Non-cooperation Movement

(a) Rowlatt Act

It was as part of the British policy of ‘rally the moderates and isolate the extremists’ that the Indian Councils Act 1919 and the Rowlatt Act of the same year were promulgated. T hroughout the World War, the repressive measures against the terrorists and revolutionaries had continued. Many of them were hanged or imprisoned for long terms. As the general mood was restive, the government decided to arm itself with more repressive powers. Despite every elected member of the central legislature opposing the bill, the government passed the Rowlatt Act in March 1919. This Act empowered the government to imprison any person without trial. Rowlatt Gandhi and his associates were shocked. It was the ‘Satyagraha Sabha’ founded by Gandhi, which pledged to disobey the Act first. In the place of the old agitational methods such as meetings, boycott of foreign cloth and schools, picketing of toddy shops, petitions and demonstrations, a novel method was adopted. Now ‘Satyagraha’ was the weapon to be used with the wider participation of labour, artisan and peasant masses. The symbol of this change was to be khadi, which soon became the uniform of nationalists. India’s Swaraj would be a reality only when the masses awakened and became active in political work. Almost the entire country was electrified when Gandhi called upon the people to observe ‘hartal’ in March–April 1919 against the Rowlatt Act. He combined it with the Khilafat issue which brought together Hindus and Muslims.

(b) Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre

T he colonial government was enraged at the mass struggles and the enthusiasm of the masses as evidenced in the upsurge all over the country. On 13th April 1919, in Amritsar town, in the Jallianwala enclave that the most heinous of political crimes was perpetrated on an unarmed mass of people by the British regime. More than two thousand people had assembled at the venue to peacefully protest against the arrest of their leaders Satyapal and Saifudding Kitchlew. Michael O’Dwyer was the Lt. Governor of Punjab and the military commander was General Reginald Dyer. They decided to demonstrate their power and teach a lesson to the dissenters. The part where the gathering was held had only one narrow entrance. Dyer ordered firing on the trapped crowd with machine guns and rifles till the ammunition was exhausted. While the official f igures of the dead was only about 379 the real number was over a thousand. Martial law was imposed all over Punjab and people were subject to untold indignities. T he entire country was horrified at the brutalities. In Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Lahore there were widespread protests against the Rowlatt Act where the protesters were fired upon. There was violence in many towns and cities. Protesting against the brutalities many celebrities renounced their titles, of whom Ravindranath Tagore was one.

Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre

Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood immediately after the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. In his protest letter to the viceroy on May 31, 1919, Tagore wrote “The time has come when the badge of honour makes our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and, I for my part, wish to stand shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who for their so-called insignificance are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.” T he two immediate causes responsible for launching the non-cooperation movement were the Khilafat and the Punjab wrongs. While the khilafat issue related to the position of the Turkish Sultan vis-a- vis the holy places of Islam, the Punjab issue related to the exoneration of the perpetrators of the Jallianwala massacre. While the control over holy places of Islam was taken over by non-Islamic powers against the assurances of the British rulers, the British courts of enquiry totally exonerated Reginald Dyer and Michael O’Dwyer of the crime perpetrated at Jallianwala. Gandhi and the Congress, who were bent upon Hindu-Muslim unity, now stood by their Muslim compatriots who felt betrayed by the British regime. The Ali brothers – Shukha and Muhammed – and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were the prime movers in the Khilafat movement.

