The Rowlatt Act passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in London on 10 March 1919, indefinitely extending "emergency measures" (of the Defence of India Regulations Act) enacted during the First World War in order to control public unrest and root out conspiracy, in India. Passed on the recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee, named after its president, British judge Sir Sidney Rowlatt, this act effectively authorized the government to imprison for up to two years, without trial, any person suspected of terrorism living in the Raj and gave the imperial authorities power to deal with 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 was 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.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, among other Indian leaders, was extremely critical of the Act and argued that not everyone should get punishment in response to isolated political crimes. The Act annoyed many Indian leaders and the public, which caused the government to implement repressive measures. Gandhi and others found that constitutional opposition to the measure was fruitless, so on April 6, a "hartal" was organised where Indians would suspend all business and fast as a sign of their opposition. This event is known as the Rowlatt satyagraha.
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 ahimsa (non-violence), an integral part of satyagraha, Gandhi suspended the resistance.
The Rowlatt Act came into effect in March 1919. In the Punjab the protest movement was very strong, and on 10 April, two leaders of the congress, Dr. Satya Pal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew, were arrested and taken to an unknown place.
- Vohra, Ranbir (2001). The Making of India: A Historical Survey, 2nd Ed. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 0-7656-0711-5. p. 126.
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- The history of British India: a chronology, John F. Riddick, 2006
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