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Special Content


Issue no 4, 23 - 29 APRIL 2022

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Before and After

April 13 marks the anniversary of one of the goriest episodes in human history and the darkest chapter of British rule in India - the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The Jallianwala tragedy changed the course of history and the complexion of the struggle of India to overthrow the yoke of British rule. It served as the biggest source of inspiration to freedom fighters devoted to the cause of Indian independence for the next 28 years, when ultimately India attained freedom from foreign rule.

Jallianwala Bagh is a reminder to each one of us as to how hard won and precious our freedom is. April 13 offers one a poignant moment of reflection on colonial cruelty and irrational anger and to remember the innocent Indians who lost their lives that Baisakhi day in 1919.

The massacre of April 1919 was not an isolated incident, rather an incident that happened with a multitude of factors working in the background. To understand what transpired on April 13, 1919, one must look at the events preceding it.

The Indian National Congress (INC) had assumed selfgovernance would be granted once World War I ended but the imperial bureaucracy had other plans. The Rowlatt Act (Black Act) was passed on March 10, 1919, authorising the government to imprison or confine, without a trial, any person associated with seditious activities. This led to nationwide unrest.

Mahatma Gandhi initiated Satyagraha to protest against the Rowlatt Act. On April 7, 1919, he published an article called 'Satyagrahi', describing ways to oppose the Rowlatt Act. The British authorities discussed amongst themselves the actions to be taken against Gandhiji and any other leaders who were participating in the Satyagraha.

In Punjab, the agitation was more extensive and intensive than in any other province. There was greater fervour, more strident emotions, larger gatherings of crowds, and all this tended to rowdy demonstrations, alarm of authorities and frequent clashes. Punjab had achieved a reputation for turbulence since the agrarian troubles of 1907. The conditions had greatly deteriorated since then. The province was feeling a sense of deep frustration and Gandhiji's call had an electrifying effect upon the people.

 Orders were issued to prohibit Gandhiji from entering Punjab and to arrest him if he disobeyed the orders.

Sir Michael O' Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab (1912-1919), suggested that Gandhiji be deported to Burma but this was opposed by his fellow officials as they felt it might instigate the public. Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal, two prominent leaders, organised a peaceful protest against the Rowlatt Act in Amritsar. On April 9, 1919, Ram Navami was being celebrated when O' Dwyer issued orders to the Deputy Commissioner, Mr Irving to arrest Dr Satyapal and Dr Kitchlew. On April 10, 1919, the infuriated protestors marched to the Deputy Commissioner's residence to demand the release of their two leaders, where they were fired upon without any provocation. Many people were wounded and killed.

The Massacre

 On April 13, 1919, the public had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate Baisakhi. However, the British point of view, as seen from the documents present in the National Archives of India, indicates that it was a political gathering. Despite General Dyer's orders prohibiting unlawful assembly, people gathered at the Bagh, where two resolutions were to be discussed, one condemning the firing on April 10 and the other requesting the authorities to release their leaders.

When the news reached him, General Dyer headed to the Bagh with his troops. He entered the Bagh, deployed his troops and ordered them to open fire without giving any warning. People rushed to the exits but Dyer directed his soldiers to fire at the exit.

The firing continued for 10-15 minutes. 1,650 rounds were fired. The firing ceased only after the ammunition had run out. The total estimated figure of the dead as given by General Dyer and Mr Irving was 291. However, other reports, including that of a committee headed by Madan Mohan Malviya, put the figure of dead at over 500.

Post-Jallianwala Bagh

Two days after the massacre, martial law was clamped down on five districts - Lahore, Amritsar, Gujranwala, Gujarat and Lyallpore. The declaration of martial law was to empower the Viceroy to direct immediate trial by court-martial of any person involved in the revolutionary activities. As the news of the massacre spread across the nation, Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood.

In Amritsar, the massacre was followed by clamping the curfew order which remained in force for two months. Numerous people were tried under the martial law, many were sentenced to death, others to transportation for life and various terms of imprisonment. At Lahore, a procession was fired thrice on the April 10th and again on the April 17th. On the 16th, three respected leaders of Lahore Rambhaj Dutt Chowdhury, Harkishen Lal and Duni Chandwere invited to the Deputy Commissioner's house, arrested and deported.

The martial law regime from April 15 to May 29, 1919 was a horrid tale of atrocious dealings commandeering of transport, stopping of free distribution of food to the needy, convictions by the summary courts, imprisonment, stripes, public flogging, marching students 16 miles a day in the hot midday sun of May.

