Non-Cooperation Movement

Non-Cooperation Movement 1920

This entry is part 6 of 16 in the series Communication and Social Change

The Non-Cooperation Movement

The Swadeshi Movement of 1905 and the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1920 are two watershed moments in India’s fight for independence.

The British partition of Bengal along religious lines in 1905, with the intention of dividing and ruling the Indian population, ignited the Swadeshi Movement. As a countermeasure, Indians promoted indigenous industries and boycotted British imports in an effort to practice swadeshi, or self-reliance.

Aurobindo Ghosh and Rabindranath Tagore were among the movement’s prominent figures who championed economic independence to claim one’s cultural heritage.

Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore
Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore

The Non-Cooperation Movement was launched in 1920 on September 4. Mahatma Gandhi served as its leader, and it used a more comprehensive strategy to challenge British colonial dominance.

Causes of the Non-Cooperation Movement:

  • Dissatisfaction with Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms
  • Rowlett Act
  • Economic Hardship due to World War I
  • Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and Resultant Punjab Disturbances
  • Khilafat Agitation

Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms

Montagu Chelmsford Reforms

In 1919, the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms were implemented, which was a major turning point in the constitutional history of India during British rule. Named after Edwin Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, and Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy of India, these reforms addressed Indian demands for greater participation in governance while ensuring British control.

The establishment of dyarchy and the division of governmental duties into reserved and transferred subjects, with elected Indian representatives having a voice in transferred areas, were among the salient features. The reforms also allowed for greater Indian representation in legislative councils at the central and provincial levels, albeit with restrictions based on property and educational qualifications.

The changes, however, did not provide India with the desired degree of self-governance, so they did not live up to the hopes of Indian nationalists. However, they set the stage for later constitutional changes and political awakenings, which in turn opened the door for more calls for autonomy and, ultimately, independence.

Rowlett Act

Sir Sydney Rowlatt
Sir Sydney Rowlatt

The British colonial government in India introduced the contentious Rowlett Act, also known as the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919. The act, which bears the name of British judge Sidney Rowlatt, was designed to end revolutionary activities considered dangerous to British rule.

The right to a trial by jury was essentially suspended when the Rowlett Act gave colonial authorities broad authority to apprehend and hold anyone suspected of sedition without a trial. Additionally, it gave the government the authority to hold suspects in custody without revealing the nature of the charges against them, which sparked outrage and accusations of power abuse.

Indian nationalists and civil rights activists fiercely opposed the act, viewing it as an oppressive measure that violated their basic freedoms. The enactment of this law sparked large-scale demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience, ultimately leading to the outbreak of the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920.

The Rowlett Act ultimately served to energize the Indian independence movement by highlighting the oppressive nature of colonial rule and escalating demands for self-government and civil liberties, despite the British government’s intentions to quell dissent and maintain control.

Economic Hardship due to World War I

India’s participation in the war caused a lot of economic hardships for the people. Prices of goods began to soar, which affected the common man. The peasants also suffered because the prices of agricultural products did not increase. All this led to resentment against the government.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and Resultant Punjab Disturbances

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of April 13, 1919, stands as one of the darkest chapters in India’s struggle for independence. On that day, British troops under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer fired upon a peaceful gathering of thousands of unarmed civilians, including men, women, and children, who had assembled at the Jallianwala Bagh garden in Amritsar, Punjab, to protest against British colonial rule and to demand the release of two nationalist leaders.

Thousands were injured and hundreds of people died during the roughly ten minutes of indiscriminate gunfire. The brutality of the massacre shocked not only India but also the world, leading to widespread condemnation of British actions.

In the aftermath of the massacre, Punjab witnessed a surge in unrest and agitation. The region saw strikes, protests, and civil disobedience due to growing anger and resentment towards British rule. The British government’s harsh response, which included martial law and widespread repression, increased public outrage.

The aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre significantly influenced India’s independence movement. It inspired nationalists and sparked popular support for the independence movement. The horrors of that day revealed the true nature of British colonialism and made Indians more determined than ever to attain independence and self-government.

