Rowlatt Act

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The British government passed the Rowlatt Act to increase their hold on power over the common people. This act was passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in March 1919.

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  • This act was officially known as the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act 1919.
  • This act authorised the British government the power to arrest any person without any trial. It also gave power to the government to detain such people arrested for up to 2 years without trial.
  • It placed severe restrictions on the freedom of the press and empowered the police to search for a place without a warrant.
  • Rowlatt Act was passed as per the recommendation of the Rowlatt Committee chaired by a judge, Sir Sydney Rowlatt. This act came to be known as the Black Bill and was widely condemned by Indian leaders and the public including Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Madan Mohan Malviya and Majharul Haq.
  • But this act was passed in spite of unanimous opposition from the Indian members of the Council. Therefore,
  • Gandhi and the other leaders called for a nationwide Hadtal to show India’s objection to this bill. It was known as Rowlatt Satyagraha.
  • The moment was marred by rioting in some provinces, especially in Punjab where the situation was stern. So, Gandhi Ji cancelled it. The primary intention of the British government was to repress the growing nationalist movement in India; they were also afraid of a Ghadarite revolution in Punjab and the rest of the country.
  • Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, popular Congress leaders, were arrested.
  • When the bill came into effect the protest was very intense. In Punjab, the army was called to tackle the situation.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

  • The situation in Punjab was out of control as there were riots and protests against the bill.
  • Punjab was put under Martial Law
  • Under this law, it became unlawful for more than four people to gather at a place.
  • At that time, Lord Chelmsford was the Viceroy of India and Michael O’ Dwyer was the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab.
  • On 13th April 1990, a crowd of non-violent protesters gathered to celebrate the festival of Baisakhi in Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden in Amritsar. There were pilgrims also among the crowd who had come to celebrate Baisakhi.
  • General O’ Dwyer along with his troops came there and blocked the narrow entrance to the garden. After this, he ordered his troops to fire at the unarmed crowd without any warning. There were children also among the crowd.
  • For about 10 minutes the indiscriminate firing continued until the 1650 rounds of ammunition were exhausted. Consequently, at least 1000 people died and more than 1500 people were injured.
  • This incident was a rude shock to Indians and it destroyed their faith in the British system of justice completely.
  • Indian leaders condemned the Rowlatt act and General Dwyer clearly.
  • Some people in the British government criticized it but some of them in Britain and the British in India appreciated him. Former Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and Winston Churchill criticized his actions.
  • The Hunter Commission was set up to enquire into the massacre. The commission condemned the act but did not impose any disciplinary action against him.
  • In 1920, he was relieved of his duties in the army.
  • The British failed to give justice to the victims therefore Rabindranath Tagore gave up his ‘knighthood’ and Gandhiji relinquished his title ‘Kaiser-e-hind ‘in protest against the massacre. These titles were bestowed on them by the British for services during the Boer War in South Africa.
  • Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab at that time had approved the actions of Brigadier-General Dyer. In 1940, he was assassinated by Udham Singh in London as revenge against the massacre. Udham Singh witnessed the massacre as a child.

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