Rowlatt Act and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (1919)

Rowlatt Act and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (1919)

One of the most contentious laws passed by the British government to restrict the civil liberties of Indian citizens in the early 20th century is the Rowlatt Act (1919), also known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha.

Rowlatt Act and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (1919)

One of the most contentious laws passed by the British government to restrict the civil liberties of Indian citizens in the early 20th century is the Rowlatt Act (1919), also known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha. It changed the Indian national movement and elevated Mahatma Gandhi, the country's most tenacious freedom fighter. The most horrifying incident in Indian history was brought on by this bill, which also provoked numerous protests across the country.

  • The Central Legislative Council passed the Rowlatt Act in March 1919 to stifle violent nationalist uprisings and limit people's freedom.
  • The Bill had no appeal rights and allowed for a swift trial of crimes by a special court.
  • Without a warrant, the provincial government had the authority to conduct a search and take a suspect into custody. These gave the government unrestricted authority to detain suspects for up to two years without a trial.
  • It sparked a wave of rage across all demographic groups that Gandhiji used to launch a nationwide agitation and lay the groundwork for the Non-Cooperation Movement. The Satyagraha was organized by Gandhiji on February 14th, 1919. Gandhiji was taken into custody on April 8, 1919.

Provisions of the Rowlatt Act

The following are some of the main rules outlined in the Rowlatt Act of 1919:

  • The law gave police authority to conduct a warrantless search of any location and to detain any suspects.
  • The police were given permission to detain suspects and political activists without having them put on trial.
  • The special tribunal, which was created exclusively for this purpose, tried the arrested people. 
  • Three High Court judges made up the tribunal. There was no court of appeals, and the tribunal's decision was final.
  • The detained individuals were tried in secret without the option of choosing any legal representation. Even the right to know who their accusers were and what evidence had been brought against them was denied to them.
  • All forms of evidence, including those that are inadmissible under the Indian Evidences Act, had to be accepted by the tribunals under this act.
  • The Colonial government had the authority to strictly impose controls on the press and revolutionary activities.

Jallianwala Bagh massacre:

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, also known as the Massacre of Amritsar, took place in the open area known as the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab, when British troops opened fire on a sizable crowd of unarmed Indians.

  • The Indian independence movement underwent a sea change on April 13, 1919.
  • It was the harvest festival of Baisakhi, which is celebrated on that day in Punjab and other regions of north India.
  • The Rowlatt Act, which gave the British government the authority to imprison anyone without a trial, was put into effect that day, and local residents in Amritsar decided to hold a meeting that day to discuss and protest its implementation as well as the imprisonment of independence activists Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew.
  • Men, women, and kids made up the majority of the crowd.
  • In defiance of British orders, they all gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh, a park that was walled on all sides except for a couple of small gates.
  • Peaceful protesters, as well as some who weren't there to protest, were present, as were tourists who were just passing through the park on their way to the Golden Temple.
  • Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer ordered the 90 soldiers he had brought to the location to open fire on the crowd as the meeting was going on. Dyer had crept up to the scene with the intention of teaching the public assembled a lesson.
  • Many people made fruitless attempts to scale the walls and escape. Numerous people dove into the park's well.

Response of the Indians:

  • The Indians were brutally shocked by this tragedy, which completely destroyed their faith in the British justice system.
  • Leaders from across the country vehemently denounced the act and Dyer.
  • In his letter of protest, Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore renounced the knighthood that had been bestowed upon him and denounced the brutal British actions.
  • Gandhiji gave up the title of "Kaiser-e-hind" that the British had given him for his assistance during the Boer War in South Africa in protest against the massacre and the British failure to provide adequate justice for the victims.
  • At Amritsar, the first congress session took place in December 1919. People from all walks of life, including peasants, attended it in large numbers.

British and Government of India Response:

  • While some in the British government were quick to criticize Gen. Dyer, he was well-liked by the majority of Britons and British in India.
  • The massacre had been planned, and Dyer proudly boasted that he had done it to have a "moral effect" on the populace. Dyer also said that he had resolved to shoot all the men if they continued the meeting.
  • The Hunter Commission was established by the government to investigate the massacre. Despite condemning Dyer's behavior, the commission took no disciplinary action against him.
  • In 1920, he was released from his army obligations.
  • It was listed as one of the most gruesome massacres in modern history by a British newspaper.

One of the worst acts of violence:

  • In this garden, a large celebration of Baisakhi, the Punjabi harvest festival, was held with between 15,000 and 20,000 attendees, the majority of whom were Sikhs.
  • Aside from protesting the oppressive Rowlatt Act, which allowed for more stringent press restrictions, warrantless arrests, and indefinite detention without charge or trial, they had also gathered to protest it.
  • The British surrounded the unarmed people and brutally started firing.
  • The British continued to show no compassion even after that and instead reacted in the following ways with brutal repression.
  • People were made to rub their noses on the ground by Satyagrahis in an effort to humiliate and terrorize them.
  • In order to salute all sahibs, they were made to crawl through the streets.
  • In the Punjabi region near Gujranwala, villages were bombed and people were publicly flayed.
  • This provided more fuel for Indians, who intensified their national movement as a result.
  • In response to harsh criticism of the administration from the leaders, Tagore renounced his knighthood.
  • This incident brought unity to India, which was crucial for the freedom movement, as the entire country came together to protest the British.

A turning point in the Indian national movement:

  • British rule had some legitimacy by the end of the 19th century, even in the eyes of the enslaved populace, both in India and throughout the world.
  • Most Indians had previously come to terms with colonial rule's progressive nature.
  • The British sense of justice and fairness was shattered by the events at Jallianwala Bagh.
  • The majority of Indians believed that the massacre of the unarmed was a betrayal of their faith in the British to rule them wisely, justly, and fairly.
  • Indians perceived the British as suddenly transforming from just, fair, and liberal people into bloodthirsty, ruthless tyrants who couldn't be trusted. The Jallianwala Bagh exposed the evil that inhabited the so-called "enlightened" empire.
  • Since that time, British rule in India has been slipping away slowly but surely. Gandhi's mass movement, which valued breaking the rules set by the authorities, was based on this sense of betrayal.
  • The state lost its legitimacy as its citizens started purposefully breaking its laws. People have now started to actively demand purna swaraj.