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Jalianwala Bagh Massacre (1919)

The Amritsar massacre also known as Jalinawala Bagh Massacre. Where the British Indian army opened fire on gathering who gathered in Jalinawala Bagh for Bisakhi festival. According to official source 379 people were killed but according to private source number was much higher.

In 1919 after the Rowlett Act, Indian National Congress started mass movement across the sub-continent. The peaceful political demonstration in Amritsar quickly transformed into violence. A crowd that had been proceeding towards the residence of the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, to demand the release of two popular leaders against whom deportation orders had been issued was fired upon by a military picket. Several banks, government and private property were set on fire. Some foreigners were killed, railway lines were cut, and telegraph and post were destroyed. Then British governor of Punjab Sir Michael O’Dwyer declared martial law in Punjab and instructions were given ”no gathering of person, nor procession of any sort will be allowed”.

On 13th April 1919 thousands of Indian gathered in the Jalinawala Bagh in the heart of Amritsar. The occasion was of Bisakhi, a tradition had been established to gather in Amritsar to participate in the Bisakhi festival. Those coming of the rural areas were unaware of events of Amritsar, as communications were inadequate and highly underdeveloped in Punjab. The gathering in the Bagh was violation of order.

The Bagh was bounded on all sides by brick walls and buildings and had a single narrow entrance. The British Indian army troops marched toward the bagh on vehicles. The vehicle was unable to enter the park compound due to the narrow entrance. Dyer ordered his men to open fire, and without any warning to the crowd to disperse, the troops started firing. Sixteen hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition were spent; nearly 400 people, in the conservative estimate of the authorities themselves, were killed at the spot. Since there was no exit except for the one already manned by the troops, people desperately tried to climb the walls of the bagh. Some also jumped into a well inside the compound to escape the bullets.

A plaque in the monument says that 120 bodies were plucked out of the well. The wounded could not be moved from where they had fallen, as a curfew had been declared. Dyer reported to his headquarters that he had been ‘confronted by a revolutionary army,’ and had been obliged ‘to teach a moral lesson to the Punjab.’ Dyer was called to appear before the Hunter Commission, a commission of inquiry into the massacre that was ordered to convene by Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu, in late 1919. In the storm of outrage which followed, Dyer was retired, and placed on the inactive list. “I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself.” He said he did not stop firing when the crowd began to disperse because he thought it was his duty to keep firing until the crowd dispersed, and that a little firing would do no good. He confessed he did not take any steps to attend to the wounded after the firing. “Certainly not. It was not my job.” Senior British officers applauded his suppression of ‘another Indian Mutiny. The Conservatives presented him with a jeweled sword inscribed “Savior of the Punjab.

On the other hand In India, the massacre evoked feelings of deep anguish and anger. It catalyzed the freedom movement in the Punjab against British rule and paved the way for Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement against the British in 1920. In 1920 a trust was formed to build a memorial at the site following a resolution passed by the Indian National Congress. A memorial was built on the site in 1961. The bullet holes can be seen on the walls and the well into which many people jumped and drowned attempting to save themselves from the hail of bullets is also a protected monument inside the bagh. In 1940 an Indian revolutionary, named Udham Singh, who had witnessed the events in Amritsar and was himself wounded, shot dead Sir Michael O’Dyer, believed to be the chief planner of the massacre (Dyer having died years earlier) in London. The action of Singh was generally condemned, but some, like Amrit Bazaar Patrika, had different views. The common people and revolutionary circles glorified the action of Udham Singh, and his stance in court was it was my duty, sacrificed for my motherland. HE was hanged in 1940.Jawaharlal Nehru applauded him in 1952 with following statement “I salute shahed a azam Udham Singh who had kissed the noose so that we may be free”.

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