Satyagraha Against the Rowlatt Act -- First Mass Strike

Satyagraha Against the Rowlatt Act

Rowlatt Act:

  • After the dissatisfaction from Montford Reforms of 1919, the government passed Rowlett Act (aka Black act) to suppress the freedom.
  • The Rowlatt Act passed by the British in colonial India in March 1919, indefinitely extending ‘emergency measures’ (of the Defence of India Regulations Act, 1915) enacted during the First World War in order to control public unrest and root out conspiracy.
  • The Act authorizes the authority to imprison a person suspected of terrorism for maximum of two years without trial.
  • The Act was condemned by all one and all including Congress and League.

Information on satyagraha against the Rowlett act:

  • Gandhi on 26 February he issued an 'open letter' to all the Indians urging them to join the satyagraha. He decided to launch a nationwide movement, starting with a general strike or Hartal on 6 April.
  • The government had no prior experience of handling such wide-spread mass agitation. To avoid trouble they arrested Gandhi, but that provoked mob fury in areas like Delhi, Bombay, Ahmedabad or Am
  • Gandhi's trusted volunteers could not control this mass violence and were themselves swayed by it. The government response was varied, In Bombay, the response was restrained, while in Punjab, Sir Michael O'Dyer unleashed a reign of terror.
  • The worst violent incident was the massacre of jallianwalla bagh in the city of Amritsar on 13 April, where General Dyer opened fire on a peaceful gathering of satyagrahis, killing 379 people, in a bid to break their moral

The significance of Movement:

  1. It was the nationwide first mass strike, marking the beginning of a transformation of Indian nationalist politics from being the politics of some restricted classes to becoming the politics of the masses.
  2. The whole of India was not affected and the movement was more effective in the cities than in the rural areas and here again the strength of the movement was due more to local grievances, like price rise or scarcity of basic commodities, than to protest against the Rowlatt bills, about which there was very little popular awareness.
  3. Gandhi as yet had no control over the Congress; hence, for organising the movement he set up a Satyagraha Sabha in Bombay and was helped by the Home Rule Leagues.
  4. Gandhi during his extensive tours in many parts of India made personal contact with local leaders, through which his messages spread. however, Local Leaders failed to control mass emotions once these were aroused

Reasons behind the failure of Satyagraha:

  • It failed to secure its only aim, i.e., the repeal of the Rowlatt Act.
  • It also lapsed into violence, although it was meant to be non-violent.
  • Gandhi admitted to have committed a Himalayan blunder by offering the weapon of satyagraha to a people insufficiently trained in the discipline of non-violence.


  • The failure of anti-Rowlatt Act agitation made Gandhi realize the need for an impersonal political organization such as Congress.

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