Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre
The Amritsar massacre, also known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, was named after the place (Jallianwala Bagh, in Amritsar), where, on April 13, 1919, British and Gurkha soldiers opened fire on an unarmed forbidden gathering, killing hundreds of civilians.1919 saw mass protests instigated by the Indian National Congress across the subcontinent. The main antagonising factors were the Rowlatt Act, Indian service in Mesopotamia in the First World War, and the arrest of nationalist leaders of Amritsar Dr. Saifuddin Kitchloo and Dr Satyapal. Whilst the educated middle class members of the Congress understood the peaceful methods espoused by Mohandas Gandhi, called satyagraha or 'soul force', many of those that protested did not. On the first day of marches, April 6, a hortal was observed.A peaceful political demonstration in Amritsar quickly descended into violence. In response to arson attacks on British banks, Government offices and private property, and the loss of control in most of Amritsar, the then British governor of Punjab, Sir Michael O'Dwyer, declared martial law. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer from the neighbouring Jullandur cantonment took over control of the city and the instructions he was given stated that 'No gatherings of persons nor processions of any sort will be allowed. All gatherings will be fired on'. Dyer subsequently issued a proclamation declaring 'all meetings and gatherings' forbidden on the 12th April.On April 13, thousands of Indians were gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh in the heart of Amritsar city, one of the major towns of Punjab state. The occasion was Baisakhi Day, the Sikh religious day when Guru Gobind Singh began the Khalsa Panth in 1699 and initiated baptism in the Sikh religion. On this day there would have been an especially high concentration of Sikhs in the Amritsar area. Baisakhi is also a traditional festival on which people celebrate the beginning of the harvesting season by congregating in community fairs. The gathering was in defiance of the prohibitory orders banning a gathering of five or more persons in the city, a term of martial law. The Bagh, or park, was bounded on all sides by brick walls and buildings and had a single narrow entrance. The British and Gurkha troops marched to the park accompanied by an armoured car on which a machine gun was mounted. The vehicle was unable to enter the park compound due to the narrow entrance.The troops were commanded by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer who ordered his men to open fire, concentrating on the areas where the crowd was thickest. The firing started at 17:50 and lasted for about six minutes. Since there was no exit except for the one already manned by the troops, people desperately tried to climb the walls of the park. Some also jumped into a well inside the compound to escape the bullets. A plaque in the monument says that 120 bodies were plucked out of the well.When the firing was over after about ten minutes hundreds of people had been killed and thousands had been injured. Official estimates were 379 killed ( 337 men, 41 boys and a 7 weeks old baby) and 1200 injured, though the actual figure was almost certainly much higher; the wounded could not be moved from where they fell, as curfew had been declared. Debate about the actual figures continues to this day.Back in his headquarters, he reported to his superiors that he had been 'confronted by a revolutionary army,' and had been obliged 'to teach a moral lesson to the Punjab.' In the storm of outrage which followed, the brigadier was promoted to major general, retired, and placed on the inactive list.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 EnquiryGeneral Dyer said he would have used his machine guns if he could have got them into the enclosure, but these were mounted on armoured cars. He said he did not stop firing when the crowd began to disperse because he thought it was his duty to keep firing until the crowd dispersed, and that a little firing would do no good.He confessed he did not take any steps to attend to the wounded after the firing. Certainly not. It was not my job. Hospitals were open and they could have gone there, was his response.Winston Churchill claimed: "The incident in Jallian Wala Bagh was an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation".The event was condemned worldwide and General Dyer was summoned to London to appear before the Hunter Commission in 1920. General Dyer admitted before the commission that he came to know about the meeting at Jallianwala Bagh at 12:40 hours that day, but took no steps to prevent it. He also admitted in his deposition that the gathering at the Bagh was not a concentration only of rebels, but people who had covered long distances to participate in the Baisakhi fair.Senior British officers applauded his suppression of 'another Indian Mutiny'. The Guardians of the Golden Temple enrolled him in the Brotherhood of Sikhs. The House of Lords passed a measure commending him. The Conservatives presented him with a jewelled sword inscribed "Saviour of the Punjab." The Morning Post started a sympathy fund for Dyer and received over 26,000.In India, the massacre evoked feelings of deep anguish and anger. It catalysed the freedom movement in Punjab against British rule and paved the way for Mohandas Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement against the British in 1920. The Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood to the King-Emperor in protest. The massacre, in short, became a major catalyst for the Indian independence movement.On 13 March 1940 a Sikh named Udham Singh, who had witnessed the events in Amritsar, assassinated Sir Michael O'Dwyer (not General Dyer, the perpetrator of the massacre) at the Caxton Hall in London. O'Dwyer had been the governor of the Punjab when the Massacre had taken place. Singh told the court at his trial: "He was the real culprit. He deserved it. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I crush[ed] him." Singh was executed for the murder. Following a resolution passed by the Indian National Congress, a trust was formed in 1920 to built a memorial at the site. The land originally belonged to one Bhai Hamit Singh Jallawala. The trust bought the land in 1923 at a price of Rs.5.65 lakh. A memorial was built at the site that was inaugurated by the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 13 April 1961 in the presence of other leaders like Jwaharlal Nehru. A flame had been added to the site on a later date. Even to this day, the markings of the bullets fired by the British troops can be seen on the park walls and adjoining buildings. The well into which many people jumped to save themselves from the hail of bullets, but ended up drowning, is also a protected monument inside the park.The massacre is depicted in Richard Attenborough's 1982 film Gandhi, with the role of General Dyer portrayed by Edward Fox.In 1997 the Duke of Edinburgh participating in an already-controversial British visit to the Amritsar monument, provoked considerable outrage in India and in the UK with an offhand comment. Having observed a plaque claiming 2,000 casualties, Prince Philip observed, "That's not right. The number is less."