Vaisakhi is observed as a mark of the new year in Sikh culture and the beginning of the harvest season. Although the freshness of the festivity and happiness is all around on this day, it has also a blood spot marked to its name for the year 1919 in the saga of India’s independence from the British Empire.
As they said, “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it“, but the fight for independence was never so easy as it may now seem. Thousands of Bravehearts have given their lives so we can breathe in the air of independent India. One of the most important events that are marked in the history of the country’s independence is the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.
This year, we will be observing 100 years of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre which took place on the 13th of April, 1919 in Amritsar
Let us share some of the important facts and figures related to this incident.
Jallianwala Bagh (Source: The Statesman)
The Monstrous Act
- In the year 1919, the Rowlatt act was passed. Under this act, the Indian revolutionaries could be arrested without an arrest warrant and set into jails without any trials. This act caused a wave of anger across the country
- On the date of April 10, 1919, two Indian leaders and revolutionaries – Dr Satyapal and Dr Kichlu were arrested under the act which made the people furious about the government. To control the intensified anger of the people, General Michael O’Dwyer – the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab at that time issued a proclamation to ban all the public meetings and gatherings in Amritsar
- Though the proclamation was issued, no efforts were made to ensure that the general public could come to know about it
General Reginald Dyer
- General Reginald Dyer, who had been in the city since 11 April 1919, spent the morning marching through the streets, forbidding the local residents from leaving the city or gathering in processions or assemblies. By 1:00 p.m., however, finding the weather too hot, he returned to his headquarters. Soon after, he got a report that an alternative procession during the morning was announcing with a gathering at Jallianwala Bagh at 4:30 p.m.
- Estimates suggest that by the afternoon, some twenty thousand people had assembled in the bagh, but the true reason is not clear until now. Some suggest that the people were there merely in the spirit of the festival as the bagh was close to the Golden Temple, while others say they were in open defiance of General Dyer’s proclamation
- There were children and women too in the gathering since it was the festival of Vaisakhi on that day
- After getting the information of the gathering, general Dyer immediately set out with his troops and armoured vehicles towards the bagh
- At the time of the incident, Jallianwala Bagh was not a park or garden but an unused ground in the shape of an irregular rectangle measuring about 250 yards long and 200 yards wide. Houses built with their back walls to the area had effectively enclosed it on three sides. The fourth side had a boundary wall of around 5 feet, with a few narrow lanes serving as exits
The only narrow lane of Jallianwala Bagh, Source: TripAdvisor
- Dyer marched towards the bagh with the two armoured cars and 50 armed soldiers (25 Gurkhas and 25 Baluchis). Unable to get his armoured cars through the narrow lanes of the park, he approached the ground on foot and stationed his troops, twenty-five on either side of him
- Dyer had ensured that the troops which accompanied him to Jallianwala Bagh consisted of men who were of nationalities foreign to India or recruited from its fringes so that the troops would not hesitate to fire upon fellow Indians. So Dyer had a predetermined plan for firing upon the crowd
- Baluchis were Muslims from the area bordering Iran and the Gorkhas consisted entirely of Nepalese troops. No British troops or officers, except for a few NCOs, accompanied Dyer
- Dyer assembled his forces on a risen platform in front of the crowd, twenty-five on either side of him and without giving any warning or without asking the people to disperse, Dyer ordered the soldiers to open fire
- As the fire started, the crowd panicked and tried to escape from wherever possible. This led to a stampede, killing several people. He even asked the soldiers to shoot directly at the concentration of the crowd where they were trying to escape from the bagh
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
- The firing lasted for ten to fifteen minutes in which 1,650 rounds were fired from a short magazine Lee-Enfield firing a .303 Mark VI bullet. This had a muzzle velocity of 2,000 ft per second and was deadly precise to 500 yards, with a limit of 3,000 yards
- Some people who were desperately trying to run away from the bullets also jumped into the only well in the bagh but ended up dying inside it as hoards of people fell on top of each other. In official records, it is said that 120 dead bodies were pulled out of the well
Martyr’s Well where people jumped to save themselves from bullets
- It is said that false official reports were released by the British government stating that a mere 379 were killed and 1,100 wounded.