(c) Launch of Non-Cooperation Movement

T he Khilafat Conference, at the instance of Gandhi, decided to launch the non-cooperation movement from 31 August 1920. Earlier an all party meet at Allahabad had decided on a programme of boycott of government educational institutions and their law courts. T he Congress met in a special session at Calcutta in September 1920 and resolved to accept Gandhi’s proposal on non-cooperation with the colonial state till such time as Khilafat and Punjab grievances were redressed and selfgovernment established. Non-cooperation movement included boycott of schools, colleges, courts, government offices, legislatures, foreign goods, return of government conferred titles and awards. Alternatively, national schools, panchayats were to be set up and swadeshi goods manufactured and used. The struggle at a later stage was to include no tax campaign and mass civil disobedience, etc. A regular Congress session held at Nagpur in 1920 endorsed the earlier resolutions. Another important resolution at Nagpur was to recognize and set up linguistic Provincial Congress Committees which drew a large number of workers into the movement. In order to broad base the Congress, the workers were to reach out to the villages and enroll the villagers in the Congress on a nominal fee of four annas (25 paise). The overall character of the Congress underwent change and an atmosphere where a large majority of the masses could develop a sense of belonging to the nation and the national struggle developed. But it also led to some conservatives who were opposed to mass participation in the struggle to leave the Congress. Thus the Congress under Gandhi was shedding its elitist character, becoming a mass organization and in a real sense ‘National’.

Non-Cooperaors with Gandhi

(d) Impact of Gandhi’s Leadership

T housands of schools and hundreds of colleges and vidyapeethas were established by the natives as alternatives to the government institutions. Several leading lawyers gave up their practice. Thousands of school and college students left the government institutions. The Ali brothers were arrested and jailed on sedition charges. The Congress committees called upon people to launch civil disobedience movement, including no tax movements if the Congress committees of their region were ready. The government as usual resorted to repression. Workers were arrested indiscriminately and put behind bars. The visit of Prince of Wales in 1921.to several cities in India was also boycotted. The calculation of the colonial government that the visit of the Prince would evoke loyal sentiments of the Indian people was proved wrong. Workers and peasants had gone on strike across the country. Gandhi promised Swaraj, if Indians participated in the non-cooperation movement on non-violent mode within a year. South India surged forward during this phase of the struggle. The peasants of Andhra, withheld payment of taxes to the zamindars and the whole population of Chirala-Perala refused to pay taxes and vacated the town en-mass. Hundreds of village Patels and Shanbogues resigned their jobs. Non-Cooperation movement in Tamil Nadu was organised and led by stalwarts like C. Rajagopalachari, S. Satyamurthi and Periyar E.V.R. In Kerala, peasants organized anti-jenmi struggles.

T he Viceroy admitted in a letter to the Secretary of State that the movement had seriously affected lower classes in certain areas of UP, Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Orissa the peasants have been affected. Impressed by the intensity of the movement, in a special session the Congress reiterated the intensification of the movement.In February 1922 Gandhi announced that he would lead a mass civil disobedience, including no tax campaigns, at Bardoli, if the government did not ensure press freedom and release the prisoners within seven days.

(e) Chauri Chaura Incident and Withdrawal of the Movement

T he common people and the nationalist workers were exuberant that Swaraj would dawn soon and participated actively in the struggle. It had attracted all classes of people including the tribals living in the jungles. But at the same time sporadic violence was also witnessed along with arson. In Malabar and Andhra two very violent revolts also took place. In the Rampa region of coastal Andhra the tribals revolted under the leadership of Alluri Sitarama Raju. In Malabar, Muslim (Mapilla) peasants rose up in armed rebellion against upper caste landholders and the British government.

Chauri-Chaura, a village in Gorakhpur district of UP had an organized volunteer group which was participating and leading the picketing of liquor shops and local bazaar against high prices. On 5 February 1922, a Congress procession, 3000 strong, was fired upon by police Enraged by the firing, the mob attacked and burnt down the police station. 22 policemen lost their lives. It was this incident which made Gandhi announce the suspension of the non-cooperation movement. T he Congress Working Committee ratified the decision at Bardoli, to the disappointment of the nationalist workers. While the younger workers resented the decision, the others who had faith in Gandhi considered it a tactical retreat. Both Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Bose were critical of Gandhi, who was arrested and sentenced to 6 years in prison. Thus ended the non-cooperation movement. T he Khilafat issue was made redundant when the people of Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kamal Pasha rose in revolt and stripped the Sultan of his political power and abolished the Caliphate and declared that religion and politics could not go together.

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