Rowlatt Act: Reasons, Timeline | Jalianwalla Bagh massacre (1919)
• The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act.
• This act was passed on the recommendations of the Sedition Committee chaired by Sir Sidney Rowlatt.
• This act had been hurriedly passed in the Imperial Legislative Council in March 1919 despite the united opposition of the Indian members.
• It gave the government enormous powers to repress political activities and allowed the detention of political prisoners without trial for two years, a conviction in a court of law. The Act thus also enabled the government to suspend the right of Habeas Corpus.
• It empowered the police to search for a place without a warrant. It also placed severe restrictions on the freedom of the press.
• Madan Mohan Malviya, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Mazhar ul Haq resigned from Imperial Legislative Council after the Rowlatt Act was passed.
• The act was widely condemned by Indian leaders and the public. The bills came to be known as ‘Black bills’.
• To abolish this act, Gandhi and the other leaders called for a Hartal (suspension of work) to show Indians’ objection to this rule, called the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
• The movement was canceled by Gandhiji when it was marred by rioting in some provinces, particularly in Punjab where the situation was grim.
• The British government’s primary intention was to repress the growing nationalist movement in the country.
• Two popular Congress leaders Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew were arrested.
• The protest was very intense when the act came into effect and the army was called in Punjab to tackle the situation.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre :
• The situation in Punjab was alarming as there were riots and protests against the Rowlatt Act.
• Punjab was put under martial law, which meant that it became unlawful for more than 4 people to assemble at a place.
• The Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab at that time was Michael O’Dwyer. Lord Chelmsford was India’s Viceroy.
• On the day of the festival of Baisakhi on 13th April 1919 in Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden in Amritsar, a crowd of non-violent protestors had gathered. Also, among the crowd were pilgrims who had come to celebrate Baisakhi.
• General Dyer came there with his troops and blocked the only narrow entrance to the garden.
• Then, without warning, he ordered his troops to fire at the unarmed crowd, which included children as well.
• At least 1000 people and injured more than 1500 people. This tragedy came as a rude shock to Indians and totally destroyed their faith in the British system of justice.
• National leaders condemned the act and Dyer unequivocally. However, Dyer was appreciated by many in Britain and the British in India but Winston Churchill criticized it.
• Michael O’Dwyer, the then Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab, who had approved the actions of Brigadier-General Dyer, was assassinated by Udham Singh in London in 1940 as revenge against the massacre. Udham Singh is believed to have witnessed the massacre as a child.
Nationalist Response :
• Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood in protest.
• Mahatma Gandhi gave up the title of Kaiser-i-Hind, bestowed by the British for his work during the Boer War.
Hunter Commission :
• The government formed a committee of inquiry to investigate the Jallianwala Bagh shootings.
• On October 14, 1919, the Government of India announced the formation of the Disorders Inquiry Committee.
• The committee was commonly known as Hunter Commission after the name of chairman, Lord William Hunter. It also had Indian members.
• In the final report submitted in March 1920, the committee unanimously condemned Dyer’s actions.
• However, the Hunter Committee did not impose any penal or disciplinary action against General Dyer.
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