Non-Cooperation Movement was a landmark event in India’s road to independence that had come this far since its organized journey beginning with the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, followed by constitutional agitation methods of the moderates, rebellious acts of the extremists, the Swadeshi and Boycott movement undertaken after the partition of Bengal in 1905, launch of Home Rule Leagues, etc. All of this was taking place amidst the major international event of World War-I that was coming to a close in 1919 since its beginning in the year 1914. Let us now try to understand the entire picture of this movement by answering the following questions:
1. What was the Non-Cooperation Movement?
2. When did it take place?
3. What were the reasons that led to Non-Cooperation Movement?
4. Who all participated in the movement and how all was it carried out?
5. What were the outcomes/significance of the movement?
What was the Non-Cooperation Movement?
It was the first mass movement organised on a pan-India basis under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the Indian National Congress to induce the British government of India to grant self-government or ‘swaraj’ (self-rule) to India. Mahatma Gandhi was of the opinion that British rule was established in India with the cooperation of Indians, and had survived only because of this cooperation. If Indians refused to cooperate, British rule in India would collapse within a year, and swaraj would come.
Non-Cooperation movement was based on Gandhian ideals of Satyagraha i.e. Truth and Non-Violence and it was planned to withdraw the nation’s co-operation from the British Government marring the administrative set up of the country.
When was the Non-Cooperation Movement launched?
Following a series of events preceding it, the Non-Cooperation Movement was formally lauched via adoption of a resolution at the Congress session of December 1920 in Nagpur.
What were the reasons that led to Non Cooperation Movement?
Economic difficulties caused by World War-I: It led to a huge increase in defence expenditure which was financed by war loans and increasing taxes: customs duties were raised and income tax introduced, all which resulted in very high inflation rates even for the most basic necessities.The hardships to common people were further amplified by forced recruitment of Indian soldiers in rural areas which caused widespread anger.
Famine and pandemic of 1919: In in 1918-19 and 1920-21, crops failed in many parts of India, resulting in acute shortages of food. This was accompanied by an influenza epidemic. According to the census of 1921, 12 to 13 million people perished as a result of famines and the epidemic
Rowlatt Act and Jallianwala Bagh massacre: Rowlatt Act that was passed in the year 1919 had given the government enormous powers to repress political activities, and allowed detention of political prisoners without trial for two years. Mahatma Gandhi had planned to launch a non-violent civil disobedience against such unjust laws. However, on 13 April the Jallianwalan Bagh killings took place in which General Dyer had ordered to open fireon large crowd gathered in the enclosed ground of Jallianwalla Bagh resulting in the death of hundreds. This led to crowds taking to the streets in many north Indian towns where there were strikes, clashes with the police and attacks on government buildings.
Dissatisfaction with Government of India Act, 1919 – Expecting the British to acknowledge the support given by Indians during World War-I, in the form of greater autonomy or self-rule, Indians were hugely disappointed with the GoI Act, 1919or the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms.
Khilafat Movement – The politically conscious Muslims all over the world were disappointed and angry over the treatment meted out at the end of World War-I to Turkey and the Caliph, who was considered as the religious leader of the Muslims world over. Under the leadership of the Ali Brothers (Maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali), Maulana Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Hasrat Mohani a countrywide Khilafat agitation was organized and Khilafat Committee formed ,wherein they decided to withdraw all government cooperation if the government did not meet its demands. The timing of all these events provided an opportunity to launch a mass movement against the British through Hindu-Muslim unity.
Who all participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement and how all was it carried out?
Mahatma Gandhi proposed that the movement should unfold in stages. It should begin with the surrender of titles that the government awarded, and a 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.
The Non-Cooperation-Khilafat Movement began in January 1921. Various social groups participated in this movement, each with its own specific aspiration.
Participation of middle classes in towns and cities: Thousands of students left government-controlled schools and colleges, headmasters and teachers resigned, and lawyers gave up their legal practices. The council elections were boycotted in most provinces except Madras. Foreign goods were boycotted, liquor shops picketed, and foreign cloth burnt in huge bonfires.
Participation of peasants & tribals: The peasant movement demanded reduction of revenue, abolition of begar, and social boycott of oppressive landlords. Tribal peasants interpreted the message of Mahatma Gandhi and the idea of swaraj in yet another way. At many places the tribals organized guirella warfare against the colonial government which had closed large forest areas, preventing people from entering the forests to graze their cattle, or to collect fuelwood and fruits, thus impacting their livelihoods and traditional rights.
Participation of plantation workers: Under the Inland Emigration Act of 1859, plantation workers were not permitted to leave the tea gardens without permission. When they heard of the Non-Cooperation Movement, thousands of workers defied the authorities, left the plantations and headed home. They believed that Gandhi Raj was coming and everyone would be given land in their own villages.
Why & when was the Non-Cooperation Movement withdrawn?
At Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur, a peaceful demonstration in a bazaar turned into a violent clash with the police. Hearing of the incident, Mahatma Gandhi called a halt to the Non-Cooperation Movement in February 1922. He felt the movement was turning violent in many places and satyagrahis needed to be properly trained before they would be ready for mass struggles.
What were the outcomes/significance of the movement?
Although the movement couldn’t achieve its intended goals i.e Swaraj and came to an abrupt ending with the Chauri Chaura incident, yet it had created significant impacts in terms of unifying masses on a pan-India basis, impacting British interests and others as described below:
1. It unified Hindus and Muslims against the British although the end goals sought by both were different.
2. It established Indian National Congress as the party of masses rather than representing specific classes and establishing Gandhi as the leader of masses.
3. Foreign goods were boycotted, liquor shops picketed, and foreign cloth burnt in huge bonfire thus halving the import of foreign cloth between 1921 and 1922 from Rs 102 crore to Rs 57 crore.
4. Abrupt ending of the Non-Cooperation Movement gave rise a militant or extremist streak in this struggle for independence.
5. A lot of smaller yet significant events took place after the end of Non-Cooperation Movement, until the announcement of an all-white Simon Commission which ultimately led to the Civil Disobedience Movement an the 3 round table conferences that followed.