The date 13th April, a date which is fondly celebrated in Punjab as Baisakhi, is marked as a black day in the Indian History. None of us is unacquainted about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It took place on 13th of April 1919, thus completing a century this year. General Dyer controlled troops fired mercilessly on the innocent people who had gathered there for celebrating Baisakhi. Mass murder of innocents can never be justified. The people were brutally murdered for no reason. Although the assassins met their fates but the souls lost will never return.
Today let us remember the innocent people who laid down their lives and look into what actually happened on that day.
History of the Jallianwala Bagh
The Rowlatt Act
Back then, the Britishers faced a major resistance from the people in states of Punjab and Bengal. Both the cities were centers of anti-colonial activities led by Indian Nationalists. On 10th March 1919, the Imperial Legislative Council passed the Rowlatt Act. Under this act, the British Government could jail the Indians suspected of plotting against the former. The punished nationalists could be jailed without any trial. Once held as suspects, the Indian Nationalists would be jailed for a time period lasting for as long as two years.
The act was an extension to the 1915 Defence of India Act. Under this act, the British Government gained special powers to deal with the revolutionary threats during World War 1(1914-1918) especially in Punjab. The suspects, according to the Britishers, had no power to appeal. A special tribunal was setup to deal with them.
On close observation, we can decipher that the Rowlatt Act was based on similar guidelines as followed by the Defence of India Act.
The Defence of India Act had to be put to an end, as it was a war time measure. The expectations of the Indians, who thought the end of the World War 1 would end the emergency measures taken up by the Britishers, were shattered. This led to an unrest among the Indians. So, to curb the civilian unrest, Rowlatt Act was introduced.
Obviously, this act faced resistance from the Indians, especially in Punjab.
Gandhiji, in early April, decided to go on a one-day general strike, post the introduction of the Rowlatt Act. The news that prominent Indian leaders, Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, were arrested and banished from Amritsar led to violent protests by the citizens. Soldiers fired upon the civilians on 10th of April 1919. As a consequence of this, buildings were looted and burnt. The angry civilians reverted back by killing many Britishers.
Martial Law, whereby the military takes control, was imposed on the citizens of Punjab by the Britishers. Not more than 4 people were allowed to gather at a place in the religious city.
As a measure to restore order, Gen. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer was brought into the picture. The troops led by him decided to ban public gatherings as a measure.
On 13th of April, around 10,000 unarmed innocent people gathered in Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate Baisakhi. People from all walks of life, right from children to the elderly, men and women
With very few and narrow entrances (5), many locked, the Bagh was surrounded by buildings from all the sides. Its area spans from 6 to 7 acres of land and the walls surrounding it were`10 feet high. A well, partly filled with water, and a samadhi comprised the central portion of the Bagh.
Since Amritsar is the holiest city for the Sikhs, a large number of people from the neighboring cities had come to celebrate Baisakhi. They came to witness the horse and cattle fair set up annually to celebrate Baisakhi.
On the afternoon of 13th April, Gen Dyer along with his armed troops, 90 men in total, opened fire on the crowd without any prior warning. The only exit was blocked thereby reducing the possibility of escape to zero. The troops shot around 1650 rounds until the last bullet finished. Dyer ordered his troops to target the more crowded areas. An exact figure of the number of deaths is not known.
While many died because of the bullets, some died due to the stampede. Many people jumped in the well, to escape death, but died due to suffocation. It is reported that 120 bodies were later removed from the well. Since the only exit was blocked nobody could escape the clutches of death. Out of the thousands that gathered only 40 survived.
The bloodshed done by Dyer, ‘Butcher of Amritsar’, was lauded by the British Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer. Both didn’t take much time to meet their fates. While Michael O’Dwyer was assassinated by Udham Singh on 13th March 1940. General Dyer died in 1927 after suffering a series of heart strokes.
Rabindranath Tagore gave up his British knighthood, as an act of protest.
Secretary of War, Winston Churchill, condemned the act by calling it monstrous in a speech at House of Commons on 8th of July 2020. Churchill was supported by Former Prime Minister of UK H.H Asquith as well.
For assassinating Michael O’Dwyer, Udham Singh was hanged on 31st July 1940.
Post this event, the freedom struggle gained momentum with Gandhiji coming on front foot to fight against the Britishers.
Finally, in 1947, India gained independence but, the heinous crime is condemned till date by people all over the World and is a black mark on the Britishers.