The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act or Black Act, was a legislative council act passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in Delhi on 18 March 1919, indefinitely extending the emergency steps of preventive indefinite detention, imprisonment without trial and judicial review introduced in the Protection of India Act 1915 during the First World War. It was enacted in light of a perceived threat from revolutionary nationalists to organisations of re-engaging in similar conspiracies as during the war which the Government felt the lapse of the Defence of India Act would allow.
It was the Rowlatt Act which led Gandhi into the Indian independence struggle and into Indian politics in the Gandhi period.
The British administration passed the Rowlatt Act , which gave the police power without any excuse to prosecute anybody. The Act aimed at curbing the country ‘s rising nationalist turmoil. Gandhi called on the people to combat the oppressive “act” of Satyagraha.
According to the recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee and named after its Chairman, UK Judge Sir Sidney Rowlat, this act effectively allowed the government to prison for up to two years, and gave imperial authorities the power to deal with all revolutionary activities, any alleged terrorists residing in British India.
The controversial law allowed for tighter press control, arrests without warrant, prolonged incarceration without trial and without a jury in camera hearings for forbidden political activities. The defendants were refused the right to know the defendants and proofs used in the trials. Those convicted had to deposit securities upon release and had to take part in all political , educational or religious activities prohibited. Two bills were presented in the central legislative term in February 1919, on the recommendation of the commission, headed by Justice Rowlatt. The bills were labelled “black bills.” They gave the police massive powers to search for a place and arrest any person without warrant they disapproved of. The Rowlatt Act was enacted in March 1919, amid a great deal of opposition. The act was intended to rein in the country ‘s increasing nationalist rise.
Mahatma Gandhi was very critical of the Act among other Indian leaders and claimed that not all should be prosecuted for isolated political crimes. The Imperial legislature resigned, in protest against the act, from Ms Mohan Malaviya and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a member of the All-Indian Muslim League. The law was also angered by the government’s persecution of many other Indian leaders and the general public. Gandhi and others found the step to be fruitless, and a hartal took place on 6 April. This was an incident where Indians were suspending companies and went on strike and were provided against the law easily, praying and holding public meetings in response to the “Black Act.” Mahatma Gandhi was bathing in Mumbai at the sea and speaking before a temple procession. The case was part of the campaign for non-cooperation.
But Delhi’s hartal ‘s performance on 30 March was overshadowed by high tensions leading to riots in Punjab and elsewhere. Gandhi suspended resistance because he had determined that the Indians were not ready for the idea of nonviolence.
On 20 March 1919, the Rowlatt Act came into force. On 10 April two of its founders, Dr Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, were arrested and secretly taken to Dharamsala. In Punjab the protest movement was very strong.
On 13 April, people from nearby villages met for Baisakhi Day and protested against two major Indian leaders’ deportation in Amritsar, leading to the notorious 1919 massacre of Jallianwala Bagh.
In March of 1922, the government of India approved the report of the Oppressive Laws Committee and abrogated the Rowlatt Act, the Press Act and 22 other laws.