appealed to the Indian public for all resistance to end, went on a fast lasting 3 weeks, and called off the mass non-cooperation movement.
The non-cooperation movement was withdrawn because of the Chauri Chaura incident. Although he had stopped the national revolt single-handedly, on March 10, 1922, Gandhi was arrested. On March 18, 1922, he was imprisoned for six years for publishing seditious materials.
Although most Congress leaders remained firmly behind Gandhi, the disillusioned broke away. The Ali brothers would soon become fierce critics. Motilal Nehru and Chittaranjan Das formed the Swaraj Party, rejecting Gandhi's leadership. Many nationalists had felt that the non-cooperation movement should not have been stopped due to isolated incidents of violence, and most nationalists, while retaining confidence in Gandhi, were discouraged.
Contemporary historians and critics suggest that the movement was successful enough to break the back of British rule, and possibly even result in the independence most Indians strove for until 1947.
But many historians and Indian leaders of the time also defended Gandhi's judgment. If he had not stopped the revolts, India could have descended into a chaotic rebellion which would have alienated common Indians and impress only violent revolutionaries, although a similar type of movement was introduced in 1930 i.e. civil disobedience movement. The main difference was the introduction of a policy of violating the law.
Gandhi's commitment to non-violence was redeemed when, between 1930 and 1934, India committed itself to full independence and tens of millions again revolted in the Salt Satyagraha which made India's cause famous worldwide for its unerring adherence to non-violence. The Satyagraha ended in glorious success: the demands of Indians were met, and the Congress Party was recognized as the real representative of the Indian people. The Government of India Act 1935 also gave India its first taste in democratic self-governance.