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The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, 1919
Imperial Legislative Council
Repealed by
The Special Laws Repeal Act, 1922
Status: Repealed
Sidney Rowlatt, best remembered for his controversial presidency of the Rowlatt Committee, a sedition committee appointed in 1919 by the British Indian Government to evaluate the links between political terrorism in India.

The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act, was a law, applied during the British India period. It was a legislative council act passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in Delhi on 18 March 1919, indefinitely extending the emergency measures of preventive indefinite detention, imprisonment without trial and judicial review enacted in the Defence of India Act 1915 during the First World War. It was enacted in the light of a perceived threat from revolutionary nationalists of re-engaging in similar conspiracies as had occurred during the war which the Government felt the lapse of the Defence of India Act would enable.[1][2][3]: 137  [4][5]

Purpose and introduction

The British Colonial Government passed the "Rowlatt Act" which gave power to the police to arrest any person without any reason. The purpose of the Act was to curb the growing nationalist upsurge in the country. Mahatma Gandhi called upon the people to perform satyagraha against the act.[6][7]

Sir C. V. Kumaraswami Sastri, justice of the Madras High Court and one of the two Indians on the six-man Rowlatt Committee.

Passed on the recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee and named after its president, Sir Sidney Rowlatt, the act effectively authorized the colonial British government to imprison any person suspected of terrorism living in British India for up to two years,[8] and gave the colonial authorities power to deal with all revolutionary activities.

The unpopular legislation provided for stricter control of the press,[a] arrests without warrant,[b] indefinite detention without trial, and juryless in camera trials for proscribed political acts.[c] The accused were denied the right to know the accusers[d] and the evidence used in the trial.[e][11] Those convicted were required to deposit securities upon release, and were prohibited from taking part in any political, educational, or religious activities.[11] On the report of the committee, headed by Justice Rowlatt, two bills were introduced in the Central Legislature on 6 February 1919.[12] These bills came to be known as "Black Bills". They gave enormous powers to the police to search a place[f] and arrest any person they disapproved of without warrant. Despite much opposition, the Rowlatt Act was passed on 18 March 1919. The purpose of the act was to curb the growing nationalist upsurge in the country. Under the Rowlatt act 1919, the chief justice was empowered to decide on the immediate custody of the accused between the trial and release on bail for smooth implementation of the act. The act also provides a penalty for disobedience of any order promulgated under sections 22 and 27 of the act, which is imprisonment for a maximum of six months or a fine of Rs. 500 or both.


Mahatma Gandhi, among other Indian leaders,[g] was extremely critical of the Act and argued that not everyone should be punished in response to isolated political crimes. Madan Mohan Malaviya, Mazarul Haque and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a member of the All-India Muslim League resigned from the Imperial legislative council in protest against the act.[14][15] The act also infuriated many other Indian leaders and the public, which caused the government to implement repressive measures. Gandhi and others thought that constitutional opposition to the measure was fruitless, so on 6 April, a hartal took place.[16] This was an event in which Indians suspended businesses and went on strikes and would fast, pray and hold public meetings against the 'Black Act' as a sign of their opposition and civil disobedience would be offered against the law. Mahatma Gandhi bathed in the sea at Mumbai and made a speech before a procession to Madhav Baug temple took place.[17][18] This event was part of the Non-cooperation movement.

It was the Rowlatt Act which brought Gandhi to the mainstream of the Indian struggle for independence and ushered in the Gandhian Era of Indian politics. Jawaharlal Nehru described Gandhi's entry into the protests in his Glimpses of World History:

Early in 1919 he was very ill. He had barely recovered from it when the Rowlatt Bill agitation filled the country. He also joined his voice to the universal outcry. But this voice was somehow different from others. It was quiet and low, and yet it could be heard above the shouting of the multitude; it was soft and gentle , and yet there seemed to be steel hidden away somewhere in it; it was courteous and full of appeal, and yet there was something grim and frightening in it; every word used was full of meaning and seemed to carry a deadly earnestness. Behind the language of peace and friendship there was power and quivering shadow of action and a determination not to submit to a wrong...This was something very different from our daily politics of condemnation and nothing else, long speeches always ending in the same futile and ineffective resolutions of protest which nobody took very seriously. This was the politics of action, not of talk.[19][excessive quote]

