Rowlatt Act 1919 and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre - Rowlatt Act Short Note PDF

By Shubhra Anand Jain|Updated : October 18th, 2022

Rowlatt Act was an archaic and suppressive law that the British government passed to tighten their grip over the ever-growing dissent in the country as the masses began to protest and educate themselves about the exploitative colonial policies brought by the British. The Imperial Legislative Council passed this law in 1919, allowing the government to arrest any individual without a trial.

After the Rowlatt Act 1919 was passed, amid protests and arrests, Punjab witnessed Jallianwala Bagh Massacre on the day of Baisakhi on 13 April 1919. Learn more about the events that led to the Rowlatt Satyagraha and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

Table of Content

What is Rowlatt Act?

The Rowlatt Act was passed in accordance with the recommendations made by the Rowlatt Committee, which Judge Sir Sidney Rowlatt chaired. The act ended up being named after him. The Rowlatt Act was a strong step toward censoring free thought under colonial rule. The key points and their significance of the Rowlatt Act have been discussed below:

Rowlatt Act PDF

  • The Rowlatt Act was officially called the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act 1919.
  • The Imperial Legislative Council passed it in the March of 1919.
  • This act gave the British government the authority to arrest any individual suspected of terrorist activities.
  • This detainment could go up to two years without a need for a trial.
  • It also gave police the leeway and authority to search anyone's place without needing a warrant.
  • There were severe restrictions placed on the freedom of the press. The censorship was extreme.
  • The act saw wide condemnation by most Indian leaders and the public. These bills came to be known as black bills' because of their unjust nature.

Rowlatt Act 1919 Highlights 

Some important details about the Rowlatt Act have been given in the table below:

Rowlatt Act, 1919

Official Title

Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919

Territorial Extent of the Rowlatt Act

The entire territory under British India

Enacted by

Imperial Legislative Council

Rowlatt Act was passed in

March 1919

Commenced from

March 1919

Status of the Rowlatt Act 1919

Repealed

Reaction to Rowlatt Act

The passing of the Rowlatt Act was a way for the British government to repress any and all forms of dissent under their regime. Their primary intention was to slow down the growing nationalist movement in the country that was slowly picking up pace.

  • The act was passed successfully despite the unanimous opposition from the Indian members of the council. All of these members resigned in protest. These included Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Madan Mohan Malviya, and Mazhar Ul Haq.
  • Gandhiji called a nationwide hartal on the 6th of April 1919 in protest of the law. This came to be known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
  • The situation in Punjab was pretty grim. The Rowlatt Satyagraha took a violent turn in the province which caused Gandhiji to take back the movement.
  • The Ghadarite revolution was slowly picking up pace in Punjab and the rest of the country, which cautioned the British government.
  • Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, two popular Congress leaders, were arrested under the Rowlatt Act's provisions.
  • This protest for progressively intense when the act came into effect. This resulted in the army being called to Punjab to handle the situation.

Facts about Rowlatt Act 

Meaning of the Rowlatt Act

The Act was passed by the Rowlatt Committee, headed by Sir Sydney Rowlatt, a judge. It authorised the arrest of any individual living in British India without trial for 2 years without trial on the grounds of suspicion of terrorism.

The Black Bills associated with Rowlatt Act

Central Legislature introduced two bills that gave the police the authority to search a place without a search warrant and to arrest anyone who they disapproved of.

These bills came to be known as Black Bills.'

Who resigned from Imperial Legislative Council after the Rowlatt Act was passed?

Madan Mohan Malviya

Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Mazhar ul Haq

When was the Rowlatt Satyagraha Initiated by Gandhiji?

6th April 1919

Which Congress Leaders were arrested?

