Course Content
BA Arabic
About Lesson

Unit 3
Rowlatt Satyagraha – Amritsar Massacre

Learning Outcomes

Upon the successful completion of the unit, the learner would be:

  • introduced to the consequences of Rowlatt act
  • able to analyse the role of Gandhi in Rowlatt Satyagraha
  • explained to the significance of Rowlatt Satyagraha and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in the history of Indian national movement


A new set of politically engaged nationalists expressed dissatisfaction with the speed of development in India near the end of World War I, in 1918. They started looking for political campaigns that would effectively represent their viewpoints. Additionally, the Home Rule Leagues failed to guide them properly. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who had already gained fame as the head of the Indian resistance in South Africa, could now enter the scene. He was also well-known for his participation in the uprisings of Indian workers and peasants in Champaran, Ahmedabad, and Kheda. In this Unit, let us discuss the significance of the Rowlatt Satyagraha and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in the history of Indian national movement and the role of Gandhi in them.

Key Words

Rowlatt Act, Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Hunter Commission, Kaiser-e-Hind, Knighthood


6.3.1 Rowlatt Act and Rowlatt Satyagraha(1919)

The Central Legislative Council passed the Rowlatt Act in March 1919 to stifle the violent nationalist uprisings and limit people’s freedom. The Bill had no appeal rights and provided for quick trials of offences in special courts. Furthermore, without a warrant, the provincial government had the authority to search a location and detain a suspect. These granted the government unrestricted authority to detain detainees for a maximum of two years without a trial.

The oppressive Rowlatt Act also mandated tighter press regulation and the incarceration of suspects without charge or trial for an indefinite period of time. It sparked a flood of rage across all demographic groups nationwide. Gandhi used it to launch a nationwide protest and lay the groundwork for the Non-Cooperation Movement. The Satyagraha was organised by Gandhi on February 14, 1919. On April 8, 1919, Gandhi was taken into custody. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, also known as the Massacre of Amritsar, occurred when British soldiers opened fire on a sizable gathering of unarmed Indians in Amritsar, Punjab.

6.3.2 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (1919)

A turning point in the war for Indian independence occurred on April 13, 1919. That day commemorated Baisakhi, a harvest festival celebrated in Punjab and other regions of north India. In the Jallianwala Bagh park of Amritsar, a sizable assembly of 15,000–20,000 people, with a preponderance of Sikhs, gathered to celebrate the Punjabi harvest festival of Baisakhi.

The following day, Amritsar locals made the decision to hold a meeting to discuss and protest the imprisonment of Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, two leaders battling for independence, as well as the passage of the oppressive Rowlatt Act, which gave the British government the authority to imprison anyone without a trial. Men, women, and kids were all there in the gathering. In defiance of British orders, they all assembled in the park, which was completely surrounded by walls with just a few small gates.

The demonstration was calm, and it included some people who weren’t protesting and some pilgrims who were just moving through the park on their way to the Golden Temple. Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer ordered the 90 soldiers he had sent to the location to open fire on the crowd while the meeting was still going on. Brigadier-General Dyer had creeped into the scene aiming to teach the assembled public a lesson. Since they had no weapons, many of the villagers tried unsuccessfully to climb the walls to get away. Numerous people fell into the park’s well.

Even after that, the British continued to show no sign of compassion and instead reacted in the ways listed below:

  • Satyagrahis were made to rub their noses on the ground in an effort to humiliate and scare people.
  • They were made to crawl through the streets and salute every sahib.
  • In the Punjabi region near Gujranwala, villages were bombed and people were publicly flayed. Response of the Indians

This provided gasoline for Indians, who intensified their national movement as a result. Indians were brutally shocked by this catastrophe, which completely damaged their trust in the British justice system. The incident and Dyer were categorically criticised by many national leaders.

Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore rejected the Knighthood bestowed upon him in a letter of protest, denouncing the cruel behaviour of the British. Gandhi renounced his title of “Kaiser-e-Hind,” which the British had given him for his efforts during the Boer War in South Africa, in protest against the slaughter and the British inability to provide adequate justice to the victims. The congress meeting was conducted at Amritsar in December 1919. Peasants and other people in great numbers attended. Since the entire country joined in the protest against the British, this incident united India together, which was crucial for the liberation movement. Response of the British Government

Although some in the British government were quick to criticise, many people in Britain and the British in India respected General Dyer. The slaughter had been planned, and Dyer proudly boasted that he had done it to have a “moral effect” on the populace. Dyer also said that he had resolved to fire down all men if they continued the meeting.

