Non-Cooperation Movement and Khilafat Movement in India

The Non-Cooperation Movement launched on 1st August 1920 by Mahatma Gandhi was the first mass movement organised on a nation-wide scale during the course of India’s freedom struggle. In this article, we shall read about the causes, methods, impact and end of the Non-Cooperation Movement in detail.

Causes of Non-Cooperation Movement

There were four main causes of the Non-Cooperation Movement:

  1. Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and Resultant Punjab Disturbances
  2. Dissatisfaction with Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms
  3. Rowlatt Act
  4. Khilafat Agitation

Let us see each cause of the Non-Cooperation Movement in detail.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and Resultant Punjab Disturbances

A large but unarmed crowd had gathered on 13th April 1919 at Amritsar in the Jallianwala Bagh to protest against the arrest of their popular leaders, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal. However, on the orders of General Dyer, this unarmed crowd comprising of women and children among others was fired upon mercilessly with rifles and machine guns. Thousands were killed and wounded. After this massacre, martial law was proclaimed throughout Punjab and the people were submitted to the most uncivilised atrocities.

The British government set up the Inquiry Disorders Committee, popularly known as the Hunter Committee after its Chairman Lord William Hunter, to investigate Jallianwala Bagh incident and General Dyer’s role. Although the Hunter committee held General Dyer responsible for the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh it upheld his reasons for ordering the firing upon the unarmed crowd and also the imposition of martial law in Punjab.

The people of India did not accept the Hunter Committee’s recommendations due to its clear biases. There was unrest among the masses to ensure that justice was delivered for the Punjab wrongs. Mahatma Gandhi gave up the Kaiser-i-Hind titled bestowed upon him by the British government in protest. Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood in protest against the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Dissatisfactisfaction with the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms

The Government of India Act of 1919 was enacted based on the recommendations of the Montagu-Chelmsford proposals of 1918. This Act introduced the system of ‘Dyarchy’ and divided subjects into lists – Reserved and Transferred. Direct elections were introduced to the Legislative Assembly (lower house), however, the right to votes was severely curtailed. Moreover, the Legislative Assembly had no control over the Governor-General and his Executive Council.

However, Indian nationalists had advanced far beyond such halting concessions. The Indian National Congress met in a special session at Bombay in August 1918 under the Presidentship of Hasan Imam and condemned the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms and demanded effective self-government instead.

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Rowlatt Act

On the basis of the finding of the Rowlatt Committee, the government enacted the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919 which was popularly called the Rowlatt Act. This act authorized the government to imprison for a maximum period of two years, without trial, any person suspected of terrorism. Thus in succession, the Government passed Montagu Chelmsford Reforms and Rowlatt Act that were part of the Carrot and Stick policy of the British. This act gave a new direction to the movement. Gandhi organized a mass protest at all India level.

Khilafat Movement

The most important cause of the Non-Cooperation Movement was the Khilafat Movement started in 1919 which brought the Muslims and the Hindus on a common platform against the British rule. This point requires elaboration.

In the first World War Turkey had aligned with the Axis powers led by Germany that were defeated by the Allied powers led by Great Britain. The politically conscious Muslims were critical of the treatment out to the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire by Britain and its Allies who had partitioned it and taken away Thrace from Turkey proper.

The Muslims also regarded the Sultan of Turkey as the Caliph or the religious head of the Muslims and they strongly felt that his position over the Muslim religious places should not be undermined.

A Khilafat Committee was soon formed under the leadership of the Ali Brothers (Maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali), Maulana Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Hasrat Mohani and country-wide Khilafat agitation was organised. The All-India Khilafat Conference held at Delhi in November 1919 decided to withdraw all cooperation from the government if their demands were not met by the government.

Mahatma Gandhi looked upon the Khilafat agitation as “an opportunity of uniting Hindus and Muslims as would not arise in a hundred years”. The Muslims League, too, gave full support to the National Congress and its agitation on political issues.

Gandhi declared in early 1920 that the Khilafat question overshadowed that of the constitutional reforms and the Punjab wrongs (Jallianwala massacre) and announced that he would lead a movement of Non-Cooperation if the terms of peace with Turkey did not satisfy the Indian Muslims.

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Who were the Leaders of the Khilafat Movement?

The leaders of the Khilafat Movement were the Ali Brothers (Maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali), Maulana Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Hasrat Mohani. Later on, Mahatma Gandhi by strongly advocating the Khilafat cause also became one of the leaders of the Khilafat Movement in India.

Also ReadCivil Disobedience Movement in India

Launch of the Non-Cooperation Movement

The causes mentioned above led to unrest among the masses who were anxious for political action against the British government. The economic hardship suffered by the ordinary Indians only added fuel to the fire. The Non-Cooperation Movement was formally launched on 1st August 1920.

