Amritsar, Exactly a century ago on this day, the soil of Jallianwala Bagh turned red.
On April 13, 1919, on the harvest festival of ‘Baisakhi’, thousands of people, in Britain-ruled India, assembled at Jallianwala Bagh to protest against the then introduced Rowlatt Act by the British government. The draconian law allowed certain political cases to be tried without juries and permitted internment of suspects without trial. It, moreover, made the restrictions imposed by the government on Indians during the First World War permanent.
After hearing about the gathering, Brigadier General R E H Dyer rushed to the park, with a battalion, which was armed with guns and ordered fire. Within 10 minutes, there was a blood bath and garden was piled with bodies. Ironically, the firing stopped not on an order but complete exhaustion of bullets.
“My son, Madan Mohan, aged about 13 years, on the 13th April, 1919 went there as usual and met his tragic end, having been shot in the head which fractured his skull, he bled and died instantaneously. I, with eight or nine others, had to search for about half an hour till I could pick up his corpse as it was mixed up with hundreds of dead bodies lying in heaps there, who met their respective ends under circumstances well known,” an eyewitness Dr Mani Mohan, wrote in a book ‘ Eyewitness at Amritsar’ as quoted by media reports.
Permanent scar: Another eyewitness, Ratan Devi narrated, “After passing through that heap, I found the dead body of my husband. The way towards it was full of blood and dead bodies…By this time, it was 8 o’clock. I stood waiting and crying, seated by the side of my dead husband. Heaps of dead bodies lay there, some on their backs and some with their faces upturned. A number of them were poor innocent children. I shall never forget the sight. I was all alone the whole night in that solitary jungle.”
Dyer stated on that evening 1,650 rounds were fired. British government gave a figure of 379 identified dead, with approximately 1,200 wounded. However, the Indian National Congress claimed that the figure had been lowered, and approximately 1,000 died.
In the aftermath of the massacre, a committee of inquiry, chaired by Lord Hunter, was established to investigate and it criticised Dyer and said, “it was a grave error by the Colonel.”
Dyer, was asked to resign by the Commander-in-Chief in India, General Sir Charles Monro and ordered that he would not be re-employed.
British journalist, Rudyard Kipling, was alleged to have started a benefit fund which raised over £ 26,000 sterling, including £50 contributed by Kipling himself for Dyer.
Winston Churchill, at the time Britain’s Secretary of State for War, during a debate in the House of Commons called the massacre ‘an episode without precedent or parallel in the modern history of the British Empire… an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation… the crowd was neither armed nor attacking.
Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, expressing his grief, wrote “The accounts of the insults and suffering by our brothers in Punjab have trickled through the gagged silence, reaching every corner of India, and the universal agony of indignation roused in the hearts of our people has been ignored by our rulers—possibly congratulating themselves for what they imagined as salutary lessons.”
After the massacre, Mahatma Gandhi, who had supported Britain in the First World War, stood firmly against the British rule and demanded “complete Independence”. A nation-wide hartal was organized against the horrific act.
Dyer didn’t die a natural death. On March 13, 1940, Udham Singh, a freedom fighter, shot Dyer when he was in Caxton hall in London to participate in a conference.Udham did not flee from the spot and was immediately arrested.
Aftermath: During his trial, Udham gave his name as Mohammad Singh Azad, which was tattooed on his arm, as a symbol that all religions in India were united in their opposition against British rule. Convicted and sentenced to death, Singh was hanged on July 31, 1940 at London’s Pentonville Prison and buried within the prison grounds.
In 1974, Singh’s remains were exhumed and repatriated to India before being cremated at his birthplace, Sunam village in Punjab. His ashes were then scattered in the Satluj river, the same river in which the ashes of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev had been scattered.
Time and again, India has demanded an “apology” from the British government for the horrendous act.
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1997 visited a memorial in Amritsar, erected in remembrance for Jallianwala Bagh massacre.He reportedly questioned the number of deaths.
Then Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, just before Prince Philip’s visit, told a group of intellectuals in Cairo that Britain was a “third-rate power”.
In 2013, former Britain Prime Minister David Cameron said that the massacre was a “deeply shameful event in British history” and “we must never forget what happened here”.
Earlier, this week, British Prime Minister Theresa May, in the House of Commons said, “We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused.”
The statement was supported by her party and even from the opposition.At this moment of grief, when 100 years have passed, all the three south Asian countries,India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which were once united in British India, have demanded an ‘apology’ for the massacre.
It is still missing.