Working Papers

Repression, Protest, and Tragedy:
The Rowlatt Agitation of 1919

R. Jeffrey Blair
contact information
Aichi Gakuin University, Nagoya, Japan

http:// / ~jeffreyb / research / rowlatt.html
rough machine translation ... [ Eng=>Jpn ]

This paper reviews the background and events of a pivotal moment in the history of the movement for Indian (Pakistan and Bangladesh included) independence from colonial Britain--April 1919. It seems a timely topic in light of the current clash of Islamic and western cultures.

        Repression, protest, violence, and tragedy have become common fare in current news articles and programs, particularly in news from the Middle East. The most notable recent example is the assassination of Benazir Bhutto [1954-2007] in the Punjab of Pakistan following a political rally at Liaquat National Bagh. In this paper I would like to publish my research into that troubled region of the world. It presents similar issues in a historical context--British India shortly after World War I.

[Text] The Great War
    1914, September World War I begins
    1914, October Ottoman turkey sides with Germany
    1914 November jihad declared against Britain and Russia
    1917 summer British set back; Indians pressured to enlist
    1918, November 11 World War I ends
[Text] Movements for Independence
    1908 Young Turk Revolution
    1912, Dec 23 Delhi-Lahore attempt to assassinate Viceroy Hardinge (bomb)
    1913, August 18 Ghadar party founded
    1914, April Har Dayal, but jumps bail
    1914 Komagata-maru
      April 4 leaves Hong Kong (150 passengers)
      April 8 leaves Shanghai (+111)
      April 14 leaves Moji (+86)
      leaves Yokohama (+14)
      May 23 arrives in Vancouver
      July 23 forced to leave Vancouver
      Sep 26 arrives back in Calcutta

    1915, February 15-21 Ghadar party uprising
    1915 Defense of India Act
    1915 December Provisional Government of India formed
[Text] British Rule
    1915 Defense of India Act
    1916 Home Rule League formed
    1917, June Annie Besant interned
    1917, August 20 announement that Montagu would visit India
    M-C Reforms=diarchy
[Text] War Ends, Emergency Powers Continue
    1918, April 15 Rowlatt Committee report submitted
    1919, February 6 Rowlatt bill goes to council
    1919, March 18 Rowlatt Act takes effect
    1919, late Feb Gandhi sets strike for March 30 then April 6
[Text] Events in Delhi
    March 30 Day of humiliation and prayer in Delhi
[Text] Events in the Presidency of Bombay
    April 6 Day of Humiliation in Bombay
    April 10 Distribution of illegal literature
    April 10 Gandhi detained; riots in Ahmedabad

    April 12 Gandhi attempts to restore calm and order to Bombay
    April 13 Gandhi acts to restore order in Ahmedabad

[Text] Events in the Punjab
    April 10 (Thursday) Kitchlew and Satya-Pal arrested/interned

A New Perspective

        Having reviewed this research that I carried out thirty-four years ago as an undergraduate at California Institute of Technology, I am struck by how little has changed in the political struggles for human rights and dignity and, at the same time, by how much has changed in our perspective in the information age and my own perspective as I get older. I still recall how I felt as I uncovered the names of these people and places. Events on the subcontinent in 1919 seemed very distant in time and space. The names--just isolated words dredged up from dusty old newspapers and books in the library--felt like exotic secrets from a past long dead.
        Now, however, these names and events seem much closer and more connected to modern life. This is not simply because I have moved from North America to Asia. One actually gets a sense of deja vu when reading about hotheaded revolutionaries gathered in Kabul to plan and organize armed resistance to westernized government. Terms like "jihad" no longer have to be explained in the footnotes. One can imagine the Rowlatt act as a predecessor to martial law in Pakistan or even America's Homeland Security Act.
        Information technology has shrunk our world as well as adding an international perspective. Names of people and places come alive at the click of a hyperlink with pages of information great and small. My hard won secrets have become public information on a global network. You can easily discover that Sarojini Naidu used to call her friend Gandhi "Mickey Mouse" and that Har Dayal lived in Honolulu and found time to meditate on Waikiki Beach. After the British government in India declared Mahendra Pratap to be a fugitive and put a price on his head, we learn, he remained abroad for thirty-two years, the last twenty of them in Japan. It all feels vaguely familiar to this Vietnam War era draft resister and People's Party activist from Hawaii that came to Japan almost thirty years ago.
        Continuing on a personal level, I notice from the years of birth that these historical figures are contemporaries of my grandparents. George Blair [1879-1975], for example, was a young officer in the war that played such a central role in events reported here. I imagine he would have empathized with the law and order psychology of General Dyer, while I feel a bond with the philosophy of the protesters. History has become much more alive since 1973, exotic cultures much more familiar.
        The tragedy that occurred in the Punjab in 1919 strengthened the resolve of the people of India to control their own government. It took another three decades to achieve independence. But more, much more than that, they accomplished change without resorting to violence. Let's hope that the tragic assassination at Liaquat National Bagh on December 27 will energize the movement for democracy in Pakistan.


        I would like to express my special thanks to the History Department at the California Institute of Technology, where this paper originated, particularly to Professor Robert A. Huttenback (now retired from U. C. Santa Barbara)--and my sincere thanks to Glenn Gagne for valuable critical comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Not all of the advice received was necessarily heeded, however, and I retain full responsibility for the final product.

Points of Contact

        Any comments on this article will be welcomed and should be mailed to the author at Aichi Gakuin University, General Education Division, 12 Araike, Iwasaki-cho, Nisshin, Japan 470-0195 or e-mailed to him. Other papers and works in progress may be accessed at http:// ~jeffreyb/ research/ index.html .


"Amritsar Outrages". (1919, April 22). The London Times, p.10.

Datta, V.N. (1969). Jallianwalla Bagh. Ludhiana: Lyall Book Depot.

"The Delhi Riots". (1919, April 10). The London Times, p.11.

Ghose, Akshaya K. (1921). Lord Chelmsford's Viceroyalty. Madras: Ganesh & Company.

"How Indian Riots Began". (1919, April 22). The London Times, pp.10, 12.

"'Humiliation Day' Reports". (1919, April 15). The London Times, pp.12-14.

The London Times, untitled articles:

"Punjab Disorder". (1919, April 17). The London Times, p.12.

Ram, Raja (1969). The Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre. Chandigarh: Punjab University Press.

"Rioting at Delhi". (1919, April 9). The London Times, p.16.

Swinson, Arthur (1964). Six Minutes to Sunset. London: Peter Davies Limited.

Wales, J. et al. (Eds., 2007a). Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Wikipedia. Posted at http:// en. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Jallianwala_ Bagh_ massacre .

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Woodyatt, Nigel (1922). Under Ten Viceroys. London: Herbert Jenkins, Limited.

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