The Rowlatt Act

Emboldened with this success, Gandhiji in 1919 decided to launch a nationwide satyagraha against the proposed Rowlatt Act 1919. This Act had been hurriedly passed through the Imperial Legislative Council despite the united opposition of the Indian members. It gave the government enormous powers to repress political activities, and allowed detention of political prisoners without trial for two years. Mahatma Gandhi wanted non-voilent civil disobedience against such unjust laws, which would start with hartal on 6 April

Rallies were organised in various cities, workers went on strike in railway workshops, add shops closed down. Alarmed by the popular upsurge and scared that lines of communication such as railways and telegraph would be disrupted, the British administration decided to clamp down on nationalists. Local leaders were picked up from Amritsar, and Mahatma Gandhi was barred from entering Delhi.

Jallianwalla Bagh

On 10 April, the police in Amritsar fired upon a peaceful procession, provoking widespread attacks on banks, post office and railway stations. Martial law was imposed and General Dyer took command.

On 13 April, the infamous Jallianwalla Bagh incident took place. On that day a large crowd gathered in the enclosed ground of Jallianwalla bah. Some came to protest against the government’s new repressive measures. Others had come to attend the annual Baisakhi fair. Being from outside the city, many villagers were unaware of the martial law that had been imposed.

Dyer entered the area, block the exit points, and opened fire on the crowd killing hundreds. His object, as he declared later, was to produce a moral effect, to create in the minds of satyagrahi a feeling of terror and awe.

As the news of Jallianwalla Bagh spread, crowds took to the streets in many north Indian towns. There were strikes, clashes with the police and attack on government building. The government responded with brutal repression, seeking to humiliate and terrorise people: satyagrahi were forced to rub their noses on the ground, crawl on the streets, and do salam (salute) to all sahibs; people were flogged and villages (around Gujranwala in Punjab, now in Pakistan) were bombed. Seeing violence spread, Mahatma Gandhi called off the movement.

After effects

While the Rowlatt Satyagrah had been a widespread movement, it was still limited mostly to cities and towns. Mahatma Gandhi now felt the need to launch a more broad-based movement in India. But he was certain that no such movement could be organised without bringing Hindus and Muslims closer together. One way of  doing this, he felt, was to take up the Khilafat issue.

The first world was had ended with the defeat of Ottoman Turkey. And there were rumours that a harsh peace treaty was going to be imposed on the Ottoman emperor – the spiritual head of the Islamic world (the Khalifa). To defend Khalifas temporal powers, a Khilafat Committee was formed in Bombay in March 1919. A young generation of Muslim leader like the brothers Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, began discussing with Mahatma Gandhi about the possibility of a united mass action on the issue Gandhi Jee saw this as an opportunity to bring Muslim under the umbrella of a unified national movement. at the Calcutta session of the Congress in September 1920, he convinced other leaders of the need to start a non-cooperation movement in support of Khilafat as well as for Swaraj.

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