The Hunter Commission was established by the government to investigate the massacre. Despite condemning Dyer’s behaviour, the panel took no disciplinary measures against him. In 1920, he was released from his army obligations. It was described as among the most brutal atrocities in contemporary history in a British publication.

6.3.3 Turning point in Indian National Movement

By the turn of the 20th century, even the enslaved people had begun to accept British control in India and other parts of the world. Most Indians had previously come to terms with colonial rule’s progressive nature. The British conception of justice and fairness was shattered by the events at Jallianwala Bagh. The slaughter of the unarmed was seen by the majority of Indians as a betrayal of their faith in the British to rule them correctly, justly, and fairly.

The just, fair, and liberal British suddenly assumed the characteristics of a brutal, bloodthirsty ruler who could not be trusted in the eyes of the Indians. The “enlightened” empire’s wickedness was exposed at Jallianwala Bagh. Since that time, British rule in India has been slipping away slowly but surely. Gandhi based his mass movement, which placed a premium on flouting the ruling class’s laws, on this sense of betrayal. The state lost its legitimacy as its citizens started purposefully breaking its laws. Now, the public actively began to demand purna swaraj.


  • Rowlatt Act (1919) – Stricter control of the press, arrests without warrants and indefinite detention without trial
  • Country-wide agitation by Gandhi
  • Foundation of the Non-Cooperation Movement- Satyagraha – Gandhi’s arrest
  • Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (1919)
  • Response of the Indians- Tagore renounced the knighthood as a condem-nation of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre- Gandhi’s relinquishment of his title ‘Kaiser-e-hind’
  • British and Government of India Response – Hunter Commission
  • Shift in the nature of Indian national movement- the emergence of mass nationalism – demanding for purna swaraj

Objective type questions

  1. When was the Rowlatt Act passed by the Central Legislative Council?
  2. What was the purpose of passing the Rowlatt Act?
  3. What were the features of the Rowlatt Act?
  4. What was the significance of the Rowlatt Act?
  5. When was Gandhi arrested for observing Satyagraha against the imposition of Rowlatt Act?
  6. Which incident is known as the Massacre of Amritsar?
  7. What is the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre?
  8. When did the Jallianwala Bagh incident happen?
  9. Why did the local people hold a public meeting in Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar on April 3, 1919?
  10. Who ordered to open fire on the crowd assembled for the Jallianwala Bagh Meet-ing?
  11. Who renounced the knighthood conferred on him, condemning the brutal act of the Britishers?
  12. Who relinquished his title ‘Kaiser-e-hind’, in protest against the massacre and the British failure to give due justice to the victims?
  13. What was the title bestowed on Gandhi by the British for his services during the Boer War in South Africa?
  14. Where was the 1919 December Congress session held?
  15. Which Commission was set up to inquire into the Jallianwala Bagh massacre?

Answer to Objective type questions

  1. March 1919
  2. To control the militant nationalist struggles and curtail the liberty of the people
  3. Stricter control of the press, arrests without warrants and indefinite detention without trial
  4. It provided unbridled powers to the government to arrest and imprison suspects without trial for two years maximum
  5. 8 April 1919
  6. Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
  7. Firing on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in an open space known as the Jalli-anwala Bagh in Amritsar in Punjab by the British
  8. April 13, 1919
  9. To mark their protest against the confinement of Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitch-lew and the implementation of the Rowlatt Act
  10. Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer
  11. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore
  12. Gandhiji
  13. Kaiser-e-Hind
  14. Amritsar
  15. Hunter Commission


  1. Briefly describe the consequences of the Rowlatt Act.
  2. Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

Suggested Reading

  1. Sarkar, Sumit, Modern India, 1885-1947 (Delhi: Macmillian, 1985).
  2. Tara Chand, History of Freedom movement in India.
  3. Desai, A.R, Social Background of Indian Nationalism (MumbaI:PopularPrakasan, 1986).
  4. Desai, A. R. Peasant Struggles in India (Delhi: OUP, 1979).
  5. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar, From Plassey to Partition and After A History of Modern India.
  6. Chandra, Bipan, Communalism in Modern India (2nd edition.), (Delhi: Vikas, 1987).
  7. Chandra, Bipin, Rise and Growth of Economic Nationalism in India (Delhi: HarAnand, 2010).
  8. Chandra, Bipan., India’s Struggle for Independence,(Penguin Books, 1988).
  9. Dube, Ishita Banerjee, A History of Modern India (Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
  10. Guha, Ranjit, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (Delhi: OUP, 1983).