The Non-cooperation movement was a significant phase of the Indian struggle for freedom from British rule. This movement, which lasted from 1920 to 1922, was led by Mahatma Gandhi, and supported by the Indian National Congress. It aimed to resist British occupation of India through non-violent means. Protestors would refuse to buy British goods, adopt the use of local handicrafts, picket liquor shops, and try to uphold the values of Indian honor and integrity. The Gandhian ideals of ahimsa or non-violence, and his ability to rally hundreds of thousands of common citizens towards the cause of Indian independence, were first seen on a large scale in this movement.
Among the significant causes of this movement were colonial oppression, exemplified by the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, economic hardships to the common man due to a large chunk of Indian wealth being exported to Britain, ruin of Indian artisans due to British factory-made goods replacing handmade goods, and popular resentment with the British over Indian soldiers dying in World War I while fighting as part of the British Army, in battles that otherwise had nothing to do with India.
The calls of early political leaders like Mohammad Ali Jinnah (Who hardened his stand in the later days of the struggle), Annie Besant, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak for Home rule were accompanied only by petitions and major public meetings. They never resulted in disorder or obstruction of government services. Partly due to that, the British did not take them very seriously. The non-cooperation movement aimed to ensure that the colonial economic and power structure would be seriously challenged, and British authorities would be forced to take notice of the people's demands.
Mahatma Gandhi had shown in South Africa and in 1918 in Champaran, Bihar and Kheda, Gujarat that the only way to earn the respect and attention of British officials was to actively resist government activities through civil disobedience.
Now in Champaran and Kheda in 1918 he led impoverished farmers, mired in social evils like unhygienic conditions, domestic violence, discrimination, oppression of women and untouchability. On top of their miseries, these people were forced to grow cash crops like indigo, tobacco and cotton instead of food, and for this they were virtually not compensated. In addition, they had to pay taxes despite a famine.
The Governments of the affected regions signed agreements suspending taxation in face of the famine, allowing the farmers to grow their own crops, releasing all political prisoners and returning all property and lands seized. It was the biggest victory against the British Empire since the American Revolution.
Mahatma Gandhi was assisted by a new generation of Indian revolutionaries like Rajendra Prasad and Jawaharlal Nehru. In Kheda, the entire revolt had been led by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was to become Gandhi's lieutenant.
Millions of India's Muslims were also antagonized by the Government's support of Mustafa Kemal of Turkey, who had overthrown the Sultan of Turkey, considered the Caliph of Islam. Muslim leaders formed the Khilafat committee to protest the actions and find a way to effectively stop the British authorities from neglecting their concerns.
A public meeting of unarmed civilians at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar was fired upon by troops under the command of Reginald Dyer. Hundreds of people died and perhaps thousands were injured. Women, children and the elderly were not spared. The outcry in Punjab led to thousands of arrests, beatings and more deaths at the hands of police and some violent protesters. The Amritsar Massacre became the most infamous event of British rule in India. To Gandhi and many others, it became clear that a reckoning with the British was not far off.
Gandhi's call was for a nationwide protest against the Rowlatt Acts. All offices and factories would be closed. Indians would be encouraged to withdraw from Raj-sponsored schools, police services, the military and the civil services, and lawyers were asked to leave the Raj's courts. Public transportation and English-manufactured goods, especially clothing, would be boycotted.
Veterans like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Annie Besant opposed the idea outright. The All India Muslim League also criticized the idea. But the younger generation of Indian nationalists were thrilled, and backed Gandhi. The Congress Party adopted his plans, and he received extensive support from Muslim leaders like Maulana Azad, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Abbas Tyabji, Maulana Mohammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali. Gandhi was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1919 and 1920, as well as the All India Home Rule League -- the latter once dominated by Gandhi's critics like Jinnah, Besant and Tilak.
The success of the revolt was a total shock to British authorities and a massive encouragement to millions of Indians. Then on February 4, 1922, in the Chauri Chaura, after violent clashes between the local police and the protestors in which three protestors were killed by police firing, the police chowki (pron.-chau key) (station) was set on fire by the mob, killing 22 of the police occupants.
Gandhi felt that the revolt was veering off-course.Gandhi was disappointed that the revolt lost its Non-Violent nature. He did not want the movement to degenerate into a contest of violence, with police and angry mobs attacking each other back and forth, victimizing civilians in between. Gandhi appealed to the Indian public for all resistance to end, went on a fast lasting 3 weeks, and called off the mass civil disobedience movement.
The Non-Co-operation Movement was withdrawn because of the Chauri-Chaura incident. Although he had stopped the national revolt single-handedly, on March 10, 1922, Gandhi was arrested. On March 18, 1922, he was imprisoned for two years for publishing seditious materials.
Although most Congress leaders remained firmly behind Gandhi, the disillusioned broke away. The Ali brothers would soon become fierce critics. Motilal Nehru and Chittaranjan Das formed the Swaraj Party, rejecting Gandhi's leadership. Many nationalists had felt that the Non-Cooperation Movement should not have been stopped due to isolated incidents of violence, and most nationalists, while retaining confidence in Gandhi, were discouraged.
Contemporary historians and critics suggest that the movement was successful enough to break the back of British rule, and possibly even result in the independence most Indians strove for until 1947.
But many historians and Indian leaders of the time also defend Gandhi's judgment. If he had not stopped the revolts, India could have descended into a chaotic rebellion which would have alienated common Indians and impress only violent revolutionaries.
Gandhi's commitment to non-violence was redeemed when, between 1930 and 1934, India committed itself to full independence and tens of millions again revolted in the Salt Satyagraha which made India's cause famous worldwide for its unerring adherence to non-violence. The Satyagraha ended in glorious success: the demands of Indians were met, and the Congress Party was recognized as the real representative of the Indian people. The Government of India Act 1935 also gave India its first taste in democratic self-governance.