The Chauri Chaura incident occurred at Chauri Chaura in the Gorakhpur district of the United Province, (modern Uttar Pradesh) in British India on 5 February 1922, when a large group of protesters, participating in the Non-cooperation movement, clashed with police, who opened fire. In retaliation the demonstrators attacked and set fire to a police station, killing all of its occupants.
The incident led to the deaths of three civilians and 22 or 23 policemen. Mahatma Gandhi who was strictly against violence halted the Non-cooperation Movement on the national level on 12 February 1922, as a direct result of this incident.
In early 1920, Indians, led by Mahatma Gandhi, were engaged in a nationwide non-cooperation movement. Using non-violent methods of civil disobedience known as Satyagraha protests were organised by the Indian National Congress to challenge oppressive government regulatory measures such as the Rowlatt Act, with the ultimate goal of swaraj or independence.
Two days before the incident, on 2 February 1922, volunteers participating in the Non-cooperation Movement protested against high meat prices in the marketplace. The demonstrators were beaten back by local police. Several of their leaders were arrested and put in the lockup at the Chauri Chaura police station. In response, a protest against the police was called for 4 February, to be held in the local marketplace.
On 5 February, approximately 2,000 to 2,500 protesters assembled and began marching towards the market at Chauri Chaura. They had gathered to picket a liquor shop in the marketplace. One of their leaders was arrested. Part of the crowd gathered in front of the local police station shouting slogans demanding the release of their leader.
Armed police were dispatched to control the situation while the crowd marched towards the market and started shouting anti-government slogans. In an attempt to frighten and disperse the crowd, the police fired warning shots into the air. This only agitated the crowd who began to throw stones at the police.
With the situation getting out of control, the Indian sub-inspector in charge ordered the police to open fire on the advancing crowd, killing three and wounding several others. Reports vary on the reason for the police retreat, with some claiming that the constables ran out of ammunition while others claimed that the crowd’s unexpectedly assertive reaction to the gunfire was the cause. In the ensuing chaos, the heavily outnumbered police fell back to the shelter of the police chowki while the angry mob advanced.
Infuriated by the gunfire into their ranks, the crowd set the chowki ablaze, killing all of the Indian policemen and chaprassis (official messengers) trapped inside. Most were burned to death though several appear to have been killed by the crowd at the entrance to the chowki and their bodies thrown back into the fire. The death count is reported variously in the literature as 22 or 23 policemen killed, possibly due to the subsequent death of an additional burn victim.
In response to the killing of the police, the British authorities declared martial law in and around Chauri Chaura. Several raids were conducted and hundreds of people were arrested.
Appalled at the outrage, Gandhi went on a five-day fast as penance for what he perceived as his culpability in the bloodshed. In reflection, Gandhi felt that he had acted too hastily in encouraging people to revolt against the British Raj without sufficiently emphasising the importance of ahimsa (non-violence) and without adequately training the people to exercise restraint in the face of attack. He decided that the Indian people were ill-prepared and not yet ready to do what was needed to achieve independence. Gandhi was also arrested and sentenced to six years of imprisonment but was later released in February 1924, on grounds of his ill health.
On 12 February 1922, the Indian National Congress halted the Non-cooperation Movement on the national level as a direct result of the Chauri Chaura tragedy.
Trial and conviction
- A total of 228 people were brought to trial on charges of “rioting and arson” in conjunction with the Chauri Chaura affair. Of these 6 died while in police custody, while 172 were sentenced to death by hanging following conviction in a trial which lasted eight months.
- A storm of protest erupted over the verdicts, which were characterised as “legalised murder” by Indian Communist leader M.N. Roy, who called for a general strike of Indian workers.
- On 20 April 1923, the Allahabad High Court reviewed the death verdicts; 19 death sentences were confirmed and 110 were sentenced to prison for life, with the rest sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.