The Black Act- Rowlatt Act

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

Sensing their loosening control and empowered freedom fighters, the British government introduced an act that sanctioned the governmental authorities to arrest the person alleged to be involved in or conspiring against the government. Hence, the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919 or the Rowlatt Act came into being.

Enforcement of the said Act led to the backlash by the Indians burned in the desire to overthrow British domination. To openly averse the act, Mahatma Gandhi and others called for massive hartals known as Rowlatt Satyagraha.

Overview Of The Rowlatt Act

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

Under the act, activists involved in plotting against the British would get sentenced to a term of up to 2 years in jail, without any trial. The suspects of seditious activities could get arrested without a warrant and detained for an indefinite period. Further, the act restricted any sort of 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. A series of misfortune, hence, unfolded in the form 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 gets referred to as Preventive Detention.

It could get perceived as detaining the person without a trial and conviction in a court of law. The sole causation of harm to the public. To control the freedom fighters, Britishers introduce a couple of similar rules to serve their cruel purposes. They intended to curb the 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

The similarity between the two Acts- the contemporary Preventive Detention laws and the Rowlatt Act

A similarity could get detected between the contemporary Preventive Detention laws and the Rowlatt Act on critical analysis. The British imposed the Black Act to prevent the unfurling of patriotism and stop the freedom fighters from engaging others in the freedom struggle. Likewise, they enacted other Preventive Detention laws to suppress seditious activities. The said the Constitutional framers adopted laws for the betterment of new India.

Judicial Pronouncements

  • A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras

    The majority judge 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. But, it is a must to use such a sensitive Act during utmost emergencies.


When was the Rowlatt Act enforced?

February 1919

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

Two years

Why is the Rowlatt Act called Black Act?

It gave enormous unjustified powers to the police.

Who repealed the Rowlatt Act?

Viceroy Lord Reading

Constitutional law