The Black Act- Rowlatt Act

The British ruled India for over two centuries and strategically controlled and established their dominion. However, the Indian freedom fighters, from time to time, opposed them by organizing various satyagraha.

Sensing their loosening control and ferocious activities of freedom fighters, the British government introduced an act sanctioning the governmental authorities to arrest persons alleged to be involved in or conspiring against the government. This act was known as the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919 or the Rowlatt Act came into being.

Enforcement of the said act resulted in the backlash by Indians and strengthened their resolve to gain independence and overthrow British dominion over their country. To openly oppose the act and pacify extremists, Mahatma Gandhi and other prominent leaders called for massive hartals known as Rowlatt Satyagraha.

Overview Of The Rowlatt Act

To curb the seditious activities and annihilate the anti-British sentiment, the Rowlatt Committee was formulated during World War I in 1919. Sir Sidney Rowlatt presided over the committee and the act bore his name.

Under the act, activists involved in plotting against the British would be sentenced to a term of up to 2 years in jail, without any trial. The suspects of seditious activities could be arrested without a warrant and detained for an indefinite period. Furthermore, the act restricted any investigation on the said matter by the press.

Ban on social gatherings proved to be the final nail in the coffin. Indian freedom fighters retaliated with all their might. People gathered at Jallianwala to peacefully protest the act. However, general Dyer ordered his troops to fire, resulting in the catastrophe of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

Preventive Detention Laws

The practice of pre-trial detention of defendants suspected of committing an additional crime on the release or harming society in any way is Preventive Detention.

This act could be perceived as detaining the person without a trial and conviction in a court of law. To control the freedom fighters and curb their activities, Britishers introduced rules to serve their cruel purposes. They intended to mitigate retaliation by the Indians. Few examples of such acts are:

  • The Defence of India Act, 1915
  • The Rowlatt Act 1919
  • Armed Force (Special Powers) Ordinance 1942

Similarity between the two the contemporary Preventive Detention laws and the Rowlatt Act

Critical analysis reveals a similarity between the contemporary Preventive Detention laws and the Rowlatt Act. The British imposed the Black Act to prevent patriotism and stop freedom fighters from engaging other people in the freedom struggle. They enacted other Preventive Detention laws to suppress seditious activities. The framers of the Constitution of India adopted similar laws for the betterment of new India.

Judicial Pronouncements

  • A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras

    The majority of judges ruled that Preventive Detention is not violative of Articles 21 and 22 as it follows the valid procedure.

  • Nand Lal Bajaj v. The State of Punjab and Others

    Courts agreed that the legal provisions concerning preventive detention and the lack of legal representation are entirely at odds with the basic ‘parliamentary government structure’. The Supreme warned the judiciary to restrain from the matters of legislative or administrative agencies.


The British enacted the Rowlatt Act and other Preventive Detention laws to curb the demand for free India, which they perceived as seditious. However, after the independence, the said laws found a place in the new Constitution to deal with sedition in new India. However, the act must not be misused to curb dissent and should be enacted during utmost emergencies.


When was the Rowlatt Act enforced?

The Rowlatt Act was imposed in February 1919.

What is the duration of the sentence under the said Act?

Under the provisions of the act, a person can be sentenced for 2 years.

Why is the Rowlatt Act called Black Act?

The act gave enormous unjustified powers to the police to subjugate people. Therefore, the act is called the Black Act.

Who repealed the Rowlatt Act?

Viceroy Lord Reading repealed the Rowlatt Act.

Constitutional law