What is Non-Cooperation Movement

Mahatma Gandhi and the Technique of Satyagraha

Mahatma Gandhi was relatively speaking; an outsider in Indian politics when he returned from South Africa in 1915, but by 1920 he attained the position of supreme political leadership in the country. He was in South Africa from 1893 to 1915. There he had led an extraordinary movement of Indian settlers for the vindication of their national honor and human rights. The issues involved in the movement were the 1906. Transvaal Ordinance on compulsory registration and passes for Indians, the 1913 immigration restrictions, the derecognition of non-Christian Indian marriages while deciding the cases of new entrants, and the E 3 lax on ex-indentured labourers.

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Non-violent Satyagraha

The technique adopted by Gandhiji was that on non-violent resistance or Satyagraha. It involved peaceful violation of specific laws, mass courting of arrests, and occasional hartals and spectacular marches. The technique had three-fold characteristics; drawing in the masses in the struggle; keeping mass activity pegged down to certain forms predetermined by the leader and strict adherence to non-violence. The central principle that governed Gandhiji’s thought was that man is essentially divine in nature, and, therefore, the heart of even a tyrant can be changed by non-violent resistance and he can be made to realize his mistakes and abjure the path of sin and up righteousness. The Satyagraha campaigns of Gandhiji in South Africa were partially successful.


He arrived in India in 1915 and established a Satyagraha Ashrama on the Sabarmati River near Ahmedabad. In this country he put to trial his technique of Satyagraha for the first time in the, Champaran district of Bihar for the redress of the grievances of the cultivators oppressed by the indigo planters. He proceeded to Champaran to conduct an enquiry. But the District Magistrate served on him an order to leave the district immediately. Gandhiji refused to obey and was tried for defiance. He pleaded guilty to the charge of disobeying the order but he justified it on the ground that human authority must yield before the higher authority of conscience. It was a new plea in a court of law and staggering for the British Magistrate. However, the government of Bihar allowed Gandhiji to carry on his investigations. Ultimately the government recognized the enormity of the indigo planters’ oppression and the Champaran Agrarian Bill of 1917 proposed the abolition of the system.

While Gandhiji was conducting his investigations in Bihar, he received requests to help and guide the peasants of Kheda in Gujrat who were finding difficulties in paying the rents, owing to failure of crops. The second request was to intervene in a labor trouble in Ahmadabad he took up the question of mill hands of Ahmadabad first. He advised the workers to strike but to observe non-violence against both mill owners and the black legs and to remain firm. Unfortunately after two weeks they began to waver. So Gandhiji announced that he would go on a fast till the matter was settled. This confirmed the workers in their resolve and also touched the hearts of the mill owners. The strike ended with a settlement satisfactory to both sides.

Then he turned his attention to the Kheda struggle. It also ended in a compromise. This struggle marked the beginning of an awakening among the peasants of Gujarat. These incidents confirmed Gandhiji in has faith in the efficacy of the technique of Satyagraha.

Rowlett Act:

It may be noted that till 1919 Gandhiji was a great supporter of British rule in India. He had a deep faith in the British sense of justice and fair play. He had fully cooperated with the government during the First World War and even acted as a recruiting agent in Gujarat. But the repressive policy of the government and the Khilafat issue transformed him from a loyal citizen in to a rebel. Formerly he believed that the empire had been on the whole a power for good, now his creed was: “The British Empire today represents Satanism, and they who love God can afford to have no love for Satan.”


During the First World War the government had passed the Defense of India Act in 1915 to terrorize the people and crush all political activities. But it was not possible to use the provisions of that Act in peace time after the war. The government, therefore, appointed in 1918 a committee known as the Sedition Committee under justice Rowlett. In March 1919 the so-called Rowlett Act embodying some of the recommendations of the committee was through the Imperial Legislative Council for against the opposition of all non-official Indian members. The Act provided for summary trial of political offences by a special court. The court was to meet in camera and could take into account such evidence as was not admissible under the Indian Evidence Act. No appeal could be made against the decision of the court. The Act also authorized the provincial governments to search any place and to arrest any person without warrant and keep him confined under such conditions as it may specify.

While all sections of Indian political opinion deeply resented the Rowlett Act, it was left to Gandhiji to suggest a practical form of all-India mass protest, going beyond petitioning but not intended to be unrestrained or violent. A Satyagraha Sabha was formed. Gandhiji gave a call for an all-India hartal on March 30 which was later postponed to April 6. It was to be a day of fasting and prayer, the day on which India declared a non-violent war against British imperialism. The response to the call was amazing. Towns and villages in every part of the country vied with one another to make the hartal a success. With the exception of some incidents in Delhi, Punjab and Ahmadabad the hartal was by and large peaceful.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre:

However, things soon took an ugly turn in-Punjab. The government took extreme measures to suppress even peaceful protest meetings. Amritsar was handed over to the military authorities on April 11and Brigadier Dyer took charge of the town. In the afternoon of April 13, a public meeting was summoned at the Jallianwala Bagh. Dyer regarded it as a challenge to his authority and decided to teach the people a lesson. The Jallianwala Bagh was an open enclosed surrounded by buildings with only one narrow entrance. Dyer appeared at the entranced and ordered his soldiers to fire without any warning. About 1000 people were massacred and several thousand wounded. After the massacre a curfew order was clamped on Amritsar which remained in force for two months. What was worse, water and electricity were cut off. Whipping and flogging were common. Numerous people were tried under material law and many were sentenced to death.

