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Jallianwala Bagh: History
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place in pre-Independence India on 13 April, 1919, when the acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered British troops to open fire on unarmed Indian civilians. This led to widespread bloodshed, and resulted in the death of 379 innocent Indians and over 1,000 injuries. The casualty number which was reported by the Indian National Congress at the time was at least 1,000 killed and over 1,500 injured.
During the reign of the Sikh Empire, Jallianwala Bagh was the private property of the family of Himmat Singh, one of the Five Beloved Ones in Sikhism. It is believed that it was once a garden house or a garden. However, in 1919, Jallianwala Bagh was nothing more than an uneven land surrounded by a 10-feet-high wall with only one exit.
On 13th April 1919, General Dyer of the British Army issued an order banning all public meetings involving four or more people in Amritsar. However, since it was the Baisakhi Day, the main religious festival of the Sikhs, many people had gathered at Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate the occasion. This gathering included men, women, and children as well. When Dyer learned of this assembly, he went there with his soldiers, blocked the main exit, and ordered his soldiers to fire at the unarmed crowd. The firing continued for almost 10 minutes until the bullet supply of the soldiers was almost exhausted.
Apart from the huge number of people who were killed by the bullets, several died after being crushed in the stampede that took place due to the firing. Many of the helpless people jumped into the 20 feet deep well inside the garden to escape the bullets and died there. British official sources declared that 379 people had died and around 1200 were injured. The Indian National Congress estimated that 1000 had died while more than 1500 were wounded.
This incident, which is still considered as one of the most tragic incidents in India’s history, came to be known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre or the Amritsar Massacre. The Government of India established a memorial inside the garden in 1951 to honor the martyrs of that fateful day.
What happened in 1919?
On April 13, 1919, Brigadier General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, an officer of the British Indian Army, ordered a squad of local soldiers to open fire into a 182-metre-long enclosed space in the northern Indian city of Amritsar, where more than 20,000 residents had gathered to protest against implementation of a colonial law that gave unlimited powers to the government to imprison people without trial.
The meeting had taken place despite Dyer’s orders that not more than four people could assemble. The soldiers continually fired 1,650 rounds of bullets for over a period of 10 minutes without giving the crowd any warning to disperse. Most people were stuck in the narrow passageway of the Jallianwala Bagh for entry and exit that was circled by the backs of abutting brick buildings.
Author Anita Anand in her book, The Patient Assassin: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge and the Raj, wrote that the number of people killed in the massacre has always been in dispute as British estimates stated 379 people died and 1,100 were injured while the Indian estimates said that 1,000 people perished and more than 1,500 were injured. The youngest victim was a six-month-old infant.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (1919)
- In the months of March and April 1919, there were several protests against the Rowlatt act of 1919. The British government acted upon all the means to suppress these demonstrations and protests.
- On April 9, 1919, the then Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Sir Michael O’ Dwyer ordered the then Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Irving to arrest Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew. These two Indian nationalists who were involved in the peaceful protests were arrested and deported.
- This caused resentment among the protestors. On 10th April 1919, the enraged protestors marched to the residence of Mr. Irwin and demanded for the release of Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew. They were fired suddenly by the police and in turn the protestors retaliated against the British with stones and lathis.
- Soon peace was restored in the city by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer and he issued orders prohibiting the unlawful gathering and meeting under the Seditious Meeting Act.
The 1919 massacre at Amritsar – known more prominently in history as Jallianwala Bagh Massacre – is easily one of the most sordid episodes of the chequered history of India. As history goes, the inhuman chain of events on a fateful day was spawned by General Reginald Dyer. The incident took place on 13th April – a Sunday when the whole of Punjab was celebrating Baisakhi.
Baisakhi is the festival that heralds the beginning of Khalsa Panth in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of Sikhs. Yet, on this particular occasion, life came to a complete standstill – not only in Punjab but across the country – thanks to the repressive thought process and consequent actions of a British officer with nothing but subjugation on his mind.
The impact that the genocide created can be gauged from the fact it moved Rabindranath Tagore to such an extent that he refused the colonial masters’ proposal to be knighted. It was even criticized by Winston Churchill.
It was incidentally a political meeting that was being organised in the vicinity of Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple, in the city. Keeping the importance of this day in mind, Punjabis celebrate it with much gusto and a lot of religious and community fairs are organised on this day. Thus, there is a very good chance that a lot of people killed or maimed on that day had no idea that it was a political assembly going on over there. In fact, apart from the Sikhs, there were many Hindus and Muslims in attendance on the fateful day as well.
