100 years ago, 13 April 1919, Jallianwala bag Massacre is marked as the most heinous human slaughter committed by British rule in Indian history. Jallianwala Bagh was an open private space for dumping of waste, but people used to gather there for the social gathering. It is located near the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, Punjab.
Hundreds of people were executed by blind gunshots on the command of General Dyre. Those who were able to survive the gunshots, jumped into the nearby well to save their lives but suffocated to death. Many others died due to stampede.
Other were buried deep down under the pile of human corpses. People could not flee as the park had only one exit, a narrow entrance that too was surrounded by the army troops. The park was surrounded by houses and narrow entrances, most of which were kept permanently locked.
Within a short span of time (approx. 10 minutes), troops of the British army under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer laid piles of innocent, unarmed human bodies, who were gathered for peaceful Baishakhi festival celebration, comprised of a large number of kids, women and elders too. The civilians had assembled for a peaceful protest to condemn the arrest and deportation of two national leaders, Dr Satya Pal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew under Rowlett act, but there may have been a large number of people who were unaware of the political meeting, they reached there for Baisakhi celebration (New year day in Punjab), also commemorating the day when Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Panth in 1699, and also known as the ‘Birth of Khalsa.
What was the Actual Reason cause behind Massacre (Amritsar Massacre) at Jallianwala Bagh?
Rowlett act passed the authority to the British government to arrest anybody suspected of terrorist activities, officials could detain such people arrested for up to 2 years without trial. Police need not have a warrant to search a place. Severe restrictions were imposed on freedom of the press. This act was opposed by Indian freedom fighters nationwide. In the confrontation to this act, a nationwide hartal was called by Gandhiji on 6th April. This was called the Rowlatt Satyagraha, the prelude to the Jallianwala Baag shooting.
Later on, the movement was withdrawn due to large scale violence in many provinces especially Punjab. On 10 April 1919, about 20 people were killed while crossing a railway bridge that led to British parts. This outraged the crowd, which killed 4-5 Europeans. Also, Miss Sherwood, an unarmed English missionary was beaten up by the mob, rescued by few people including father of one of her students. To get reins over the unrest, army troops were sent to Punjab.
In order to avoid the revolution on 13th of April in 1919 at Sunday, Marshal law was imposed, which barred huge gatherings of people (more than four people) at a particular time and place. Oblivious with the legal announcement people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar for Baishakhi celebrations and that is the reason why the massacre happened at the public garden.
Dyer reached there with his group of Gurkha loaded with 303 Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles and machine guns, surrounded the garden from all sides and started firing on the crowd without any prior warning. His sole motive was to suppress mutiny. They continued firing on the innocent crowd for 10 minutes (1,650 rounds) until they finished off their bullets. He deliberately made no efforts to provide medical aid to the injured. The “butchery” was concluded around 5.45 pm. As the narrator Saleem in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children recalls, Dyer told his men: “Good shooting.” The Sunday picnic was over, and the men could take pride in their training: “We have done a jolly good thing.” With Cold and impassive look, ‘Dyer congratulated his man. Thereafter, Dyer proclaimed curfew at 8 pm.
Very few families could make it to reach for there kin’s assistance. Those who were fortunate enough not to come into the direct line of bullets succumbed to their injuries in lack of medical aid. British officials were indifferent and insensitive to the victims. The government doctor, Lt Col Smith, refused to treat wounded, calling them ‘Rabid dogs’. People performed mass funerals for the dead and decaying corpses the next morning, 14 April 1919.
Kishwar Desai, the author of Jallianwala Baag, 1919, The Real Story, also the chair of the Partition Museum trust narrated in her book, that the age of those who were martyred on the “Black day” ranged from a seven-month-old baby boy to 80 years old man. British Raj sources estimated the fatalities at 379, and with 1,100 wounded. However, Civil Surgeon Dr Williams DeeMeddy indicated that there were 1,526 casualties. The casualty number quoted by the Indian National Congress was more than 1,500, with roughly 1,000 killed. Casualties would have been more but two armoured cars armed with machine guns, brought by Dyer could not enter the park due to narrow entrance. Based on the personal discovery, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya claimed that more than 1,000 people were killed by the total crowd of 15,000 to 20,000.