The gruesome tale was repeated at several places, especially Lahore Kasur and Gujranwala. “Jallianwala Bagh kindly, a conflagration throughout India.” There was an outburst of condemnation from every side. Rabindranath Tagore renounced the knighthood conferred upon him by the British government. The government was compelled to appoint a committee with Hunter as Chairman to enquire into the Amritsar massacre. The committee justified the deeds of dyer. However, the Congress appointed its own enquiry committee which condemned Dyer’s action in the following words. “The Jallianwala Bagh massacre was a calculated piece of inhumanity towards utterly innocent and unarmed men including children and unparalleled for its ferocity in the history of modern British administration.

The Khilafta Issue:

To the Punjab wrongs was added the issue of Khilafat Rowlett Act and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre had disillusioned Gandhiji the Khilafat wrong completely blasted his faith in the British sense of justice and fair play. It had become clear after the war that the allies would impose a harsh treaty on the defeated Turkish Empire. This gave a momentum to the Khilafat Movement in 1919-20. The objective of the Indian Muslims who started the movement was to pressurize Britain to be lenient towards Turkey. Three central demands were that the sultan of Turkey the Khalifa must retain control over the Muslim sacred places, that he must be left with sufficient territory to enable him to defend the Islamic faith and that Jaziratul-Arab must remain under Muslim sovereignty.


Gandhiji was convinced of the justness of the Muslim cause, and therefore, decided to support the movement. He also persuaded the Congress to join the Non-corporation Movement. The Congress met at Calcutta in September 1920 and approved the policy of non-violent; non-operation until the wrongs were righted and Swraj established.


The movement had two kinds of objects: constructive and destructive. In pursuance of the former it was decided to raise a fund of one core of rupees in the name of the Tilak to finance the promotion of the various boycott programmes and to distribute twenty lakh spinning wheels to provide work for the unemployed and to replace foreign cloth by hand-made Indian cloth.

The destructive aspect had the following items:-

  • The boycott of law courts by lawyers;
  • The boycott of schools and college owned or aided or recognized by the government and the establishment of national educational institution;
  • The boycott of elections to the Assembly and the provincial Councils;
  • The surrender of honors, titles etc and the boycott of official functions;
  • The boycott of British goods and the encouragement of Swadeshi; and
  • The prohibition of drinking liquor.

The country was profoundly stirred and an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm swept through the country. Lawyers of the distinction of Motilala Neheru, C.R. Das, Rajendra Prasad, and C. Rajagopalachari gave up their lucrative practice. Thousands of students left colleges and schools and many national institutions were established. Subash Chandra Bose resigned his post in the Civil Service, Jawaharlal Neheru bids adieu to the Allahabad High Court.

The Tilak fund was oversubscribed lakhs of spinning wheels were distributed the recruitment of volunteers reached half the target.

The effect of the boycott of foreign cloth was felt throughout the country. It had considerable success in Bengal, Bombay, madras and the united provinces. The boycott of liquor had considerable effect in reducing excise revenue.

The Muslim Ulema gave a Fatwa declaring India Dar-ul-Hurb which enjoined on the Muslims either to wage a Jihad or leave the country. It is estimated that nearly 18,000 Muslims mostly from Sindh and the North-West Frontier Province left for Afghanistan. The Afghan authorities refused to admit them, and they had to return homeless and miserable.

In July 1927 the All-India Khilafat Conference met at Karachi and called upon the Muslim soldier of the Indian army to renounce service as it was religiously unlawful. For this Muhammad Ali was prosecuted.

In November 1921, the Congress met at Ahmadabad. It was decided that both individual and mass civil disobedience might be launched, and Gandhiji was appointed the sole dictator to conduct it.

Unfortunately a tragic event occurred on February 5, 1922 at Chaurichura, a small town in the district of Gorakhpur, U.P. A number of policemen came into conflict with a procession. Being overwhelmed they took shelter in the thane. The violent mob set fire to the building reducing the man to ashes.

Gandhiji could not tolerate violence; he immediately suspended the movement.

Gandhiji decision was unfortunate. It was tantamount to an acknowledgement of defeat. Motilal Neheru, Jawaharlal Neheru, Subash Chandra Bose, C.R. Das all was angry with him, but nobody had the courage to oppose him openly.

In the meantime political events in Turkey made the whole issue of Khilafat irrelevant. In October 1922 the Turkish nationalists under the leadership of Mustafa Kamal Pasha abolished monarchy and established the Turkish Republic. The Khalifa was deprived of all political authority. Two years latter the office of the Khalifa was also abolished.

Government Repression:-

The government tried to suppress the movement with a heavy hand. In the beginning it made use of the Criminal Amendant and the Seditious Meeting Act. When the Khilafatists began to advocate the boycott of the military services, prosecutions were started against them. In November 1921, the Congress and Khilafat volunteer organizations were banned. More than 30,000 individual non-cooperators were thrown into prison including a great many leaders in March 1922; Gandhi himself was arrested and jailed for six years.

In order to suppress the movement the government used most barbarous methods, but the satyagrahis showed exemplary courage forbearance and discipline.

Results of the Movement:-

In the words of Dr. Tara Chand the Non co-operation Movement was the “first unarmed revolt not only in the history of India but in all history.”

But it failed to achieve its two proclaimed objectives – the restitution of the Khilafat and the attainment of Swaraj. However, it would be wrong to say that it was a total failure. Its gains were:

  • The general awakening of the masses to their political rights and privileges.
  • The total loss of faith in the existing system of government.
  • The belief that it was only through their own efforts that India could hope to be free;
  • The faith in the Congress as the only organization which could properly direct national effort to gain freedom; and
  • The utter failure of repression to cow down the people.

For the first time the masses were associated with the freedom. Struggle which broadened the base of the national movement and gave it a mass character.

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