However, the success of the hartal in Delhi, on 30 March, was overshadowed by tensions running high, which resulted in rioting in the Punjab, Delhi and Gujarat.[20][21] Deciding that Indians were not ready to make a stand consistent with the principle of nonviolence, an integral part of satyagraha (disobeying the British colonial government's laws without using violence), Gandhi suspended the resistance.[22]

The Rowlatt Act came into effect on 21 March 1919. In Punjab the protest movement was very strong, and on 10 April two leaders of the congress, Dr. Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, were arrested and taken secretly to Dharamsala.[23][24] On 13 April people from neighbouring villages gathered for Baisakhi Day celebrations and to protest against their deportation in Amritsar. Subsequently, the army was called into Punjab, which resulted in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.[25][26]


Accepting the report of the Repressive Laws Committee, the British colonial government repealed the Rowlatt Act, the Press Act, and twenty-two other laws in March 1922.[27][28]

See also


  1. ^ As per Section 15, at any trials conducted under Part 1 of the Article, the accused may be charged with and convicted of any offense against any provision of law which is referred to in the Schedule. Section 124-A of IPC, 1860 (Sedition)[9] is one of the Sections mentioned under Section 2 of the Schedule.[10]
  2. ^ As mentioned in clause (a) of Sub-section 1 of Section 34 of Rowlatt Act, provided conditions for the application of Part 3 are met. As per Sub-section 2, the arrest of any such person can be effected at any place where he may be found by any government officer. Section 35 further directs that any person making an arrest under clause (a) of Sub-section 1 of the previous article shall immediately report the arrest to the Local Government. Pending receipt of orders of Government, the person is to be detained in custody for a maximum of 7 days, which could be extended to 15 days as per the direction of the Local Government.[10]
  3. ^ Stated in Sub-section 2 of Section 26 as follows- "The investigating authority shall then hold an inquiry in-camera for the purpose of ascertaining what, in its opinion, having regard to the facts and circumstances adduced by the Government, appears against the person in respect of whom the order has been made." Section 30 states that the investigating authority shall consist of 3 persons, of whom 2 shall be persons having held judicial office not inferior to that of a District and Sessions Judge, and one shall be a person not in the service of the Crown in India.[10]
  4. ^ Stated in Clause (b) of sub-section 2 of Section 26 as follows- "The investigating authority shall not disclose to the person in question any fact the communication of which might endanger the public safety or the safety of any individual:"[10]
  5. ^ Stated in Sub-section 3 of section 26 as follows- "Subject to the provisions of sub-section (2) the inquiry shall be conducted in such manner as the investigating authority considers best suited to elicit the facts of the case: and in making the inquiry, such authority shall not be bound to observe the rules of the law of evidence."[10]
  6. ^ As mentioned in clause (c) of sub-section 1 of section 34, applicable when Part III is in force. Sub-section 3 of the same section states that the search could be carried out by any Government officer. Further, Section 36 mentions that a search warrant is to be issued by the District Magistrate and is deemed to be sufficient authority for seizure of anything found in such place which the officer believes could be a nuisance to public safety.[10]
  7. ^ Including, but not limited to, Vallabhbhai Patel,[7] Madan Mohan Malviya[13]


