The movement started with middle class section of the society. Thousands of students left government-controlled schools and colleges, headmasters and teachers resigned, and lawyers gave up their legal practices.
In economic terms, foreign goods and liquor shops were boycotted and foreign clothes were burnt. In many places merchants and traders refused to trade in foreign goods or finance foreign trade.
Instead, indigenous clothes like Khadi became popular and textile and handloom industry was encouraged.
The movement was participated by the peasants and tribals as well.
In Awadh, a sanyasi named Baba Ramachandra led peasants’ movement which was against the landlords and talukdars.
The peasant movement demanded reduction of revenue, abolition of begar (bonded labor) and social boycott of oppressive landlords. Dhobi Bandh were organized by washermen and barbers.
In June 1920, Jawaharlal Nehru began going around the villages in Awadh, talking to the villagers, and trying to understand their grievances.
By October, the Oudh Kisan Sabha was set up headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Baba Ramachandra and a few others.
In many places local leaders told peasants that Gandhi had declared that no taxes to be paid and land was to be redistributed among the poor. The name of the Mahatma was being invoked to sanction all action and aspirations.
The tribal interpreted swaraj in a different way. In Andhra Pradesh, a militant guerrilla movement grew in the early 1920s when colonial government prevented people from entering the forests to graze their cattle, or to collect fuelwood and fruits.
Alluri Sitaram Raju, an ordinary person, led the rebellion by claiming that he could make correct astrological predictions and heal people, and he could survive even bullet shots.
The rebels proclaimed that he was an incarnation of God. Although Raju praised Gandhi, but he believed that violence could only liberate India.
The rebels attacked police stations, attempted to kill British officials and carried on guerrilla warfare for achieving swaraj. Raju was captured and executed in 1924, and over time became a folk hero.
Workers also interpreted swaraj differently. For plantation workers in Assam, freedom meant the right to move freely in and out, and it meant retaining a link with the village from which they had come.
Under the Inland Emigration Act of 1859, plantation workers were not permitted to leave the tea gardens without permission.
During the Non-Cooperation Movement, thousands of workers defied the authorities. They left the plantations and headed home.
The workers never reached their destination as the police stranded them on their way. They were caught by the police and brutally beaten up.