The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, also known as the Massacre of Amritsar or Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, occurred on April 13, 1919. The British army fired upon a large gathering of unarmed Indians in an open area called Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, located in the Punjab region of India. The incident resulted in the deaths of several hundred people and injuries to many hundreds more. This event was a significant turning point in India’s modern history as it left a permanent scar on India and British relations and became the precursor to Mohandas Gandhi’s complete dedication to Indian nationalism and independence from Britain.
What Happened At Jallianwala Bagh On
April 13 (1919)?
In Amritsar, the announcement of the detainment and expulsion of notable Indian leaders from the city triggered riots on April 10, during which soldiers fired on civilians, structures were pillaged and set ablaze, and irate mobs killed several foreigners and brutally assaulted a Christian evangelist. Brigadier General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer commanded a group of several dozen troops tasked with reestablishing order. One of the measures put in place was a prohibition on public gatherings.
The Jallianwala Bagh became the site of the Amritsar massacre, where on the afternoon of April 13, a crowd of approximately 10,000 people, including men, women, and children, congregated in a walled area with only one way out. It is unclear how many individuals were demonstrators defying the ban on public meetings and how many had journeyed to the city from nearby regions to celebrate Baisakhi, a spring festival. Dyer and his soldiers arrived and blocked the exit. The troops unexpectedly opened fire on the crowd, purportedly discharging hundreds of rounds until they depleted their ammunition. The number of fatalities in the carnage is uncertain, but according to one official report, roughly 379 individuals were killed, and approximately 1,200 more were wounded. After halting their gunfire, the troops immediately departed from the area, leaving behind the deceased and injured.
The shooting was followed by the imposition of martial law in the Punjab , which involved public whippings and other degrading punishments. Indian outrage intensified as word of the shooting and subsequent British actions spread throughout the subcontinent. Bengali poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore renounced the knighthood bestowed upon him in 1915. Gandhi was initially hesitant to take action, but he soon began coordinating his first extensive and continual nonviolent protest satyagraha campaign , the noncooperation movement (1920-1922), which propelled him to prominence in the Indian nationalist struggle.
Satyagraha Against Rowlatt Act And Amritsar
Several leaders, including Madan Mohan Malviya, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and Mazhar ul Haq, resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council.
The British Lieutenant governor of Punjab at that time, Michael O'Dwyer, was particularly concerned and suspected an imminent revolt.
On April 6, 1919, Satyagraha was launched against the Rowlatt Act. Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal led the protests in Amritsar, Punjab, against the Rowlatt Act, and promoted Hindu-Muslim unity among the masses. Michael O'Dwyer, aiming to quash the movement, ordered the arrest of Dr Saifuddin and Satyapal on April 9, 1919, which was executed the following day.The British Administration, armed with the Rowlatt Act, intended to eliminate the nationalist movement.
By April 13, 1919, martial law was in effect throughout Punjab, and all public gatherings and meetings were prohibited. The oppressive nature of the act created dissatisfaction among the people, and when Mahatma Gandhi called for Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act , the response was immense. The movement and protests spread throughout the country, including Punjab, where the situation was on the verge of exploding.
In Lahore, the largest city in Punjab at the time, the number of protesters was so large that it appeared as if the entire city had taken to the streets and on the occasion of Baisakhi, a significant number of individuals had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh to demonstrate against the detention of Dr Saifuddin & Dr Satyapal, who had been arrested upon their return from the Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple).
Aftermath Of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre And Who Was General Dyer?
The British Raj made every effort to restrict the dissemination of information regarding the massacre, but it quickly spread throughout the nation. This resulted in widespread protests against the British government. Within two days of the massacre, martial law was imposed on several cities including Lahore, Amritsar, Gujranwala, Gujarat, and Lyallpore. Rabindranath Tagore was deeply affected by the incident and rejected all titles bestowed upon him, including his knighthood, in protest against the British. Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi also gave up his title of 'Kaiser-e-hind' awarded by the British Raj.
Numerous British leaders, including Winston Churchill and former Prime Minister H.H Asquith, criticised the massacre in the British Parliament. However, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Michael O'Dwyer, supported Dyer's actions, believing that a rebellion was brewing against the British Raj in Punjab. O'Dwyer approved of the massacre and played a crucial role in the planning.
On March 13, 1940, Udham Singh, a freedom fighter who was present at the Bagh during the massacre and was injured, assassinated Michael O'Dwyer at the Caxton Hall in London. His actions were described in the Times newspaper as "an expression of the pent-up fury of the down-trodden Indian People." He was convicted of the assassination and hanged on July 31, 1940.
Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, a career soldier of Irish lineage, who was born in India, had served in Persia and was currently on duty in India. At the age of 55 in 1919, he was approaching the end of his career. Dyer's judgement had been previously criticised in Persia when he had taken action to expand British territory without orders. In Persia, only his poor health had prevented him from being dismissed. Later, he was transferred back to India where he was appointed as the commander of the 45th Brigade of the British Indian Army at Jalandhar.
On 12 April, Dyer assembled 400 of his soldiers and two armoured vehicles equipped with firearms. The soldiers paraded through the streets of Amritsar in a show of strength, but there was no violence. On the morning of 13 April, Dyer directed that notices be circulated throughout the city announcing an instant prohibition on all public meetings, processions, and gatherings. Furthermore, a curfew was to be enacted at 8 pm that day.
The announcement of these notices elicited cries of "The British Raj is over." Dyer also learned that riots were still ongoing in other Indian urban areas and there were rumours that his Indian troops would refuse to shoot at other Indians if ordered to do so. A more pressing concern was the rumour that a large gathering was planned that afternoon in open defiance of Dyer's orders. The brigadier-general was likely now convinced that he must demonstrate his power to show the people of Amritsar that the British had regained control of the city.
The End Of An Empire And Conclusion
The Indians were filled with indignation at the carnage. The distinguished Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was so appalled that he returned his knighthood. Even some of the pro-British rulers of the independent princely states, such as the Raja of Nabha, expressed their disapproval of Dyer's excessive use of force. The outrageous pension granted to Dyer was more shocking to many Indians than the massacre itself. It was now impossible to attribute the events to a rogue soldier who had exceeded his orders. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), the future prime minister of India, "I realised then, more than I had ever done before, how brutal and immoral imperialism was and how it had eaten into the souls of the British upper classes"
Moreover, the Hunter Committee's failure to hold anyone accountable for the unnecessary violence and acts of humiliation in Punjab in 1919 showed that the British administration had covered up the truth. Most importantly, Gandhi's non-cooperation movement was now able to draw on a much broader base of support and continued to demand 'home rule' from 1920 onwards. Indians of all social strata played a more active role in persuading Britain, by any means necessary, to grant independence, which was finally achieved in 1947. As historian S. Mansingh notes, ‘Jallianwala Bagh marked the beginning of the end of British rule in India’ .