Rowlatt Act

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act,1919
Imperial Legislative Council
Repealed by
The Special Laws Repeal Act,1922
Status: Repealed
Sidney Rowlatt, best remembered for his controversial presidency of the Rowlatt Committee, a sedition committee appointed in 1919 by the British Indian Government to evaluate the links between political terrorism in India.

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.[1][2][3][4][5]

Purpose and introduction[edit]

The British colonial 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 perform satyagraha against the act.

Passed on the recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee and named after its president, Sir Sidney Rowlatt, the act effectively authorized the colonial government to imprison any person suspected of terrorism living in British India for up to two years without a trial, and gave the colonial 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.[6] Those convicted were required to deposit securities upon release, and were prohibited from taking part in any political, educational, or religious activities.[6] On the report of the committee, headed by Justice Rowlatt, two bills were introduced in the Central Legislature on 6 February 1919. 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.[7] 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.[8] This event was part of the Non-cooperation movement.

It was the Rowlatt Act which brought Gandhi to the mainstream of the Indian struggle for independence and ushered in the Gandhian 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.[9][excessive quote]

However, the success of the hartal in Delhi, on 30 March, was overshadowed by tensions running high, which resulted in rioting in the Punjab, Delhi and Gujrat. Deciding that Indians were not ready to make a stand consistent with the principle of nonviolence, an integral part of satyagraha (disobeying the British colonial government's laws without using violence), 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.[citation needed]

The army was called into Punjab, and on 13 April people from neighbouring villages gathered for Baisakhi Day celebrations and to protest against deportation of two important Indian leaders in Amritsar, which resulted in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.[10][11]


Accepting the report of the Repressive Laws Committee, the British colonial government repealed the Rowlatt Act, the Press Act, and twenty-two other laws in March 1922.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Popplewell 1995, p. 175[full citation needed]
  2. ^ Lovett 1920, pp. 94, 187–191[full citation needed]
  3. ^ Sarkar 1921, p. 137[full citation needed]
  4. ^ Tinker 1968, p. 92[full citation needed]
  5. ^ Fisher 1972, p. 129[full citation needed]
  6. ^ a b 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.
  7. ^ "Mohammed Ali Jinnah | Making Britain". Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  8. ^ Balaji, Balamurali (9 April 2013). "Remembering this week: Jalianwala Bagh Massacre – April 6th to April 15th, 1919". GandhiTopia. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  9. ^ Nehru, Jawaharlal (1934–35). Glimpses of World History. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-9-385-99006-9.
  10. ^ "From the Land of Paradise to the Holy City". The Tribune. 26 January 2006.
  11. ^ "Op-ed: Let's not forget Jallianwala Bagh". Daily Times. 13 April 2003.
  12. ^ The history of British India: a chronology, John F. Riddick, 2006