Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre or Massacre of Amritsar happened on 13th April 1919. The Government of India erected a memorial at Jallianwala Bagh in 1951 to commemorate the spirit of Indian revolutionaries and the people who lost their lives in the bloody massacre. It was on this day that the British troops fired ruthlessly on a mass of unarmed Indians who gathered in Jallianwala Bagh for a peaceful agitation. The firing killed hundreds of people and injured much more. This event changed the course of India’s struggle for independence.

History:

On this day, exactly 103 years ago, a large group of people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh. Some were gathered to protest the arrest of two prominent nationalist leaders of Punjab – Dr. Satya Pal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew, and others were assembled to celebrate the festival of Baisakhi. The British government had banned on all kind of public gatherings but did not make the public aware about it. When the news of public gathering reached Colonel Reginald Dyer, he reached the place with his troops and ordered mass firing on the crowd of at least 10000 people including men, women and children. The firing continued for 10-15 minutes and ended only on exhaustion of ammunition. About 500 people were killed, including elderly people and children. More hundreds were fatally wounded. However, General Dyer estimated the figure to be 291.

This massacre was not a secluded incident. It was an incident with multiple backgrounds.

Background:

On 10th March 1919, the British government passed the Rowlatt Act to increase their power over the Indian public. This act allowed the government to arrest any person without trial.  Mahatma Gandhi and the other leaders called for Rowlatt Satyagraha in opposition to this act.

Dr. Satya Pal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew, two eminent nationalists, were arrested without any trial on 10th April 1919. Both of them were invited to The Deputy Commissioner Mr. Irving’s residence. From there they were arrested and deported under police escort. This led to wide range protests among the masses. The protestors gathered before the residence of Mr. Irving where they were fired without any provocation.

The Punjab government used all their efforts to crush the opposition against the Rowlatt Act.

On the day of massacre:

General Dyer’s government had imposed a martial law in Punjab under which all types of gathering were prohibited. Unaware of this fact, people gathered peacefully at the Jallianwala Bagh on 13th April 1919 to celebrate Baisakhi festival and to oppose the arrest of their leaders – Dr. Pal and Dr. Kitchlew. After getting this information, General Dyer reached the place with his battalion.

Dyer ordered his troops to open fire at everyone – including children. The garden was surrounded by houses and walls on three sides. There was no chance of escape as the only route was blocked by the troops so that no one could leave once the firing starts.

The firing continued mercilessly for 10-15 minutes and 1650 rounds were fired.

This event led to death of hundreds of people and left many more wounded.

Investigation:

On 14th October 1919, Hunter Commission was formed to inquire about the incident. General Dyer and Mr. Irving, along with other British officials involved were investigated. According to British government figures, more than 350 people were killed and thousands were injured. But the Congress estimated that more than 1,000 people lost their lives. Dyer confessed his involvement in firing. But he did not feel guilty of his act. He justified his actions. The commission criticized his actions and asked him to resign following which he would not be further employed in India.

Aftermath:

The Amritsar massacre shook the world. Many eminent people of India renounced their titles honored to them by the government. Rabindranath Tagore refused to accept his knighthood. Mahatma Gandhi returned his title Kaiser-I-Hind.

Assassination of Dyer:

On 13th March 1940, Regianld Dyer was shot by Sardar Udham Singh, a member of the revolutionist Ghadar Party, at Caxton Hall in London. Udham Singh was convicted and on 31st July 1940, he was hanged at Pentonville Prison.

A spark was lit in Jallianwala Bagh massacre that ignited India’s independence struggle. It ultimately forced them to leave the land they had hoped to govern for centuries.