Rowlatt Act: Features, Short Note, Effects, Rowlatt Act 1919 UPSC

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

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 the Rowlatt Act 1919, allowing the government to arrest any individual without a fair trial.

The Rowlatt Act and the subsequent protests played a significant role in shaping the nationalist movement in India. It heightened awareness of the oppressive nature of British rule and contributed to the demand for full independence. The act was eventually repealed in 1922 following sustained opposition and pressure from Indian nationalists.

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. Hence, the act ended up being named after him. The Rowlatt Act was a strong step toward censoring free thought under colonial rule and curbing the voice of the masses.

The key points and the significance of the Rowlatt Act have been discussed for your reference below:

  • 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.

Historical Background of Rowlatt Act

Officially termed the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act in March 1919, the Rowlatt Act established that the police might detain political activists and individuals who were suspected of conspiring against the British for a period of up to two years. But that wasn’t all. The Rowlatt Act also gave the police the power to execute individuals without a just trial. Naturally, the Indian freedom fighters were furious with the Rowlatt act and criticised this practice for being inhumane and evil.

Furthermore, the Rowlatt Act is considered one of the biggest acts of violence that were conducted to curtail the liberty of Indian revolutionaries by the British Empire. Hence, it took the struggle for independence to a whole different level and became one of the primary causes for the introduction of the Non-Cooperation Movement by Mahatma Gandhi and other nationalists.

Facts on Rowlatt Act
What was Rowlatt Act? The Rowlatt Act was passed by the Rowlatt Committee, which was headed by Sir Sydney Rowlatt. It authorised the arrest of any individual living in British India without trial for 2 years on the grounds of suspicion of terrorism.
Features of Rowlatt Act – Detaining Indian citizens without a fair trial

– Control the press and freedom of speech

– Limiting the civil rights of Indians

– Protecting the interests of the British government in India

Reason for the criticism of Rowlatt Act The Rowlatt Act 1919 was heavily criticised by the Indian people because it was a direct violation of their civil rights.
Hunter Commission on Rowlatt Act The Hunter Commission was an inquiry committee established to investigate the events of the Jallianwala massacre and Rowlatt Act 1919. It failed to hold the British soldiers accountable and was majorly criticised by Indian political leaders.
When did Rowlatt Satyagraha begin? 6th April 1919

Objective of Rowlatt Act

The Rowlatt Act 1919 was adopted as a response to the potential danger that was posed by the revolutionary nationalists against the British Empire. Simply put, British India’s legislative council wanted a weapon that would allow them to put any Indian civilian behind bars without any involvement of the judicial system. Hence, the government of British India gained the upper hand over the working aspects of the country by implementing the horrific Rowlatt Act.

In addition, the individuals who were detained under the Rowlatt Act were forced to deposit security amounts and barred from participating in any cultural or social events even after their release. Thus, the Act aimed to give the British authorities increased power to suppress political opposition and control political dissent by cracking down on the political opposition. After all, the British were fearful of the spread of revolutionary activity and saw the Rowlatt Act 1919 as a way of nipping it in the bud.

Features of Rowlatt Act

The Rowlatt Act 1919 had several key features that made it a controversial and widely criticized piece of legislation in India. Not only did it take away the freedom of speech and expression from Indian citizens, but it also created a widespread terror of the imperial government. Let’s take a look at some of the important features of the Rowlatt Act one by one in detail:

To Control Political Dissent:

The British government was concerned about the growing nationalism and anti-colonial sentiment in India and saw the Rowlatt Act as a means of cracking down on political opposition. Hence, they made sure that the nationalists lost their medium of dissent by controlling the press and arresting people who said or did anything against the interest of the British empire.

To Protect British Interests:

Since the Rowlatt Act 1919 did not provide the right to a fair trial by jury, allowing for indefinite detention of individuals without trial, it worked in the interest of the imperial government. The inhumane act ensured that the British government could maintain its hold over India and its citizens. Therefore, the Rowlatt Act was nothing less than a weapon in the hands of the British empire that was being used to suppress dissent and maintain order.

Censorship of the Press:

One of the most powerful tools that an ordinary citizen has is freedom of speech and expression. In fact, this right is so impactful that it has been known to overthrow governments and regimes in the past. Naturally, the imperialist government could not afford the nationalists to have this tool at their disposal. Hence, they tried to censor the press and take away the right to speak freely through the Rowlatt Act 1919.

Limitations on Civil Rights:

The Rowlatt Act was highly unpopular in India and was widely seen as a violation of the civil liberties of Indian citizens. In addition to the freedom of speech, the act also took away the right to a judicial trial and gave the police increased powers to make arrests and detain people.

Hence, it was a major factor in the growth of Indian nationalism and the movement for independence from British rule.

Effects of Rowlatt Act 1919

Since the Rowlatt Act expanded the powers of the British government to suppress political opposition and impose curfews and restrictions, it had several significant effects.

  • Rowlatt Satyagraha: Rowlatt Satyagraha was a non-violent protest movement that was initiated by Mahatma Gandhi against the Rowlatt Act 1919 in India. It was an important moment in the history of India’s freedom struggle and remains to be a symbol of the power of non-violence in the face of political oppression.
  • Increased sense of nationalism: The Rowlatt act 1919 helped to kickstart the Indian independence movement and resulted in increased support for nationalism and anti-colonial sentiment.
  • Strained British-Indian relations: The Rowlatt act further strained relations between the British government and the ordinary people of India, and contributed to the growing mistrust and resentment towards British rule.
  • Widespread protests and demonstrations: The Rowlatt act led to widespread protests and demonstrations across India, including the famous Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919.