- Williams DeeMeddy indicated that 1,526 people were killed. According to the Indian National Congress, over 1500 people were killed that evening
In the official statement, Dyer said, “I fired and continued to fire until the crowd dispersed, and I consider this is the least amount of firing which would produce the necessary moral and widespread effect it was my duty to produce if I was to justify my action. If more troops had been at hand, the casualties would have been greater in proportion. It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect from a military point of view not only on those present but more especially throughout Punjab. There could be no question of undue severity.“
- The Governor of Punjab at that time, Micheal O’Dwyer supported Dyer’s actions. O’Dwyer was dismissed for his actions in Punjab in the subsequent year
Amritsar streets after the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
- The news of the event reached Britain in December 1919 when the Hunter Committee was formed for inquiry. Before the Hunter Committee started its proceedings, the government passed the Indemnity Act in order to safeguard his officers. As expected, General Dyer walked clean except that he was called back to England after resigning
Dyer received a hero welcoming at a way back home
- British Parliament welcomed Dyer as a hero in the House of Lords
- On his deathbed suffering from the arteriosclerosis, he reportedly said, “So many people who knew the condition of Amritsar say I did right, but so many others say I did wrong. I only want to die and know from my Maker whether I did right or wrong.” After suffering a series of strokes Dyer died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1927
The Fire Of Revenge
- Among those who managed to escape from the bagh was 21-year-old Udham Singh, an orphan raised in Putlighar area of the holy city. Twenty-one years later, on March 13, 1940, shot Michael O’ Dwyer at Caxton Hall in London redeeming the vow he had taken on April 13, 1919
The assassination of Michael O’Dwyer
- A false statement that we still hear today is that Udham Singh ‘shot the wrong Dyer’. Actually, he did not! He knew well that the man he was attempting was not the man who had ordered fire at the Bagh, but the then Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, who was as much to blame, if not more, for the slaughters he carried out
Ever since the firing of 1919, there has been a call from India that the British Government apologizes for the mass killing. These become louder every time a constituent of the British Royal family or a British Prime Minister visits India.
The Indian National Congress created a memorial for the innocent souls who perished on an unfortunate day and the unique memorial was inaugurated by Rajendra Prasad in 1961.
There would be no Jallianwala Bagh massacre had it not been for one man, who decided to make an example from the killing of the innocent crowd. Hundred years after his death, the actions of Col Reginald Dyer, now known as the butcher of Amritsar, remains a puzzle.
Expectedly, as dated on 9 April 2019, in a debate in the House of Commons, the British Government still refused to apologize for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.
The Jallianwala Bagh, Now
Even though the narrow entrance of the bagh may not scare you today, it would directly lead you to the open garden where you can sit by and observe the red stone monument. A pillared corridor with the engravings of Ashoka Chakra reciting the stories of the unity and oneness of this country leads you to the small museum founded in the remembrance of the people who never thought once while giving their lives for the country.
Jallianwala Bagh Wall with bullet marks
Though there are a little seriousness and fear at the Bagh today, the butchering that took place a century ago lives on in our consciousness as an ultimate interpretation of colonial violence. We can still see the marks of firing without warning on an unarmed and innocent crowd by the general which still burn our hearts for the horrendous act that took place a century ago. The crying of the people, mothers jumping with their newborns into the well to safeguard them from the English bullets, people hiding behind the walls and trees and running over one another so that they can save their lives are the stories that come to our mind
We strongly recommend visiting the Bagh where you will be able to visualize and imagine the struggle and pain of those times while having the essence of Independence for which our forefathers and other freedom fighters have given their lives so we could be one independent united India.
Jallianwala Bagh Timing
The bagh is open for the general public on all days from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. It is a mere 1-minute walk from the Golden Temple and 3-minutes walk from the Partition Museum.