Dr. Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew

Short Note on Rowlatt Act

Not too long ago, in the April of 2019, the Rowlatt Satyagraha marked 100 years since it was started by Mahatma Gandhi in 1919. A short note on Rowlatt Act has been provided below;

  • Rowlatt Satyagraha was launched in response to the British government's enactment of the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, which came to be popularly known as the Rowlatt Act. Under the Rowlatt Satyagraha, Gandhiji called for a countrywide campaign against the Rowlatt Act or the Black bills.
  • The recommendations of the Sedition Committee, chaired by Sir Sidney Rowlatt, were taken for the formation of the laws.
  • The Imperial Legislative Council hurriedly passed the bill, even though the act faced grave and deep opposition from the Indian members. The primary point was to clamp down the Indian independence movement, which was slowly gaining substantial momentum.
  • This act gave the government enormous and absolute powers to the government and its police to repress any and all political activities as it allowed for the detention of political prisoners without any trial for two years.

Rowlatt Satyagraha

The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, popularly remembered as the Rowlatt Act, was passed by the British Indian government in 1919.

  • Termed the Black Act' by the Indian public, the act was unjust and restrictive in nature and aimed at the absolute clamp down of the nationalist movement that was dissenting for the British.
  • The Imperial Legislative Council passed this act on the 18th March of 1919. It imposed emergency-like provisions of the 1915 Defence of India Act which was passed during World War I.
  • It provided for preventive indefinite detention and arrest without a warrant, purely on the grounds of suspicion and no hard evidence. Other provisions of the act were trials without juries for forbidden political acts.
  • Securities were deposited by the prisoners upon their release. They were also to refrain from taking part in any political, religious, or educational activities in the future.
  • On top of all of this, the Rowlatt Act also severely curbed and censored the freedom of the press.
  • Despite the opposition from the Indian members, the bill was passed. The Act was described as “No Dalil, No Vakil, No Appeal”.
  • Gandhi did not want to resort to constitutional measures as, so far, they had been in vain. He proposed a nationwide hartal as a form of protest. This came to be known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
  • April 6th, 1919, marked the beginning of the Rowlatt Satyagraha. People were to refrain from going to work and hold meetings to resist the repressive act.
  • Violent clashes were observed in many parts of the country as the government tried to stifle the movement. The hartal was successful in Delhi. However, Punjab and a few other places witnessed violence. This led to the hartals being suspended by Gandhi.
  • The protests got particularly intense in Punjab. When two famous Congress leaders, Dr Satya Pal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew, were arrested, martial law was enacted in the state.
  • It was this chain of incidents that led to the infamously terrible Jallianwala Bagh massacre that took place in Amritsar on 13th April 1919.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was one of the bloodiest chapters of our struggle for independence. The key points have been listed below;

  • The Rowlatt Act had intense protests being done in Punjab, causing there to be an implementation of martial law which made any gathering of more than 4 people at a place unlawful.
  • Michael O'Dwyer was the Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab in the year 1919, while Lord Chelmsford was the viceroy of the country.
  • The occasion of Baisakhi on the 13th of April 1919 marked to be the bloodiest day in the Indian independence struggle when troops led by General Reginald Dyer open-fired upon a gathering of people, killing hundreds of innocent who had gathered to celebrate the occasion while talking about the arrest of Dr Kitchlew and Pal.
  • The firing that did not discriminate between children and women went on for 10 minutes until a total of 1650 rounds of ammunition were emptied. The massacre killed over 1000 people while severely injuring 1500+ people.
  • This tragedy shook the entire country and removed whatever little trust they had in the British government and justice system.
  • The act was condemned by Indian leaders unequivocally.
  • However, the massacre by Dyer was appreciated by many in Britain and the British in India. There was some criticism, too that came from Winston Churchill and former Prime Minister H.H Asquith.
  • To appease the nationwide rage over the incident, the government established the Hunter Commission to inquire into the massacre. The Commission condemned Dyer's act but did not take any disciplinary action against him. He was relieved of his duties in the army in 1920 without any charges.
  • In protest, Rabindranath Tagore gave up his knighthood. Gandhiji relinquished the title Kaiser-e-hind' that had been bestowed on him by the British for his services during the Boer War in South Africa.
  • Udham Singh assassinated Michael O'Dwyer, who had approved the actions of Brigadier-General Dyer, in London in 1940 as revenge for the massacre. It is believed that he had witnessed the massacre as a child.

