Rowlatt Act (1919)
The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act (1919) is popularly known as
the Rowlatt Act after Sir Sydney Rowlatt, the president of a committee set up
in 1917 to look into the subversive activities. The Committee made
recommendations to arm the government with powers to suppress all
unlawful and dangerous activities. On the basis of its report, the government
drew up a bill empowering itself to short-circuit the due process of law so as
to check terrorist activities.
In the Imperial Legislative Council all the 22 elected Indian members,
irrespective of their political alignments, opposed the bill. Yet it was passed
with 35 official members voting in favour, the only Indian among them being
Sankaran Nair, then a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council.
Called the Black Act, it came to be widely opposed. An all-India hartal
was organised on April 6, 1919, which was to mark the beginning of a satya-
graha campaign. Meetings were held all over the country to signify popular
disapproval of the Act. But unfortunately there were several violent incidents
in the Punjab, Gujarat and Bengal. Deeply upset, Gandhi admitted that in
launching his movement without prior preparation he had committed a
‘mistake of Himalayan magnitude’ and decided to call off the movement. But
already this Rowlatt satyagraha set into motion a chain reaction culminating
in the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the subsequent developments.
JALLIANWALA BAGH MASSACRE
Jallianwala Bagh was developed as a garden by one of Maharaja Ranjit
Singh’s courtiers, Pandit Jalla and came to be known after him. When the
Congress called for a harrat on April 8 (1919), it received unprecedented
support. Facing a violent situation, the civil government handed over the
administration to the military authorities under Brigadier-General Dyer.
Dyer not only banned all public meetings but also detained all the
important political leaders. In this volatile situation a public meeting was
called at Jallianwala Bagh (April 13) in open defiance of the ban, and a
crowd had gathered at the Bagh. Apprised of the situation, Dyer marched
in and, without warning, opened fire on the crowd. The crowd converged
toward the exits on either side in a frantic effort to get away, but shooting