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre also had a significant impact on India’s political climate. Indians lost faith in the British government as a result, and the nationalist movement became more radicalized. India’s independence was finally achieved in 1947 due to the growing demand for independence.

Khilafat Agitation

Early in the 1920s, Indian Muslims launched a significant pan-Islamic political movement known as the Khilafat Movement or Khilafat Agitation. It was born from the Ottoman Caliphate’s disintegration after World War I and the Treaty of Sèvres, which undermined the caliph’s authority as the world’s spiritual head of Sunni Muslims, the Ottoman Sultan.

Indian Muslims opposed the British government’s move to overthrow the caliphate. Famous individuals like the Ali brothers, Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali, led them, and the Indian National Congress and Mahatma Gandhi supported them. Muslims aimed to preserve their unity and defend the caliphate because they perceived it as an assault on their religious identity.

khilafat movement
Shaukat Ali (1873-1938) and Mohamed Ali Jauhar (1878-1931) | Leaders of the Khilafat movement

By organizing large-scale rallies, boycotts, and demonstrations, the Khilafat Movement inspired Muslims all over India to demand that the British government uphold the integrity of the caliphate. The larger framework of India’s independence movement also gave Muslims a forum to voice their complaints and claim their political agency.

Although the Khilafat Movement was initially aligned with the Indian nationalist movement, differences arose over strategies and objectives. By the mid-1920s, the movement had begun to decline due to internal divisions, British repression, and its inability to achieve its main objective of preserving the caliphate.

Nevertheless, the Khilafat Movement left a lasting impact on Indian politics. It showed how religious and nationalist identities can overlap and how important it is for Muslims to be involved in India’s fight for independence. This also united Indian Muslims, paving the way for political mobilization and activism.

Non-cooperation Movement Demands

In March 1920, Mahatma Gandhi issued a manifesto declaring the doctrine of the Non-cooperation movement. Gandhi, through this manifesto, wanted people to:

  • Support Swadeshi Principles: self-local government (Swarajya)
  • Accept Swadeshi habits, including handspring and weaving
  • Work for the eradication of untouchability from society
  • Prohibited & withdrawing British Education Institutions
  • Renunciation from their titles and notable posts (Political, Honours, Gallantry)

The movement favoured peaceful civil disobedience and demanded a boycott of British institutions such as courts, educational institutions, and government services, declining or resigning from British posts, prohibiting government regulations, and focusing on abolishing the use of British products, etc.

Mahatma Gandhi stated India could achieve independence within a year if this movement succeeded. It was the transition of
individuals to a mass movement. Non-cooperation was focused on getting full independence, also known as Purna Swaraj.

While the Swadeshi Movement sought economic independence, the Non-Cooperation Movement sought to undermine British rule and set the stage for complete independence.

People from all walks of life, including Hindus and Muslims, urban and rural, rich and poor, found a common cause and were inspired to oppose British rule in the struggle for independence.

Mahatma Gandhi during Non-Cooperation Movement
Mahatma Gandhi during the Non-Cooperation Movement

By coming together, people were able to build a stronger sense of community that went beyond religious and social boundaries, ultimately leading to a more inclusive society, which was required for widespread engagement in the independence movement.

Non-Cooperation Movement empowered ordinary citizens to become agents of change in their communities. From boycotting foreign goods to establishing indigenous schools and institutions, Indians actively shaped their destinies. This grassroots mobilisation empowered and inspired future social movements.

Mahatma Gandhi addressing a Congress party Rally
Mahatma Gandhi addressing a Congress party Rally

The legacy of the Non-Cooperation Movement extends far beyond its immediate goals. While it did not achieve its objective of securing immediate independence, it laid the foundation for future struggles and ultimately led India towards eventual freedom. Its emphasis on non-violence, civil disobedience, and cultural resurgence inspired subsequent generations of leaders and activists, shaping the course of Indian history.

The CUET UG 2024 Mass Media and Communication syllabus contains this topic under the Communication section.

Series Navigation<< Swadeshi Movement 1905Civil Disobedience Movement 1930 >>

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