Jallianwalla bagh massacre 13th April 1919
The cold blooded murder of over 400 unarmed people (the historian Kim Wagner, relying on new evidence puts the figure much higher) in the Jallianwalla bagh in Amritsar on 13th April 1999 is one of the darkest deeds of British colonialism. The whims, insecurities and a visceral hatred and fear of Indian rebellion led the commanding officer, Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, to block all entrances and order the men under his command to fire until they ran out of ammunition. Not content with the bloodshed from the massacre he had unleashed, Dyer humiliated and subjected many of the population of Amritsar to public floggings.
While India recoiled in horror at the massacre, his actions were wildly popular with the British in India. In Britain, even though Dyer was made to resign from the Indian army, he was not court martialled. Leading British figures lent their support to Dyer’s actions with the poet and writer Kipling saying that “he did his duty as he saw it.” A fund set up for him raised £1.15 million in today’s money.
In India the massacre proved to be a watershed. The poet laureate Tagore renounced his knighthood in disgust and politics changed forever with mass involvement. In Punjab, which had made huge sacrifices in men and materials to the war effort in which tens of thousands of Punjabi soldiers died to protect British freedoms on the Western Front, the massacre was felt as a particular slap in the face. Thousands joined in mass protests until the British finally left India in 1947.
Over 100 years have elapsed since the massacre. Yet, time and again the British government has failed to offer a formal apology. In all of this it is often forgotten that the British Raj in India was not a legitimate authority. With Indians having no say in their fate until the limited reforms of the interwar period, the Raj was run by and for the benefit of Britain. That Indian lives mattered not a jot is evident from the callous official neglect that led to up to 4 million Bengalis dying of starvation in the space of a few months in 1944.
It is high time that Britain apologised.
The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre took place on April 13, 1919, when British troops fired on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in an open space known as the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in the Punjab region (now Punjab state, India), killing several hundred people and wounding many hundreds more.
It marked a turning point in India’s modern history, in that it left a permanent scar on Indo-British relations and was the prelude to Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi’s full commitment to the cause of Indian nationalism and independence from Britain.
Although the massacre happened 100 years ago it is one of the most talked about and visited places in India by pupils and parents alike. I myself have been there at least 4 times and seen the bullet holes and the well where people dived in to avoid the gun fire. Regrettably they perished due to the fact that the well was narrow and people died from being trampled on. The water turned red with their blood – a part of the price Indian people paid under British colonialism.
Troops opened fire on thousands of people who had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh public gardens in Amritsar. Some were Indian nationalists protesting against heavy war taxes and the forced conscription of Indian soldiers.
Others were celebrating the city’s Sikh Baisakhi festival and found themselves mixed up with the demonstrators.
British colonial authorities had earlier declared martial law in the city and banned public meetings due to a rise in public demonstrations.
Brigadier General Reginald Dyer was sent to disperse the crowds at Jallianwala Bagh.
Without warning, Gen Dyer blocked the exits and ordered his troops to fire on the crowd. They stopped firing 10 minutes later when their ammunition ran out.
The death toll is disputed – an inquiry set up by the colonial authorities put the figure at 379 but Indian sources put it nearer to 1,000.
The killings were condemned by the British at the time – War Secretary Winston Churchill described them as “monstrous” in 1920.
In 2013, David Cameron became the first serving UK prime minister to pay his respects at Jallianwala Bagh public gardens.