Jallianwala Bagh (bagh, “garden”), close to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, is a site of one of the most barbaric massacres in world history. An incident which took thousands of life & left many people wounded is now a memorial wherein several structures like the Amar Jyoti, Martyrs’ Well, portico pillars representing the British soldiers, bullet-marked walls and statues of nationalist leaders have been preserved. It was April 13th, 1919, when around 10,000 or more people gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh; despite a ban on any sort of public assemblies to protest against the British, the crowd also constituted the pilgrims who assembled to celebrate Baisakhi.
Suddenly, with no warning, General Dyer opened fire upon the gathering. For around 10 to 15 minutes, 1,650 rounds were fired into the terrified crowd, some of whom were crushed by those desperately trying to escape. This article will discuss the horrifying massacre of Jallianwala Bagh, its causes & aftermath, alongside remembering the martyrs.
But before going ahead, you must read this bone-chilling poem, “Khooni Vaisakhi”, by the Jallianwala Bagh's survivor, "Nanak Singh”.
“At Dyer’s command, those Gurkha troops
Gathered in a formation tight, my friends.
Under the tyrant’s orders, they opened fire
Straight into innocent hearts, my friends.
And fire and fire and fire they did
Some thousands of bullets were shot, my friends.
Like searing hail they felled our youth
A tempest not seen before, my friends.
Riddled chests and bodies slid to the ground
Each one a target large, my friends.
Haunting cries for help did rend the sky
Smoke rose from smouldering guns, my friends.
Just a sip of water was all they sought
Valiant youth lay dying in the dust, my friends.”
What was Jallianwala Bagh Massacre?
On 13th April 1919, people assembled at Jallianwala Bagh to protest against the detention of the 2 nationalist leaders, Satya Pal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew. All of a sudden, a British military officer, Brigadier General Dyer, entered the park with his troops & without any warning, he commanded his troops to fire at the unarmed crowd for 10- 15 minutes. They left after their ammunition got exhausted. According to congress estimates, about a thousand persons were killed & about 2000 wounded.
The massacre had been a deliberate act, and Dyer declared with pride that he would shoot down every man in the meeting. He visited England, and some Englishmen collected money to honour him. Even a British newspaper called it one of the most deadly massacres in modern history. However, those who criticized his actions included Winston Churchill & former Prime Minister H.H Asquith. The government then set up the Hunter Commission to investigate the massacre and the commission criticized Dyer’s act but did not take any disciplinary action against him.
As a consequence, he was relieved of his duties in the army in 1920. As a protest against the massacre, Rabindranath Tagore surrendered his knighthood and Gandhiji relinquished his title ‘Kaiser-e-hind’ bestowed on him by the Britishers for his services in the Boer War in South Africa.
On 13th March 1940, Udham Singh, an Indian revolutionary shot Michael O’ Dwyer killing him ultimately, who was the then Lt. Governor of Punjab during the Jalliawala Bagh incident as he supported the actions of General Dyer for the massacre. (Lord Chelmsford was India’s Viceroy at the time). This incident outraged the government, which replied with further brutalities. Discussing the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Rowlatt Act is considered the prime reason for the bloody massacre.
Cause of Jallianwala Bagh massacre
The British government passed the Rowlatt Act to enhance its grip on power over the general public. The Imperial Legislative Council passed this law in March 1919, which empowered them to arrest any person without any trial. Gandhi and the other leaders to abolish this Act began a Hartal (suspension of work) to show Indians’ objection, known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha. After the Rowlatt Act, Punjab came under martial law, meaning that it became unlawful for more than 4 people to gather at any site. Here are a few facts about the Rowlatt Act:
What was the Rowlatt Act?
This Act was officially known as the 'Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919'.
It empowered the British government to detain or arrest anybody suspected of terrorist activities and detain such persons for up to 2 years without trial
It also allowed the police to search for a place without a warrant & placed serious restrictions on the freedom of the press.
The act was passed according to the Rowlatt Committee's recommendations chaired by a judge, Sir Sidney Rowlatt, thus, the act was named after him.
Indian leaders and the public highly criticized the act. And the bills were called as ‘black bills’.
However, the act was passed despite unanimous opposition from the Council's Indian members, who resigned in protest, like Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Madan Mohan Malviya etc.
Gandhiji protested via nationwide ‘Hartal’ on 6th April, known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
Gandhiji then cancelled the movement when it was ruined by rioting in some provinces, especially in Punjab.
The British were also scared of a Ghadarite revolution in Punjab & the rest of the country.
Two popular Congress leaders, Satya Pal & Saifuddin Kitchlew, were arrested.
As soon as the act came to effect and after the arrest of two popular Congress leaders, the situation led to the gathering at the Jallianwala Bagh site and then the massacre.
Who ordered the Jallianwala Bagh massacre?
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which took place on 13 April 1919, was ordered by General Dyer, who blocked the only entrance to Jallianwala Bagh and ordered his troops to open fire on the unarmed civilians resulting in one of the bloodiest massacres.
Unknown facts on Jallianwala Bagh massacre
Only one gate for entry and exit- Jallianwala Bagh was an empty ground with houses constructed around it with their back walls facing the area which was closed on three sides. Apart from the main entrance, there was no way out for the escape.
Imposition of Martial law in Punjab- On April 9th, cops arrested famous leaders of Amritsar, Dr. Satyapal and Saifuddin. A protest was held on April 10th to release the said two leaders, and some protesters were killed due to police firing. As the situation worsened, the government imposed martial law in Punjab & handed over the responsibility of law & order to General Dyer.
People jumped into the well- Due to the firing, chaos in the garden was witnessed, and people started running to save their lives, some in a hurry jumped into the well (called the Martyr Well) in the garden. 200+ bodies were recovered from the well post-firing.
Victims of the massacre- As the firing continued for about 10-15 minutes, about 1,000 people died. Still vested with the responsibility to investigate this case, the Hunter Commission had put the death toll at 379.
Last-survivor- The last known survivor of the massacre, Shingara Singh, took his last breath in Amritsar on June 29, 2009, at the age of 113.
How many died in Jallianwala Bagh?
The consequence of Jallianwala Bagh massacre was that no official data on the number of deaths could be recorded. But on the official enquiry of the Britishers disclosed that there were 379 deaths and the Congress quoted that 1000+ people died in the massacre.
Did anyone survive the Jallianwala Bagh massacre?
Unlike the people killed that day, Nanak Singh survived the massacre. Nanak Singh was a literary giant and ‘Father of the Punjabi Novel’ who was present at the garden on 13 April 1919 at the young age of 22. He collapsed in a stampede caused by the firing and was left behind unconscious under a pile of corpses. Two of his friends attending the protest with him died. Hours after he suffered hearing damage in his left ear, he walked out of Jallianwala Bagh after arising from the pile of corpses when he regained consciousness. Nanak Singh’s long Punjabi poem, ‘Khooni Vaisakhi’, which runs for more than four thousand words, elaborates on the events in detail.