The First World War, Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement

The First World War, Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement
Posted on 31-03-2022


Effects of First World War: The First World War led to a huge increase in defense expenditure. This was financed by war loans and by increasing taxes. Custom duties were raised and income tax was introduced to raise extra revenue. Prices of items increased during the war years. The prices doubled between 1913 and 1918. The common people were the worst sufferers because of the price rise. Forced recruitment of rural people into the army was another cause of widespread anger amongst people.

Crop failure in many parts of India resulted in an acute shortage of food. The influenza epidemic further aggravated the problem. According to the 1921 census, about 12 to 13 million people died because of famines and epidemics.

The Idea of Satyagraha

  • Mahatma Gandhi returned to India in January 1915. His heroic fight for the Indians in South Africa was well known. His noble method of mass agitation known as Satyagraha that had yielded good results.
  • The idea of Satyagraha emphasized the power of truth and the need to search for truth. In 1916, Gandhi traveled to Champaran in Bihar to inspire the peasants to struggle against the oppressive plantation system.
  • The method of Satyagraha was based on the idea that if someone is fighting for a true cause, there is no need to use any physical force to fight the oppressor. Gandhiji believed that a satyagrahi could win a battle through non-violence, i.e., without being aggressive or revengeful.

Some early Satyagraha movements organized by Gandhiji :

  • Peasants’ Movement in Champaran (Bihar) in 1916.
  • Peasants’ Movement in Kheda district (Gujarat) in 1917.
  • Mill workers’ Movement in Ahmedabad in 1918.

The Rowlatt Act (1919) :

  • The Rowlatt Act was passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in 1919. The Indian members did not support the Act, but it was passed nevertheless. The Act gave enormous powers to the British Government to repress political activities. It allowed the detention of political prisoners without trial for two years.
  • On 6th April 1919; Gandhiji launched a nationwide Satyagraha against the proposed Rowlatt Act. The call for a strike on 6th April got a huge response. People came out in support in various cities, shops were shut down and workers in railway workshops went on strike. The British administration decided to clamp down on the nationalists. Several local leaders were arrested. Mahatma Gandhi was barred from entering Delhi.

Jallianwala Bagh :

  • On 10th April 1919; in Amritsar; the police fired upon a peaceful procession. This provoked widespread attacks on government establishments. Martial Law was imposed in Amritsar and the command of the area was given to General Dyer.
  • The infamous (shocking) Jallianwala Bagh Massacre took place on the 13th of April; the day on which Baisakhi is celebrated in Punjab. A crowd of villagers came to participate in a fair in Jallianwala Bagh. It was enclosed from all sides with narrow entry points.
  • General Dyer blocked the exit points and opened fire on the crowd. Hundreds of people were killed in that incident. Public reaction to the incident took a violent turn in many north Indian towns. The government was quite brutal in its response. Things turned highly violent turn. Mahatma Gandhi called off the movement as he did not want to continue the violence.

Khilafat Movement: The Khilafat issue gave Mahatma Gandhi an opportunity to bring the Hindus and Muslims on a common platform. Ottoman Turkey was badly defeated in the First World War. There were rumors about a harsh peace treaty likely to be imposed on the Ottoman emperor; who was the spiritual head of the Islamic world (the Khalifa). A Khilafat Committee was formed in Bombay in March 1919 to defend the Khalifa. This committee had leaders like the brothers Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali. They also wanted Mahatma Gandhi to take up the cause to build a united mass action. At the Calcutta session of the Congress in September 1920, the resolution was passed to launch a Non-Cooperation Movement in support of Khilafat and also for Swaraj.

Non-Cooperation Movement: In his famous book Hind Swaraj (1909), Mahatma Gandhi declared 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 be established. Gandhiji believed that if Indians begin to refuse to cooperate, the British rulers will have no other way than to leave India.

Some of the proposals of the Non-Cooperation Movement :

  • Surrender the titles which were awarded by the British Government.
  • Boycott of civil services, army, police, courts, legislative councils, and schools.
  • Boycott of foreign goods.
  • Launch a full civil disobedience campaign, if the government persisted with repressive measures.

Differing Strands within the Movement: The Non-Cooperation-Khilafat Movement began in January 1921. Various social groups participated in this movement, each with its own specific aspiration. All of them responded to the call of Swaraj, but the term meant different things to different people.

Awadh: The peasants’ movement in Awadh was led by Baba Ramchandra. He was a sanyasi who had earlier worked in Fiji as an indentured laborer. The peasants were against the high rents and may other cesses, which were demanded by talukdars and landlords. The peasants demanded a reduction of revenue, abolition of the begar, and a social boycott of oppressive landlords.

Tribal Peasants: Tribal peasants gave their own interpretation of Mahatma Gandhi and the idea of swaraj. The tribals were prevented from entering the forests to graze cattle, or collect fruits and firewood. The new forest laws were a threat to their livelihoods. The government forced them to do the begar on road construction.

  • Many rebels from the tribal areas became non-violent and often carried out guerrilla warfare against the British officials.

Swaraj in the Plantations: The plantation workers were not permitted to leave the tea gardens without permission; as per the Indian Emigration Act of 1859. When the news of the Non-Cooperation Movement spread to the plantations, many workers began to defy the authorities. They left plantations and headed toward their homes. But they got stranded on the way because of a railway and steamer strike. They were caught by the police and brutally beaten up.


Nationalism: It is a political, social, and economic ideology or a movement characterized by the promotion of the interests of a nation, as a whole.

Satyagraha: The policy of passive political resistance was inaugurated by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi during his stay in South Africa. It is based on the ideals of truth and non-violence.

Khalifa: The spiritual head of the Islamic World.

Begar: Labour that villagers were forced to contribute without any payment.

Forced Recruitment: A process by which the colonial state forced people to join the army.

Rowlatt Act: It was an Act that gave the government enormous power to repress political activities. It allowed that government could arrest anybody without a trial for two years.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre: The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, took place on 13th April 1919 when troops of the British Indian Army under the command of General Dyer ordered fire on the crowd of Baisakhi pilgrims, who had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab.

Non-Cooperation Movement: Began in January 1921. The main aim of this movement was not to cooperate with the British. It included surrendering of government titles, a boycott of civil services, army, police, courts and legislative councils, school, and foreign goods; and a full civil disobedience campaign would be launched.

Swadeshi: The Swadeshi movement involved boycotting British products and the revival of domestic-made products and production techniques.

Boycott: A boycott is a form of consumer activism involving the act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest usually for political reasons.

Picket: A form of demonstration or protest by which people block the entrance to a shop, factory, or office.


1885: The first meeting of the Indian National Congress in Bombay.

1905: The Partition of Bengal officially came into existence.

1906: Formation of the Muslim League.

1913 - 1918: The war prices increased by double.

1914 - 1918: The First World War.

1917: Mahatma Gandhi organized Satyagraha Movement in Kheda District (Gujarat).

1918: Mahatma Gandhi organized Satyagraha Movement in Ahmedabad.

1919: Rowlatt Act was passed.

10th April 1919: The police in Amritsar fired upon a peaceful procession. Martial law was imposed.

March 1919: Khilafat Committee was founded in Bombay.

13th April 1919: Jallianwala Bagh Massacre took place.

September 1920: Congress Session in Calcutta decided to start a Non-Cooperation Movement in support of Khilafat as well as for Swaraj.

 1920: Mahatma Gandhi leads the Congress; Non-Cooperation Movement was launched.

December 1920: Congress Session at Nagpur—a compromise was worked out and the non-cooperation program was adopted.

1921: Famines and the epidemic.


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