The Non Co-operation Movement opened a new chapter in the history of the Freedom Movement in India. It was the beginning of the Gandhian Movement against the British.
The inauguration of the first non-Co-operation campaign was a great change in Gandhi’s basic attitude towards the British as well as a swing in the climate of public opinion throughout the country.
This was the first public representation of the technique of political action that would dominate the Indian scene for the next few years.
This movement fundamentally altered the course of the struggle for freedom. Non-violence and non-cooperation was initially used for the Khilafat issues in India but subsequently it turned into a protest against many wrongs of the British rule and became inseparable from the demand for “swaraj”. On 10th March, 1920, Mahatma Gandhi issued a manifesto elaborating his doctrine of non-violent and non-cooperation duly approved by the Congress. Many factors forced Gandhi for this bold step.
India had helped the British people in the worst moments of their history during the war period, in men, money and materials with an expectation of better reforms by the government. But instead India was paid back through repressive measures by the use of Rowlatt Laws. In order to show India’s disapproval to the Act, Gandhi asked his countrymen for a nationwide Satyagraha and hartal on 6th April 1919.
As a result of the repressive measures the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre came as a crowning act of the British Government. Gandhi and the Congress demanded justice but justice was denied. Gandhi, therefore, came to his conclusion that “the only effective means to vindicate national honour and to prevent a repetition of the wrongs in future is the establishment of Swaraj”.
The much awaited reforms came at last disappointing which retained the same policy of divide and rule among the Indians giving the provision of separate electorate system in 1919 Act. Dyarchy was introduced, some powers were transferred to Indian Ministers but the real powers were however retained in the hands of the government and his officers. The Congress unanimously adopted resolutions to non-cooperate the government any longer because of the undemocratic and unsympathetic dealings of the British Government.
Gandhi accepted the cause of the Muslims as his own cause in order to strengthen the Hindu-Muslim unity. He said that “the present Government is immoral, unjust and arrogant beyond description. It defends one lie with other lies. It does most things under the threat of force. If the people tolerate all these things and do nothing they will never progress”. These words of Gandhi appealed everyone and all became blind after him.
Against a background of economic hardship of rising prices and shortage of foods and other necessities of life, significant sections of the people had become unsettled. The salaried middle classes found themselves squeezed between the high cost of living and their own fixed incomes. The merchants were disturbed by the possibility of decreases of their high war-time profits. The working class in the cities suffered most.
The peasants seem to have been in general prompted everyone to jump into the main stream of the movement. Grounds were thus ready for Gandhi’s mass movement against the British to be famous as the Non-Co-operation Movement which Gandhi declared on 10th March 1920. Soon after that the British and the Allied powers announced the Turkish Peace Treaty which imposed severe terms on Turkey. The Central Khilafat Committee of the Muslims decided to accept the non-cooperation policy of Gandhi. Hindus and Muslims in a bond of fraternity got ready for a mass movement.
Gandhi informed the Government with the words “To my amazement and dismay I have discovered that the present representatives of the Empire have become dishonest and unscrupulous. They have no real regard for the wishes of the people of India and they count the honour of India as of little consequences. I can no longer retain affection for a Government so evilly manned as it is now-a-days”. As a first gesture of the movement he returned the medal he had been awarded for his work in South Africa.
Gandhi inaugurated the non-co-operation campaign on 1st August. The aged Lokamanya Tilak promised his help to the movement but before the midnight 31st July he breathed his last. Tilak’s dead body was carried by Gandhi, Shaukat Ali and Saifuddin Kitchlew. The Non-Co-operation began with fasting and prayer.
Millions of the countrymen stopped their work on that day as a mark of their support to Gandhi and as antipathy towards the Government. Gandhi along with Ali-brothers made extensive tours to preach the message of national unity and non-cooperation with the government. After the beginning of the agitation, the Congress met at Calcutta in Sep. 1920 and approved the movement. Lala Lajpat Rai presided over the session of the Congress.
The programme of non-cooperation consisted of a surrender of British titles and honours, boycott of British Courts, Legislatures and educational institutions as well as the boycott of foreign-made goods. To the negative side of the boycott of foreign goods was added a constructive side that included the promotion of Swadeshi goods especially hand-spun and hand-woven Khadi cloth, the removal of untouchability, the promotion of Hindu-Muslim unity and abstention of alcoholic beverage. Charkha became a household article.