General Dyre was criticized a lot by the House of Commons and forced to get retired in July 1920. This violent behaviour of the British government lost its credibility among Indians. On learning about the massacre, Rabindranath Tagore expressed the pain and anger of the country by renouncing his knighthood – An honour granted by the British Crown for exceptional personal achievement or public service.
After the mass execution, people lost their faith in the intentions of British rulers, which led to the Non-cooperation movement of 1920. People refused to use commodities and clothes made in Britain, government officials resigned from there designation, students boycotted schools headed by the government. British forces were forbidden to fire at civilians after this ill-fated incidence.
The is act was criticized by the Winston Churchill for which he had debated in the House of Commons on 8th of July in 1920. He said:
“The crowd was unarmed, except with bludgeons. It was not attacking anybody or anything… When the fire had been opened upon it to disperse it, it tried to run away. Pinned up in a narrow place considerably smaller than Trafalgar Square, with hardly any exits, and packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies, the people ran madly this way and the other. When the fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed to the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, the fire was then directed down on the ground. This was continued to 8 to 10 minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion”.
Dyer was messaged to appear before the Hunter Commission, a commission of inquiry into the massacre that was ordered to convene by Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, during late 1919. Dyre stated that he had gone to the Bagh with the deliberate intention of opening fire if he found a crowd assembled there.
“I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself.” — Dyer’s response to the Hunter Commission Enquiry.
The Hunter Commission did not award any penal nor disciplinary action because Dyer’s actions were condoned by various superiors (later upheld by the Army Council). However, eventually, he was found guilty of a mistaken notion of duty and relieved of his command.
Sardar Udham Singh (26 December 1899 – 31 July 1940), raised in an orphanage, was a Punjabi Ghadar party revolutionary, an eye witness of human sabotage committed in Jallianwala bag, assassinated Michael O’ Dwyer, the former Lieutenant Governor of Punjab in India, on 13 March 1940 in the meeting of the East Indian Association held at Caxton Hall of London. The assassination was in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh carnage in Amritsar in 1919. O’Dwyer was at the helm of the affairs in undivided Punjab under British rule during Jalliawala Baag massacre and he landed his full support to General Dyer deed.
Singh was subsequently tried and convicted of murder and hanged at Pentonville jail of London on 31stof July in 1940, merely after two days of trial, perhaps one of the shortest trials in the history of Old Bailey.
Establishment of Hunter Commission in response to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
It was declared by the Government of India on 14th of October in 1919 to make a commitment for inquiring the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in the state of Punjab. This commission was later named as the Hunter Commission after the name of chairman, Lord William Hunter. General Dyre was founded guilty and forced to get retired from the army before time in the month of July in 1920.
The memorial, remembrance of people who lost there lives in Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was first established in the year 1951 in order to remember and pay tribute to the people who had sacrificed their lives in that massacre.
Jallianwala Bagh has become a national place of pilgrimage after the Amritsar massacre. Proposed in the pre-independence era, memorial could be constructed after Independence of India, inaugurated by first President Dr Rajender Prasad in 13th of April in 1961. The memoir was completed at cost of 9,25,000 rupees and named as “Flame of Liberty”.
The memorial is built having 30-ft of the high pylon in the middle surrounded by the four-sided red stoned tapering stature in a shallow tank having stone lantern standing at each corner. It is built of 300 slabs with the Ashoka Chakra as an indication of the national emblem. All the four sides of the memorial pylon have written in Hindi, English, Urdu and Panjabi with “In memory of martyrs, 13 April 1919”. The position of the Dyer’s soldiers has been marked by a swimming pool for children (skirting by the semi-circular verandah) very close to the main entrance gate of the Jallianwala Bagh. Bullet marks engraved on the walls of the memoir, a telltale of inhumane bloodshed.