The arrest of Dr. Kitchlu and Dr. Satyapal on 10 April 1919, under the Rowlatt Act in connection with the Satyagraha caused serious unrest in Punjab. Rioting started in Amritsar on 10 April 1919. The people of Amritsar took out processions to protest against the arrest. Police firing made it more violent and as result five Europeans were killed by the mob. A public meeting was held the next day, 13 April 1919, in a park called Jallianwala Bagh where thousands of people, including women and children, assemble.
These protestors were unaware of a ban that had been imposed by the martial law administrators on public meetings. Before the meeting could start General O’ Dyer ordered indiscriminate heavy firing on the crowd and the people had no means of escape. Hundreds of men, women and children were killed and more than 1200 people wounded in the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. The Hunter Commission was appointed to look into the situation of unrest after the incident.
- On April 13, 1919, the Baisakhi day, a large number of people mostly from the neighbouring villages were gathered at Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate the Baisakhi festival.
- At the very same place and on the very same day, a peaceful protest was also organised against the Rowlatt Act of 1919. However the mass gathered for celebrating the festival outnumbered the protestors.
- When the news reached Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, he reached the Jallianwala Bagh with his troops and opened fire at the unarmed gathering without any sort of warning. People could not escape as the exit point was blocked.
- The firing continued till the troops ran out of ammunition.
- Though the death figure estimated by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer and Mr.Irving was 291, the committee headed by Madan Mohan Malviya estimated that over 500 were massacred.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre: The events that led up to it
After the first World War ended in 1919, Indian leaders believed that the leaders of the country would now be allowed to self-govern. To the contrary, the colonial rulers imposed the Rowlatt Act on March 10, 1919, as per which the government could imprison or confine any person who was associated with any seditious activity without any trial. The passing of this Act led to widespread protests across the country, with Mahatma Gandhi initiating a Satyagraha to oppose the Act.
Soon after, the British authorities banned Gandhi from entering Punjab, threatening to arrest him if he disobeyed. However, on the other hand, the British authorities arrested on April 9, 1919, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal, who were two prominent leaders and had organised a peaceful protest against the Act in Amritsar.
On the next day, infuriated groups of people went to the Deputy Commissioner’s residence where they demanded that the two leaders be freed. However, here, they were fired upon, and several people died. Post this, the Indian protestors began to retaliate with lathis and stones, attacking any Europeans they saw.
Response To Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
- On hearing the news of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, the outrage of the Indian against the British grew even more.
- After the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Mahatma Gandhi in his weekly, Young India, wrote that “ No government deserves respect which holds the liberty of its subjects”.
- During the protest, Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood which was given to him in 1915.
- Following the orders of Edwin Montagu, the then Secretary of the State for India, Hunter Commission was appointed on 14 October 1919 to investigate the Jallianwala Bagh incident. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer was dismissed from his duty and was recalled to England. However, no legal action was processed against him for carrying out the monstrous act.
- The Lieutenant Governor, Michael O’ Dwyer who was believed to be the key planner of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was assassinated by Udham Singh on March 13, 1940.
Jallianwala Bagh shootout: What had happened
The British authorities in Punjab were trying to suppress all opposition against this Act. Amid this, Brigadier-General Dyer issued orders prohibiting unlawful assembly of people. On April 13, 1919, however, people gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate the festival of Baisakhi, but the British authorities saw this as a political gathering. At the Jallianwala Bagh, the gathered people were to discuss two resolutions – one that would condemn the firing that took place on April 10, and the other that would request authorities to free the imprisoned leaders.
However, when General Dyer heard of the assembly of people, he headed to the location with his troops and ordered them to open fire. As per records, the gathered people were not given any warning.
The Jallianwala Bagh only has one exit, and General Dyer ordered his troops to block it, effectively trapping all the people, including women and children, at the Bagh itself. A total of 1,650 rounds were fired over 10 to 15 minutes, and the firing ended when the troops ran out of ammunition. While the British authorities placed the number of people who died during the massacre as 291, a report by Madan Mohan Malviya, and numerous others, put this figure to be over 500.
The troops retreated from the location as soon as the firing ended, leaving the dead and the wounded untended, something that General Dyer also admitted, unapologetically, in his interrogation by the Hunter Commission. General Dyer’s action was praised by Punjab Lieutenant Governor Sir Michael O’ Dwyer.G