Rowlatt Act and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre - Hunter Commission

The government formed a committee of inquiry to investigate the Jallianwala Bagh shootings to calm the nationwide rage and protest over the incident. The key points have been listed below;

  • The British Government of India announced the formation of the Disorders Inquiry Committee on October 14, 1919.
  • This committee came to be known as the Hunter Commission, after the name of its chairman, Lord William Hunter.
  • This Committee had Indian members.
  • The Committee submitted the final report in March of 1920, where they unanimously condemned Dyer's actions.
  • Though the committee condemned Dyer's actions, it did not impose any penal or disciplinary action against him.

Response to Jallianwala Bagh Massacre 

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre stirred great grief and sadness in the populace. All Indian leaders expressed anguish.

  • In protest, Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood.
  • Mahatma Gandhi renounced the title of Kaiser-i-Hind that had been bestowed upon him by the British for his work during the Boer War.
  • The Indian National Congress appointed its own non-official committee to look into the shootings, which included Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das, Abbas Tyabji, M.R. Jayakar, and Gandhi.
  • Congress put forward its own view. This view criticized Dyer's act and called it inhuman, stating that there was no justification for the introduction of martial law in Punjab.

Rowlatt Act UPSC 

Rowlatt Act and Satyagraha are relevant topics in the History syllabus for UPSC. It proved to be a turning point of the Indian independence struggle, making it an often enquired-about topic in the UPSC Prelims, UPSC Mains, and optional papers. Candidates should brush up on their basics well and commit all the facts to their memory. Follow appropriate History books for UPSC exam preparation. 

You can also refer to our collection of Indian History notes for UPSC for a concise way of cracking the huge syllabus and covering all related topics to Jallianwala Bagh Massacre UPSC. Practice these questions to test your knowledge.

Question- With reference to the Rowlatt Satyagraha, which of the following statements is/are true?

  1. The Rowlatt Act was built on the suggestions provided by the Sedition Committee.
  2. Gandhi tried to utilize the Home Rule Movement in the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
  3. The processions for the Simon Commission were coinciding with the Rowlatt Satyagraha.

Select the correct option of the following

  1. 1 only
  2. 1 and 3 only
  3. 1, 2, and 3
  4. 1 and 2 only

Answer- D

Question- Why was Mahatma Gandhi awarded the title of Kaiser-e-Hind'?

  1. For his aid in South Africa
  2. For his help in the Boer War
  3. Both A and B
  4. None of the above

Answer- B

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FAQs on Rowlatt Act and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

  • The British Colonial Government passed the Rowlatt Act, which gave powers to the police to arrest any person without any reason. The Act's purpose was to curb the growing nationalist upsurge in the country. Mahatma Gandhi called upon the people to perform satyagraha against the act.

  • On 13 April 1919, a group of unarmed protestors gathered at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in, Punjab. The British troops commanded by Gen. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer opened fire without warning until they ran out f ammunition, killing almost 10,000 people. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre is also called the Massacre of Amritsar. 

  • The Rowlatt Act 1919 is referred to as the “black act” which was passed by the British government during the First World War. It was named after the Rowlatt Committee's president Sir Sidney Rowlatt.

  • The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Date is the day of Baisakhi on 13 April 1919. 

  • On 6 April 1919, Mahatma Gandhi started a non-violent Satyagraha against the unjust Rowlatt Act passed by the British government.

  • The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was ordered and led by Brigadier-General Dyer. Full Name- Brig. Gen. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer. 

  • Mahatma Gandhi wanted to Civil Disobedience movement in a non-violent way. So, he called off the Rowlatt Satyagraha movement as it spread a lot of violence. This is one of the drawbacks of Rowlett satyagraha.

  • The Rowlatt Act came to be repealed in 1922.

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