A Tribute to Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, 1919


British Government enacted Rowlatt Act in 1919 to put curb on revolutionary activities of Indians. Sir Sidney Rowlatt was its president and Sir C.V kamarswami Sastry, judge by profession, was one of the committee members. Since its inception people slammed it with devilish incarnation and to register resentment against it Mahatma Gandhi started Satyagraha. The agitation dragged large number of people in its ambit. The act which had not been put into practice, kept the peace of each part of country at stake. Especially Punjab’s state of affairs was in doldrums. Mahatma Gandhi who had kept vigilant vision over all occurrences, found something fishy in Punjab he decided to pay a visit to strife torn place. Sir Michael O’ Dwyer, being the officiating head of the state prohibited the entry of Mahatma Gandhi in Amritsar. As he believed the presence of Gandhi might instigate the locals to take stringent actions in ongoing strike against draconian act. Sensing trouble in city General O’ Dwyer arrested two leading personalities of Amritsar. Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal were the organizer of strike and public following them. They were indirectly incarcerated, first General O’ Dwyer sent them “invite” for meeting when they turned up for the same, General arrested and deported them to Dharmashala. Both the leaders worshipped by local population. Their arrest story by betrayal stratagem spread like wild fire in city which drew every citizen on road to stage protest. Irving and O’Dwyer were in charge officer so they wanted to quell the rebellion. The ban on Gandhi and arrest of leaders baffled the locals; they began demonstration to release their leaders. Irving and O’Dwyer became more senile when they saw exemplary brotherhood between Hindu and Muslim during the time of Ram Naumi and in present protest. They wanted to divide the local population on the name of religion. On pretext of maintaining law and order situation in city they desired to satiate their hunger for revenge. The citizens collectively marched towards residence of Deputy Commissioner for making request to quit their leaders. Their protest was peaceful but at Railway Bridge picket fired at them that resulting death of many civilians. Irving and O’Dwyer rescued many Europeans and shifted them to a safer place as they had intuition that the massive crowd might attack them in response of day to day violent encounter.  In open confrontation few bank and hospital employees had been rescued but it was more unfortunate that Marcella Sherwood and five European killed by unidentified mob. The shops were looted and missionaries ransacked. The English Government which looked Indians is the lowest of the lowest, felt humiliation on their countrymen demise and ongoing strike. Eruption in violence provoked British Administration to teach a lesson to natives, So the government has appointed General Dyer as an emissary in Punjab to manage the strike. As he took the charge the first order he made public was banning on any sort of gathering or assembly. Despite imposed restrictions on 13th April, people began to gather in Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate Baisakhi festival or certain speculations were circulating in air that a meeting will be held for organizing hartals in connection with Rowlatt act on the name of Baisakhi. Before a day it was skeptical that occasion would not be celebrated with gaiety and religious fervor but hustle and bustle in Bagh gave the festive look. Moreover the entrants had least idea of tension brewing in city. On that day 1000 people were thronged in the Bagh. General Dyer had kept eagle eyes on all the developments and was prepared to pounce on his prey at any moment. As he saw small ferment in Bagh he intruded there by narrow lane led to Bagh. He came there with a picket of fifty Army Platoons comprising of twenty five Gorkhas and twenty five of Balochis. As he entered he sealed the only exit of Bagh. Without warning he ordered his picket to take position and fire on unarmed innocent civilians. The sound of guns and cries of crowd rent the air. Few people jumped over the wall, many dived into well, women bravely faced bullets while looking for their children, some old people took shelter under erected podium and many laid down on ground to avoid the volley of bullets. The barbarity of General continued for consecutive ten minutes. After ten minutes when firing was ceased the appearance of Bagh was giving the glimpses of holocaust. Human blood was sprawling on the ground, human bodies strewn upon everywhere.  