  1. ^ Popplewell, Richard (1995). Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British Intelligence and the Defence of the Indian Empire 1904–1924 (1st ed.). Routledge. p. 175. doi:10.4324/9781315037417. ISBN 978-0-7146-4580-3. S2CID 239566146.
  2. ^ Lovett, Verney (1920). A history of the Indian nationalist movement. London: John Murray. pp. 94, 187–191. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  3. ^ Sarkar, Benoy Kumar (March 1921). "A History of the Indian Nationalist Movement. (Review by Verney Lovett)". Political Science Quarterly. 36 (1): 136–138. doi:10.2307/2142669. hdl:2027/coo1.ark:/13960/t3nw01g05. JSTOR 2142669.
  4. ^ Tinker, Hugh (October 1968). "India in the First World War and after". Journal of Contemporary History. 3 (4): 92. doi:10.1177/002200946800300407. S2CID 150456443. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  5. ^ Fisher, Margaret W. (Spring 1972). "Essays on Gandhian Politics: the Rowlatt Satyagraha of 1919. (in Book Reviews)". Pacific Affairs. 45 (1): 129. doi:10.2307/2755297. JSTOR 2755297. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  6. ^ Du Boulay, James Houssemayne (May 1919). "Copy of a Press Message from Reed, Bombay to "Times", London, passed at Bombay". National Archives of India. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  7. ^ a b Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (24 February 1919). "Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: Volume 17" (PDF). New Delhi: Publications Division, Government of India. p. 297. Retrieved 12 March 2022. in the event of these Bills becoming law and until they are withdrawn, we shall refuse civilly to obey these laws and such other laws as a Committee
  8. ^ Fisher, Herbert Albert Laurens (17 March 1919). "Rowlatt Bills". Hansard. UK Parliament. Retrieved 12 March 2022. The Government of India has informed the Secretary of State that the Bill, as modified in Select Committee, limits the total period of confinement to two years
  9. ^ "Section 124-A of Indian Penal Code". India Code. Government of India. 1860. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Act No. XI of 1919" (PDF). India Code. Government of India. 21 March 1919. p. 39. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  11. ^ a b Vohra, Ranbir (2001). The Making of India: A Historical Survey, 2nd Ed. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 0-7656-0711-5. p. 126.
  12. ^ "Proceedings, June 1919, no. 82". Home Department, Government of India. 1919. p. 2. Retrieved 12 March 2022. I place below the second and more important Bill in connection with the report of the Rowlatt Committee
  13. ^ Sen, Siba Pada (1974). Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. III (M-R). Calcutta: Institute of Historical Studies. p. 33. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  14. ^ "| Making Britain". Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  15. ^ Malaviya, Madan Mohan; Nehru, Motilal; Gandhi, Mohandas K.; Das, Chittaranjan; Tyabji, Abbas; Jayakar, M. R.; Santhanam, K. (1920). The Congress Punjab Inquiry, 1919-20 (PDF). Mumbai: Pandit K. Santhanam. p. 31. The final passage of this bill on the 18th March, with some modifications, which the member in charge of it accepted and which did not touch the scheme or the scope of it, brought about three notable resignations i.e. from Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Mr. Mazarul Haque and Mr. M. A. Jinnah.
  16. ^ "Indian Affairs". Greymouth Evening Star. Greymouth: New Zealand Government. Allied Press. 9 July 1919. p. 4. Retrieved 13 March 2022.
  17. ^ Balaji, Balamurali (9 April 2013). "Remembering this week: Jalianwala Bagh Massacre – April 6th to April 15th, 1919". GandhiTopia. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  18. ^ Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (6 April 1919). "Speech at Chowpatty, Bombay- Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: Volume 17" (PDF). Publications Division, Government of India. pp. 382–387. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  19. ^ Nehru, Jawaharlal (1934–35). Glimpses of World History. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-9-385-99006-9.
  20. ^ "Proceedings of the Home Department, 1919". National Archives of India. November 1919. pp. 9–10. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  21. ^ "CAB 24/153, British Empire and Africa Report No.112". The National Archives Website. The National Archives. 15 April 1919. p. 6. Retrieved 12 March 2022. The trouble occurred principally in the Punjab, particularly at Amritsar, the sacred city of the Sikhs, and in Bombay Presidency at Ahmedabad, the second city of the Presidency.
  22. ^ Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (6 July 1919). "Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: Volume 18" (PDF). New Delhi: Publications Division, Government of India. pp. 182–186. Retrieved 12 March 2022. the discovery I have made, namely, that he only is able and attains the right to offer civil disobedience who has known how to offer voluntary and deliberate obedience to the laws of the State""I have suggested that civil disobedience by the others should not be taken up for at least one month after I have been taken charge of by the Government.
  23. ^ "Extract from the "Independent," Allahabad, dated the 19th November 1919". National Archives of India. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  24. ^ "Extract from A. B. Patrika, dated Calcutta, the 19th November 1919". National Archives of India. Retrieved 12 March 2022. he was directed by the Government of Sir Michael O'Dwyer to deport Drs. Kichlew and Satyapal" "But after they had been under his roof for half an hour as his guests, they were caught hold of, and removed towards Dharmasala under police escort
  25. ^ "From the Land of Paradise to the Holy City". The Tribune. 26 January 2006.
  26. ^ "Op-ed: Let's not forget Jallianwala Bagh". Daily Times. 13 April 2003.
  27. ^ The History of British India: a chronology, John F. Riddick, 2006
  28. ^ "Act No. IV of 1922" (PDF). India Code. Hastings Street, Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing. 22 February 1922. p. 3. Retrieved 12 March 2022.