The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, 1919 popularly known as the Rowlatt Act, was a legislative act passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in Delhi on March 18, 1919.
The acts allowed certain political cases to be tried without juries and permitted internment of suspects without trial.
The objective of the Act was to extend the emergency measures of preventive indefinite detention, incarceration without trial and judicial review enacted in the Defence of India Act 1915 during the First World War.
It was enacted in light of a perceived threat from revolutionary nationalist organizations of re-engaging in similar conspiracies as during the First World War which the Government felt the lapse of the DIRA regulations would enable.
The Act was passed on the recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee and named after its president, British judge Sir Sidney Rowlatt.
This act effectively authorized the government to imprison any person suspected of terrorism living in the Raj for up to two years without a trial and gave the imperial authorities power to deal with all revolutionary activities.
The legislation provided for stricter control of the press, arrests without warrant, and indefinite detention without trial.
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.
On the report of a Sedition committee, headed by justice Rowlatt, two bills were introduced in the central legislature in February 1919.
These bills came to be known as “black bills“.
They gave enormous powers to the police to search a place and arrest any person they disapproved of without warrant.
Despite much opposition, the Rowlatt act was passed in March 1919.
The purpose of the act was to curb the growing nationalist upsurge in the country.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, among other Indian leaders, was extremely critical of the Act and argued that not everyone should get punishment in response to isolated political crimes.
Gandhiji and others found that constitutional opposition to the measure was fruitless, so on April 6, a “hartal” was organized where Indians would suspend all business and fast as a sign of their opposition and civil disobedience would be offered against specific law.
This event is known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
Gandhiji named the Rowlatt Act as “black act“.
Deciding that Indians were not ready to make a stand consistent with the principle of nonviolence, an integral part of satyagraha, Gandhiji suspended the resistance.
The Rowlatt Act came into effect in March 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.
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