Class 10 History

Nationalism in Asia: Satyagraha, Rowlatt Act & Jallianwala Bagh

Effects of First World War

The War led to a huge increase in defence expenditure. This was financed by war loans and by increasing taxes. Customs duties were raised and income tax was introduced to raise extra revenue.

Prices of items increased during the war years. The prices doubled between 1913 and 1918. The common people were the worst sufferers because of price rise. Forced recruitment of rural people in the army was another cause of widespread anger among people.

Crop failure in many parts of India resulted in acute shortage of food. Influenza epidemic further aggravated the problem. According to 1921 census, about 12 to 13 million people died because of famines and epidemic.

Idea of Satyagraha

Mahatma Gandhi advocated a novel method of mass agitation; called satyagraha. This method was based on the idea that if someone is fighting for a true cause, there is no need to take recourse to physical force to fight the oppressor. Gandhiji believed that a satyagrahi could win a battle through non-violence, i.e. without being aggressive or revengeful.

Some early satyagraha movements organized by Gandhi:

  1. Peasants’ movement in Champaran in 1916.
  2. Peasants’ movement in Kheda in 1917.
  3. Mill workers’ movement in Ahmadabad in 1918.

Rowlatt Act(1919)

The Rowlatt Act was passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in 1919. The Indian members did not support the Act, but it was passed; nevertheless. The Act gave enormous powers to the government to repress political activities. It allowed detention of political prisoners without trial for two years.

On 6th April, 1919; Gandhiji launched a nationwide satyagraha against the proposed Rowlatt Act. The call of strike on 6th April got huge response. People came out in support in various cities, shops were shut down and workers in railway workshops went on strike. The British administration decided to clamp down on the nationalists. Several local leaders were arrested. Mahatma Gandhi was barred from entering Delhi.

Jallianwalla Bagh

On 10th April 1919; in Amritsar; the police fired upon a peaceful procession. This provoked widespread attacks on government establishments. Martial law was imposed in Amritsar and the command of the area was given to General Dyer.

The infamous Jallianwalla Bagh massacre took place on 13th April; the day on which Baisakhi is celebrated in Punjab. A crowd of villagers came to participate in a fair in Jallianwalla Bagh. This was enclosed from all sides with narrow entry points. General Dyer blocked the exit points and opened fire on the crowd. Hundreds of people were killed in the incident.

Public reaction to the incident took a violent turn in many north Indian towns. The government was quite brutal in its response. Things took highly violent turn. Mahatma Gandhi called off the movement as did not want violence to continue.

Need of Wider Spread of Movement

The Rowlatt satyagraha was limited mainly to the cities and towns. Mahatma Gandhi felt the need of a more broad-based movement in India. He was convinced that it could be only possible by bringing the Hindus and Muslims on a common platform.