 At Gujranwala, bombs were thrown on a boarding house, machine guns were fired into villages and in the city to produce 'moral effect'. Indiscriminate arrests were made and people were subjected to humiliation, flogging and many indignities. The gruesome tale was repeated at numerous other places.

The Hunter Commission

On October 14, 1919, the Disorders Inquiry Committee was formed to inquire about the massacre. It later came to be known as the Hunter Commission. The Hunter Commission was directed to announce their verdict on the justifiability, or otherwise, of the steps taken by the government. All the British officials involved in the administration during the disturbances in Amritsar were interrogated including General Dyer and Mr Irving.

 General Dyer's actions on the day of the Massacre received a prompt acknowledgement from Sir Michael O' Dwyer who at once wired to him: "Your action correct. Lieutenant-Governor approves." Both Dyer and Dwyer faced violent criticism from various newspapers who gave their own accounts of the brutal massacre.

The evidence General Dyer presented before the Hunter Committee stood as a confession of the brutal act he committed. The Committee indicated the massacre as one of the darkest episodes of the British Administration. The Hunter Commission in 1920 censured Dyer for his actions. The Commander-in-Chief directed General Dyer to resign from his appointment.

O'Dwyer's Assassination

On March 13, 1940, at Caxton Hall in London, Udham Singh, an Indian freedom fighter, assassinated Michael O'Dwyer who had approved Dyer's action and was believed to have been the main planner of the massacre. O'Dwyer was shot by Udham Singh outside a Westminster venue. Singh had been at Amritsar that fateful day, and the story goes that he himself had been shot and wounded. That led to a life of activism that resulted in him fatally shooting O'Dwyer. Udham Singh was hanged for taking his revenge.

 Jallianwala Bagh was a crucial juncture in India's movement for Independence. It was a significant incident in the history of India. The Indian National Movement became a mass movement in the true sense of the word. A large number of groups belonging to different social, political and religious denominations started their struggle for the emancipation of India from British rule.

Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial

The Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Act, 1951 provided for the erection and management of a National Memorial to perpetuate and honour the memory of those killed or wounded on April 13, 1919, in Amritsar.

The Jallianwala Bagh Memorial at this site commemorates the 2,000 Indians who were killed or wounded, shot indiscriminately on April 13, 1919 while participating in a peaceful public meeting. The story of this appalling massacre is told in the Martyrs' Gallery at the site. It stands as a symbol of struggle and sacrifice and continues to instill patriotism amongst the youth. A section of wall with bullet marks still visible is preserved along with the Memorial well, in which some people jumped to escape. In March 2019, the Yaad-e-Jallian Museum was inaugurated showcasing an authentic account of the massacre.

 Multiple development initiatives have been undertaken at the complex recently. Elaborate heritage restoration works have been carried out in sync with the local architectural style of Punjab. The Shaheedi well has been repaired and restored with a redefined super structure. The heart of the Bagh, the flame monument, has been repaired and restored, the water body rejuvenated as a lily pond, and the pathways made broader for better navigability.

Four Museum galleries have been created through adaptive reuse of redundant and underutilised buildings. The galleries showcase the historical value of events that unfolded in Punjab during that period, with the fusion of audio-visual technology, including projection mapping and 3D representation, as well as art and sculptural installations. A sound and light show has been set up to display the events that happened on April 13, 1919.

Several new and modern amenities have been added, including redefined paths of movement with appropriate signages, illumination of strategic spots, landscaping and hardscaping with native plantation, and installation of audio nodes throughout the garden. Also, newer areas have been developed for housing the Salvation Ground, Amar Jyot and Flag Mast.

 The 1951 Act was amended in 2019 to make apolitical the Trust that runs Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial by removing the clause pertaining to the President of INC as a permanent member of the Trust. The Bill was also amended to include the Leader of Opposition recognised as such in Lok Sabha or when there is no such Leader of Opposition, then the Leader of the single largest Opposition Party in that House as a member of the Trust.

Jallianwala Bagh App

A dedicated mobile app commemorating 100 years of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was launched in 2019. The app hosts a picture gallery of Jallianwala Bagh and has details about the place's history. As the Vice President of India, on the 100th anniversary of the massacre in 2019, rightly said, the pain and agony continue to rankle in the hearts of every Indian to this day. He said, "History is not a mere chronicle of events. It shows us the depths to which depraved minds can plunge and cautions us to learn from the past. It also tells us that the power of evil is transient."

Compiled by EN team Source : PIB/indianculture.gov.in/