Indian revolutionary movement was considerably active during world war I. It achieved considerable success, potency and massive assistance from Germany, which planned to destabilise British India.
British government tried to suppress it with Defence of India Act,1915. By this act local government allowed detaining indefinitely, without representation.
Towards the end of World War I, British Indian Government appointed a committee under English Judge Sidney Rowlatt to evaluate political terrorism in India, especially in the Bengal and Punjab Provinces, its impact, and the links with the German government and the Bolsheviks in Russia. This committee came to known as ‘Rowlatt Committee’. It is also known as Sedition Committee.
A further reason for institution of the committee was emerging civil and labour unrest in India around the post-war recession – such as the Bombay mill worker’s strikes and unrest in Punjab.
This committee submitted its report in April 1918 and tried to make a comprehensive review of the militant nationalists. The committee could not establish the Bolsheviks, but substantiated the links with the Germans.
The recommendation of the committee was introduced as bills into the Indian Legislative Council to amend the provisions of the Criminal Law relating to public safety. These bills came to be known as “black bills”.
The Bills contained provisions for stringiest control of the press, the summary trial of political offenders by judges without trial, and the internment of persons suspected of subversive aims. The official majority passed the Bills into law in spite of the opposition of the people.
Out of two bills, one was dropped and another one which was an extension to the Defense of India Regulations Act 1915 was passed as “Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919″, in March that year. It is popularly known as ‘Rowlatt Act’ or ‘Black Act’.
Thus, on recommendations of the committee, the Rowlatt Act, an extension of the Defence of India Act 1915, was enforced in response to the threat in Punjab and Bengal.
It gave enormous powers to the police to search a place and arrest any person they disapproved of without warrant.
The accused were denied the right to know the accusers and the evidence used in the trial.Those convicted were required to deposit securities upon release, and were prohibited from taking part in any political, educational, or religious activities.
Thus in succession, the Government passed Montagu Chelmsford Reforms and Rowlatt Act that were part of the Carrot and Stick policy of the British.
Mahatma Gandhi, among other Indian leaders, was extremely critical of the Act and argued that not everyone should be punished in response to isolated political crimes. Muhammad Ali Jinnah resigned from the Imperial legislative council in protest against the act.
The act also angered many other Indian leaders and the public, which caused the government to implement repressive measures.
Mahatma Gandhi and others thought that constitutional opposition to the measure was fruitless. So on 6 April, a hartal took place. He bathed in the sea at Mumbai and made a speech, after which a procession to a temple took place. This event was part of the Non-cooperation movement
There was mob violence in Bombay, Ahmadabad and all other major towns. The Satyagraha lost momentum with the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy on April 13, 1919.
Accepting the report of the Repressive Laws Committee, the Government of India repealed the Rowlatt Act, the Press Act, and twenty-two other laws in March 1922.
It was the Rowlatt Act which brought Gandhi to the mainstream of Indian struggle for independence and ushered in the Gandhi’s Era of Indian politics.
The Rowlatt Act had a significant impact on the political situation of India, irrevocably placing the country on a path of political action headed by Gandhi that ultimately dominated the Indian independence movement for the next 20 years.