The Nagpur session of the Congress in December 1920 clearly defined the program of the Non-Cooperation in detail. Following changes were made to the Constitution of the Indian National Congress at the Nagpur Session of December 1920:

  1. The goal of the Congress was changed from the attainment of self-government by constitutional and legal means to the attainment of Swaraj by peaceful and legitimate means.
  2. The Congress was now to have a Working Committee of 15 members to look after its day-to-day affairs.
  3. Provincial Congress Committees were now to be organized on a linguistic basis.
  4. The membership fee was reduced to 4 annas per year to enable the poor to become members.
  5. The Congress was to use Hindi as far as possible.

Method and Spread of the Non-Cooperation Movement

  • Mahatma Gandhi along with the Ali brothers undertook a nation-wide tour addressing numerous rallies and meetings of students and political workers. This resulted in thousands of students leaving schools and colleges to join more than 800 national schools and colleges that had been established all over the country.
  • The educational boycott was particularly successful in Bengal. C.R Das played a major role in promoting the movement and Subhash Bose became the principal of the National Congress in Calcutta. In Punjab too the educational boycott was very successful and the leading role here was played by Lala Lajpat Rai.
  • The other successful boycott observed was the boycott of the law courts by lawyers such as C.R Das, Motilal Nehru, M.R Jaykar, Saifuddin Kitchlew and others.
  • However, the most successful item of the Non-Cooperation Movement was the boycott of foreign cloth. Picketing of shops selling foreign cloth was also a major form of the boycott. Picketing of liquor shops was also carried out.
  • Gandhi and the Congress laid great stress on wearing hand-spun Khadi to support the domestic textiles. Charkhas were popularized on a large scale and khadi became the uniform of the national movement.
  • In July 1921, Mohammed Ali, at the All India Khilafat Conference held at Karachi declared that it was ‘religiously unlawful for the Muslims to continue in the British Army’. Gandhi repeated this exhortation of Mohammed Ali and added that every civilian and member of the armed forces should sever connections with the repressive British government.
  • In Midnapore district of Bengal a movement against Union Board Taxes was started. No-tax movements were also organized in Chirala-Pirala and Pedanandipadu taluka in Guntur district of Andhra.
  • In U.P, where a strong kisan sabha movement was underway, the Non-Cooperation movement was led amongst others by Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • In Malabar region of Kerala, the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat propaganda helped to arouse the Muslim tenants, called the Moplahs, against their landlords but the movement at times took on a communal colour.
  • In Assam, labourers on tea plantations went on strike. While defiance of forest laws became popular in Andhra.
  • In Punjab, the Akali movement was carried out as a part of the Non-Cooperation Movement for wresting control of the gurudwaras from the corrupt mahants (priests).

End of the Non-Cooperation Movement

While the Non-Cooperation Movement was in full steam in 1921, the masses were aroused from their slumber and the Congress grass root workers, as well as the leadership, were requesting Mahatma Gandhi to launch the next phase of mass civil disobedience.

Gandhi announced that mass civil disobedience would begin in Bardoli taluka of Surat district and that all other parts of the country should cooperate by maintaining total discipline and quiet so that the entire attention of the movement could be concentrated on Bardoli.

However, before mass civil disobedience could be launched, the incident of Chauri Chaura occurred.

Chauri Chaura Incident

On 5th February 1922, a Congress-Khilafat procession was underway at Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur district of U.P. Irritated by the behaviour of some policemen, a section of the crowd attacked them. In retaliation, the police opened fire at the unarmed procession. Instigated by this, the entire procession attacked the police and when the policemen hid inside the police station, the mob set fire to the building. The policemen who tried to escape were hacked to pieces and thrown into the fire. 22 policemen were killed in the Chauri Chaura incident.

Gandhi was deeply disturbed on hearing the news of the Chauri Chaura incident. Since it violated the strict condition of non-violence he had laid down for launching the civil disobedience phase and continuing the Non-Cooperation Movement, Gandhi decided to withdraw the movement. Thus, on 12th February 1922, the Non-Cooperation Movement came to an end.

Impact of the Non-Cooperation Movement

Although the Non-Cooperation Movement did not succeed in achieving its primary objective of Swaraj, it succeeded on many other counts that are highlighted below:

  1. The National Congress demonstrated that it represented the majority opinion in the country. It could no longer be accused of representing a ‘microscopic minority’.
  2. The geographic spread of the movement was also nation-wide. Although some areas were more active than others, there were few areas, if any, that remained completely passive to the call of Non-Cooperation.
  3. The Non-Cooperation Movement was the first opportunity for the masses at political participation and fight against injustice and economic hardship caused by many years of foreign rule.
  4. There was a considerable participation of Muslims in the movement and the maintenance of communal harmony, despite the Malabar incidents, which was not seen later during the Civil Disobedience Movement.
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