Significance of Rowlatt Act

The Rowlatt Act was officially named the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act by the Imperial Legislative Council in March 1919. Below, we have mentioned a few points to highlight the significance of the act.

  • This law authorised the British government to detain anyone who was thought to be engaging in terrorist activity.
  • It also permitted the government to detain such individuals for up to two years without a trial.
  • The freedom of the press was also severely restricted under Rowlatt Act 1919.
  • The Rowlatt Committee, led by judge and act’s namesake Sir Sidney Rowlatt, recommended that the act be passed.
  • The action was vehemently condemned by Indian lawmakers as well as the general populace. “Black banknotes” acquired the moniker for the notes.
  • The Rowlatt act was approved despite the unanimous objection of the Indian council members, who all tendered their resignations in displeasure. They included Mazhar Ul Haq, Madan Mohan Malviya, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
  • The Rowlatt Satyagraha began to demonstrate in opposition to this Act.

Why was the Rowlatt Act criticized?

The Rowlatt Act remains a highly controversial episode in India’s independence struggle and is widely remembered as an example of British cruelty towards the people of India. But what was Rowlatt Act and why was it criticized so heavily by the Indian nationalists? The answer is simple. The Rowlatt Act 1919 was an attempt by the British government to repress the Indian masses by taking away their human rights.

By imposing this act, they violated the right to freedom of speech and stripped the Indian people of their right to ask questions and dissent. The British empire was terrified that the Indian nationalists would create a sense of rebellion against the imperial government and they would lose their authority in India. Therefore, they introduced the Rowlatt Act 1919 and placed significant limitations on the civil liberties of Indians.

This is the reason the act led to numerous demonstrations against British rule and even had negative consequences for British-Indian relations forever.

Hunter Commission on Rowlatt Act

The Hunter Commission was a British inquiry committee that was formed as a result of the events that took place surrounding the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919 and the Rowlatt Act. The commission was formed on 29 October 1919 and it took testimony over a period of 46 days. Here are a few key points regarding the Hunter Commission:

  • The commission was headed by Lord William Hunter, and was hence, named the Hunter Commission.
  • The objective of this Commission was to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Amritsar massacre, where British soldiers opened fire on a peaceful gathering of people.
  • The Hunter Commission also highlighted the Rowlatt Act 1919 as it was directly related to the widespread protests, including the peaceful one that took place in the Jallianwala Bagh.
  • Lastly, the Hunter Commission was criticised by Indian political leaders and activists because it failed to hold the British authorities accountable for the massacre. Also, the Commission did not address the concerns of the Indian people in an appropriate way.

Short Note on Rowlatt Act

The Rowlatt Act was a law passed by the British government to strengthen its grip on the common people of India. As per the act, the police could detain and execute political activists and Indian nationalists without a trial or a chance to defend themselves. Additionally, the act also imposed restrictions on the press, including censorship of political news and criticism of the imperial government in any way.

Furthermore, the Rowlatt Act 1919 also led to one of the biggest massacres in history, the Jallianwala massacre of 1919, where hundreds of innocent people were shot by British soldiers. Therefore, the Rowlatt Act is a chapter in Indian history that was highly criticised and is still viewed as a barbaric piece of legislation.

Rowlatt Act UPSC

The Rowlatt Act was a dark episode in the history of India and symbolised the oppression by the British empire. The act was introduced as a way to take away autonomy from Indian citizens and limit their civil rights. According to the Rowlatt Act 1919, the Imperial government and its police had the power to arrest any political activist or a suspected revolutionary and detain them for two years.

Rowlatt Act UPSC is a significant topic for aspirants preparing for the Civil Services exam. This topic is introduced in Class 10 and often comes in various competitive exams such as UPSC.

Rowlatt Act UPSC Questions

Question 1: The Rowlatt Act of 1919 was enacted to:

a) Grant India dominion status within the British Empire

b) Suppress political dissent and curb nationalist activities

c) Implement land reforms in rural areas

d) Establish a federal system of governance in India

Answer: b) Suppress political dissent and curb nationalist activities

Question 2: The Rowlatt Act was named after: (a) Mahatma Gandhi, (b) Sir Sidney Rowlatt, (c) Jawaharlal Nehru, (d) Rabindranath Tagore

Answer: b) Sir Sidney Rowlatt

Question 3: The Rowlatt Act gave the British colonial government the power to:

a) Grant independence to India

b) Arrest and detain individuals without trial

c) Implement social reforms in Indian society

d) Establish a Parliamentary system in India

Answer: b) Arrest and detain individuals without trial

Question 4: The Rowlatt Satyagraha was a protest led by: (a) Subhas Chandra Bose, (b) Bhagat Singh, (c) Mahatma Gandhi, (d) Jawaharlal Nehru

Answer: c) Mahatma Gandhi

Question 5: Which of the following events led to the repeal of the Rowlatt Act? – (a) The Quit India Movement, (b) The Non-Cooperation Movement, (c) The Dandi March, (d) The Jallianwala Bagh massacre

Answer: b) The Non-Cooperation Movement

Important UPSC Notes:
Biodiversity Hotspots in India Fundamental Duties
Panchayati Raj System Facts about Indian Flag
Vedas Russia Ukraine War
Green Revolution in India Jhansi Rani Laxmibai
Basic Structure of Constitution Disaster Management
Battle of Plassey Coastal States of India
Right to Equality International Organisations and their Headquarters
Our Apps Playstore
SSC and Bank
Other Exams
GradeStack Learning Pvt. Ltd.Windsor IT Park, Tower - A, 2nd Floor, Sector 125, Noida, Uttar Pradesh 201303
Home Practice Test Series Premium