The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, otherwise called the Rowlatt Act, was enacted by the Imperial Legislative Council in Delhi, which allowed for arrest, indefinite detention without trial or any legal recourse.
The introduction of the Rowlatt Act would lead to a chain of events that would forever change the trajectory of the Indian Freedom Struggle. This article will highlight in detail events that took place with the introduction of the act.
Why was the Rowlatt Act passed?
Following the the end of World War I, British India saw an upsurge of nationalistic fervour with Mahatma Gandhi at its helm. To curb this upsurge, the British authorities decided to resort to more drastic measures. Thus the Rowlatt Act was introduced on 18 March 1919 by the Imperial Legislative Council. Named after Sir Sidney Rowlatt – the President of the Rowlatt Committee – the act gave the following powers to the colonial police:
- Any person could be imprisoned without trial for two years on mere suspicion of anti-state activities
- Arbitrary hold over news became the norm
- No warrants would be need in the event of an arrest
- Juryless trials for specified anti-state activities
- The detainees was not allowed to be informed of the charges against him/her nor the proof used against them
As a result of the consequences that came about following the enactment of the Act, it is considered one of the Important Acts of India. This is because the arbitrary nature of the act would show the Indian people that the British government did not care about them.
Impact of the Rowlatt Act
The enactment of the Rowlatt Act led to widespread outrage among the Indian people as well as the leaders of the freedom movement. Many resigned from their government posts in protest against the act. Mahatma Gandhi launched the non-cooperation movement to passively resist the act. The Rowlatt Act brought Mahatma Gandhi into mainstream politics, ushering in a new phase of the Indian Freedom Struggle. However the movement was suspended following the Chauri Chaura incident where a violent protest cost the lives of several policemen.
With the act coming into effect on 21 March 1919, a series of protests broke out in the Punjab. In response the British arrested congress leaders Dr. Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, prompting even more rigorous protests in Punjab.
Punjab had almost reached a boiling point when troops were called in a curfew imposed to restrict movement and prevent any gathering of people in massive numbers. Despite these restrictions on 13 April, people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh both in celebration of Baisakhi Day and to raise their voice against the deportation of Dr. Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew.
The gathering was surrounded by a battalion of British Colonial troops under Brigadier-General R. E. H. Dyer and they proceeded to fire on the crowd until their ammunition was expended
About 1200 injuries and 1000 fatalities were reported.The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, a result of the act, forever changed the Indian independence movement. It made the Indian realise that nothing good would come by cooperating with the British authorities. Now the demand would be for complete independence from the United Kingdom. Many historians regard the massacre as a linchpin event which contributed towards the end of British India