Against the resolution at Calcutta, Muhammad Ali Jinnah moved a motion with the apprehension of the movement being termed to a mass movement. But Gandhi wanted the movement should be the movement of the people with their direct involvement. Thus began the Non-Co-operation Movement of Gandhi to shake the British rule and its foundation. The nation stood behind Gandhi to fight as crusaders. Motilal Nehru, the father of Jawaharlal Nehru and C.R. Das gave up their legal profession. Many resigned from Government services.
Students in thousands left schools and colleges established by the Government. Students in large number joined the movement. Eminent persons like Rajgopalachari, Vallabhbhai Patel, Gopabandhu Das, Ajmal Khan, Subhash Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru joined the movement. Thousands courted arrest. It became a moral inspiration for Gandhi. The nation gained self-confidence to rise against the imperial power. Patriots made prisons as their house of pilgrimage. More than 30,000 people entered into the jails of India. The Government faced naturally embarrassing situations all over India.
The Non-Cooperation Movement programme was taken up enthusiastically. Bonfires of foreign cloth testified the people’s resolve to escape from their dependence on imported goods. In Bombay, a mountain of clothing was set ablaze. The movement had impressive results in many other fields. Many universities’ teachers sacrificed their jobs by leaving Colleges established by the Government. New educational institutions such as the Jamia Milia Islamia and Kashi Vidyapitha were established to provide education in the national lines. Congress fielded no candidates in the election.
Besides visits of members of the British royal family was decided to be boycotted. The Duke of Connaught, son of Queen Victoria came to inaugurate the Mountford Reforms. A complete hartal was observed in Madras on the day of his arrival. Similar Treatment was extended to him at Calcutta, Delhi and Bombay. The visit of the Prince of Wales was boycotted too. His day of arrival on 17th November 1921 was observed as the day of hartal. In Bombay town, the demonstration by the Congress became violent and anti-British riot continued for five days.
The police resorted to firing which took lives of 53 persons. Congress and Khilafat Volunteer Organizations were declared unlawful and illegal. Gradually jails of the country were filled with non-cooperation volunteers. Imprisonment remained no longer a badge of disgrace rather a sign of distinction.
Communal forces joined together to demonstrate anti-British feelings that in the long run went against the very ethics of British policy of ‘divide and rule’. As directed by the Congress people of Bardoli in Gujarat did not pay Government revenue. Gandhiji sent a written ultimatum to the Viceroy threatening mass civil disobedience until the repressive measures are withdrawn. .
An unprecedented event took place at Chauri Chaura, a small village in Gorakhpur district, Uttar Pradesh. Twenty two policemen were brutally killed by the violent mob after the conflict between the mob and the policemen of the Thana. Unable to face the large crowd the policemen entered into the thana or the police station. The violent mob put the thana to fire in which the policemen died. It happened on 5th February 1922.
The news shocked Gandhi too much. True to his principles he decided to suspend the movement rather than see it going in wrong directions. He gave up his programme of the Civil Disobedience Movement at Bardoli. Chaura Choura incident convinced him that the country was not yet ready for mass Civil Disobedience Movement. He thus prevailed upon the Congress Working Committee which met at Bardoli on 12th February 1922 to suspend the mass movement.
On this decision, the country was first shocked then filled with gloom. The leaders in the prison regarded it as a defeat. Letters of protests were sent to Gandhi critising his decisions. Young leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru could not accept the Chauri Chaura incident as a reason for bringing a national movement to an end. But Gandhi remained unmoved. After the movement was suspended, the Government decided to deal with Gandhi strongly. He was immediately arrested on 10th March, 1922. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment and sent to Yaravada Central Jail at Poona.
The non-cooperation movement was no doubt suspended but it has served a unique purpose in the process of the reorganisation of the Congress from top of bottom. The country had been united by a specific anti feelings, grievances against the British projecting Gandhi as the only unchallenged leader of the century. It gave birth to the strongest idea of having Swaraj, the love for the use of Khadi and becoming a Swadeshi etc. It also proved that it was a people’s movement and the real struggle had begun.