NCERT History lesson – Chapter ‘The Making of the National Movement’ — Rowlatt Act ..
Rowlatt Act – During the First World War, the colonial government passed certain legislations under the name of Defence of India Regulation Act. Later, its tenure was indefinitely extended by the Rowlatt Committee, headed by its chairman Sir Sydney Rowlatt. The legislations known as the Rowlatt Act were passed by the Imperial Legislative Council. The purpose of the act was stated to be the need for maintaining internal peace during the time of the War.
Even a cursory reading of the provisions of the Rowlatt Act shows how unfair, oppressive and draconian the Act was. Under this Act, a person accused of inciting terrorist activities against the British colonial government
- had to face an in-camera hearing
- no material offending the government could be printed by any press including those of reputed newspapers
- arrests could be made without warrant
- detention of the accused could be indefinitely extended
- the accused could be imprisoned for up to five years
- to secure his own release, he could be asked to shun any political, social or religious activities that the government didn’t approve.
In reality, it was a naked assault on liberty, human rights and the freedom of speech and expression. Most educated Indians raged against its provisions, where as for the colonial administrators, it proved to be a handy weapon to nip in the bud any form of dissent against British rule.
The Act proved to be too pungent for Gandhiji’s understanding of law and justice. He had a British degree in Law and had returned from South Africa after a successful fight against similar colonial practices there. The sweeping powers given by the Rowlatt Act to stifle protest defied logic.
The Rowlatt Act came into force in March, 1919. The brutal shooting in the Jaliwanlalbagh in the same year that killed and maimed scores of innocent men, women and children was the culmination of this Act. It set in motion a forceful and irreversible push towards freeing India from the British yoke.