The first world war, Khilafat, and Non-Cooperation 

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  • The war led to the creation of a new economic and political situation .
  • It led to a huge increase in defense expenditure which was financed by war loans and increasing taxes.
  • Custom duties were raised and income tax was introduced.
  • During the war years the prices increased - doubling between 1913 and 1918.
  • It led to extreme hardship for the poor people .
  • Villages were called upon to supply soldiers.
  • Forced recruitment of soldiers in rural areas caused widespread anger.
  • In 1918-19 and 1920-21 crops failed in many parts of India, resulting in acute shortages of food .
  • Country was also hit by the Influenza epidemic.
  • According to the census of 1921 , 12 to 13 million people perished as a result of famines and the epidemic.


The Idea of Satyagraha

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  • Mahatma Gandhi returned to India in January 1915 .
  • He had come from South Africa where he had successfully fought racist regime with a novel method of mass agitation , which he called Satyagraha.
  • The idea of Satyagraha emphasised the power of truth and the need to search for truth.
  • The idea of satyagraha suggested that if the cause was true , if the struggle was against injustice , then there is no need for physical force to be used to fight the oppressor.
  • Without seeking vengeance or being aggressive , a satyagrahi could win the battle through non-violence .
  • This could be done by appealing to the conscience of the oppressor.
  • People - including the oppressors - had to be persuaded to see the truth, instead of being forced to accept the truth through the violence.
  • By this struggle , truth was bound to ultimately triumph.
  • Mahatma Gandhi believed that this dharma of non-violence could unite all Indians.
  • After arriving in India, Mahatma Gandhi successfully organised satyagraha movements in various places.
  • In 1917 he traveled to Champaran in Bihar to inspire the peasants to struggle against the oppressive plantation system.
  • In 1917 , he organised a satyagraha to support the peasants of the Kheda district of Gujarat.
  • Affected by crop failure and a plague epidemic , the peasants of Kheda could not pay the revenue , and were demanding that revenue collection be relaxed .
  • In 1918 , Mahatma Gandhi went to Ahmedabad to organise a satyagraha movement amongst cotton mill workers.

The Rowlatt Act

  • Gandhiji in 1919 decided to launch a nationwide satyagraha against the proposed Rowlatt Act (1919).
  • This Act had been hurriedly passed through the Imperial Legislative Council despite the united opposition of the Indian members.
  • It gave the government enormous powers to repress political activities , and allowed detention of political prisoners without trial for two years.
  • Mahatma Gandhi wanted non-violent civil disobedience against such unjust laws , which would start with a hartal on 6 April.
  • Rallies were organised in various cities.
  • Workers went on strike in railway workshops , and shops closed down.
  • Alarmed by the popular upsurge, and scared that the lines of communication such as railways and telegraph would be disrupted , the British administration decided to clamp down on nationalist.
  • Local leaders were picked up from Amritsar, and Mahatma Gandhi was barred from entering Delhi.
  • On 10 April , the police in Amritsar fired upon a peaceful procession, provoking widespread attacks on banks , post offices and railway stations.  
  • Martial law was imposed and General Dyer took command.

Jallianwala Bagh Incident 

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  • On 13 April the infamous Jallianwala Bagh incident took place.
  • On that day a large crowd gathered in the enclosed ground of Jallianwala Bagh .
  • Some people came to protest against the government’s repressive measures and some came to attend the annual Baisakhi fair .
  • Many villagers from outside the city were unaware about the imposed martial law.
  • General Dyer entered the area, blocked all exit points and opened fire on the crowd, killing hundreds of people.
  • His object as he declared after the incident was to ‘produce a moral effect’ , to create a feeling of terror and awe in the minds of satyagrahis.
  • Crowds took to the streets in many north Indian towns as the news of Jallianwala Bagh spread.
  • Strikes were organised, clashes took place with the police and government buildings were attacked.
  • Government responded with brutal repression , seeking to humiliate and terrorise people.
  • Satyagrahis were forced to rub their nose on the grounds, crawl on the streets, and do salaam (salute) to all sahibs .
  • People were flogged and villagers (around Gujranwala in Punjab, now in Pakistan) were bombed.
  • Seeing the magnitude of violence Mahatma Gandhi decided to call off the movement.


Khilafat Movement

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  • Rowlatt satyagraha had been a widespread movement, it was still limited mostly to cities and towns .
  • Mahatma Gandhi felt the need to launch a more broad-based movement in India.
  • However, Mahatma Gandhi was certain that no such movement could be organised without bringing the Hindus and Muslims together .
  • One way of bringing both the communities together was to take up the Khilafat issue .
  • The First world wa r ended with the defeat of Ottoman Turkey .
  • Rumours were spread that a harsh peace treaty was going to be imposed on the Ottoman emperor - the spiritua l head of the Islamic world (the khalifa).
  • To defend the Khalifa’s temporal powers , a Khilafat Committee was formed in Bombay in March 1919.
  • Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali began discussing with Mahatma Gandhi about the possibility of a united mass action.
  • Gandhiji saw this as an opportunity to bring Muslims under the umbrella of a united national movement.
  • In S eptember 1920 , at the Calcutta session of the Congress , Gandhi convinced other leaders of the need to start a non-cooperation movement in support of Khalifa as well as Swaraj.

Why Non-cooperation?

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  • In Gandhiji’s famous book Hind Swaraj (1909 ) Mahatma Gandhi declared that British rule was established in India with the c ooperation of Indians, and had survived only because of this cooperation.
  • If Indians would have refused to cooperate , British rule in India would have collapsed within a year, and swaraj would come.
  • Gandhi proposed that movement should unfold in stages.
  • The movement should begin with surrendering of titles that the government has awarded .
  • Boycott of civil services , army, police , courts and legislative councils , schools and foreign goods.
  • Then, in case the government used repression , a full civil disobedience campaign would be launched.
  • Mahatma Gandhi and Shaukat Al i through the summer of 1920, toured extensively, mobilising popular support for the movement.
  • Many within congress were reluctant to boycott the council elections scheduled for November 1920 , they feared that movement might lead to popular violence .
  • Congress session at Nagpur in December 1920 , a compromise was worked out and the Non-cooperation programme was adopted.

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Davneet Singh

Davneet Singh has done his B.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. He has been teaching from the past 14 years. He provides courses for Maths, Science, Social Science, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science at Teachoo.