Sedition Committee Report

Sedition Committee Report was prepared in 1919 by a committee presided over by Justice Rowlatt to enquire into the revolutionary activities in India. The recommendation of the committee was introduced as bills into the Indian Legislative Council to amend the provisions of the Criminal Law relating to public safety, eg., the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill No 1 of 1919 and the Criminal Law (Emergency Powers) Bill No 11 of 1919. The Bills contained provisions for stringiest control of the press, the summary trial of political offenders by judges without trial, and the internment of persons suspected of subversive aims. The official majority passed the Bills into law in spite of the opposition of the people.

The Rowlatt Bills were introduced soon after the introduction of dyarchy as envisaged in the Government of India Act 1919. Although the Indian opinion was seriously critical of the inadequacy of the measures of responsible government granted to the provinces, it was in no sense hostile and was prepared to work the reforms. Since the Congress had accepted the principle of separate electorate through the Lucknow Pact of 1916, the prospect for greater understanding between the indian national congress and the muslim league and their participation in the legislative politics appeared to be promising, but the Rowlatt Bills dashed away such expectation. The country reverberated with protests.

Gandhi's call for a non-violent agitation culminated in the gruesome tragedy of Amritsar on 13 April 1919. The incident cast a dark shadow over the inception of the reforms, and ultimately brought communal feelings that were dormant for a while to the forefront. The fact that Congress boycotted the elections of October 1920 and launched a non-cooperation movement, and the Muslims willingly participated in the dyarchy machinery polarised the two communities. In Bengal, the impact was felt more acutely as the Muslims were determined to participate in the legislature despite the support provided to the khilafat movement and Gandhian non-cooperation movement by some Muslims. Nonetheless despite the Bengali Muslim participation in the reformed legislature, anti-British feelings in India ran high was more acute than in any time since the sepoy revolt, 1857. [Enayetur Rahim]