One eye witness Lala Girdhari Lal described the death play in these words. “I saw hundreds of person killed on the spot, the dead bodies of grown up people and young boys were littered here and there in blood drenched clothes. Some had their heads cut down, others had their eyes shot, and nose, chest, arms or legs shattered”. General Dyer committed heinous crime and left the Bagh hurriedly amidst cries and moaning of wounded. The inferno did not end here when few survivor muttered strength and tried to seek medical aids in hospital, Dr. Smith escaped them by abusing with a word ‘Rabid Dogs. Dr. Smith’s callous behaviour added insult to injury. The insensitiveness of Smith reduced Indians mere a diseased animal. This massacre not only killed mortal bodies but it left an indelible mark over human psyche. The emergency stunned everyone but the survivors were petrified in such a way that they preferred to stay inside the homes, some ran away and few banished from the city forever. After this mayhem General Dyer imposed martial law and turned the city in Garrison. Placed pickets each nook and corner of town he restricted the movement of civilians. Driven crazy, he permitted only five mourners with the funeral possessions. Above all he passed many decrees to demeaning local population like crawling, police would make anyone crawl especially the area where Sherwood was attacked. Salaaming order, the locals had to show reverence to any European by bowing down, anybody can get flogging, rub nose in dirt, threats, deporting, sending jail with no valid reasons and many more punishment he devised to hurt the civilians. These unnatural punishments created deep furrow between Indian and English government. His repressive modes not only affected the men but women were too bore the brunt of his whims. Sarojini Naidu, freedom fighter, in London on 3 June lambasted the british rule for showing their prejudices towards Indian women “his minion, his martial authorities rent the veil from the faces of the women’s in Punjab”  in fact General Dyer had converted Amritsar into concentration camp. He revealed while doing so he made aware people that if in future had they attempt to consider mutiny as option they would have dealt with iron hands. Under the bloodbath Amirtsar was shattered everyone tried to cope with an unending trauma. Local population, nearby residents searched the dead bodies of their near ones and they witnessed of foul smell emitted from rotten human bodies. During lull stint Pt. Moti Lala Nehru visited the place and found dead bodies still floating in the well. This statement of him again put question mark over the government’s veracity. After this, Jallianwala Bagh was sealed and prohibited to pay any visit. Indian leaders put pressure on Government for taking action against Dyer. Their talks remained unheard but they intensified their demand and government conceded on their claim. British Administration ordered General Dyer to prepare a report on massacre and submit.  In complaisance to the order General Dyer appeared before the House of Commons and pleaded his case. He said with proudly “People were guilty they had violated the law and they deserved punishment”. Dyer felt no atonement for killing innocents and stuck to his diplomacy. On his reply the House of Commons had been decided his fate. Sir Winston Churchill, secretary of state of war, announced his sentence “he was to be retired on half pay with no prospects of future employment”. Sir Churchill not only passed the jury’s verdict on his crime but he himself disapproved his disgraceful action against innocent people.  General O’Dwyer and General Dyer’s action worked like catalyst and nationalist leaders coerced British Government for making India free and demanded Puran Swaraj. So to bring the civilians on the right track Britishers army made a conspiracy to crush the tumult. Killing and assaulting were pre-planned. By committing massacre he retaliate the actions of Indians and also suppressed Satyagragha. Moreover after Jallianwala Bagh turmoil the Rowlatt act was withdrawn and never implemented. Having seen mass killing of citizens Mahatma Gandhi appealed people not retreat to violent ways and took back Satyagragha. In place of Satyagragha he started Non- Cooperation movement. The outbreak of violence persuaded Mahatma Gandhi to return his medal to Government which was conferred to him. Similarly Rabindranath Tagore, famous English poet discarded his title of knighthood as mark of respect to Jallianwala Bagh’s Martrys. After facing trail, Dyer stripped off all the honour whatever he earned during his tenure, fell sick and met his end on 23rd July 1927. He was given due military honour but his admirers could not erect any monument on his memory in India. Michael O’Dwyer like him faced same humiliation, shot dead by Uddam Singh, an orphan, a witness of Jallianwala Bagh tragedy at Caxton Hall in London. People felt such aversion to these men that no one said a single line on their demise whereas Uddam Singh hailed by all. The tragedy of Jallianwala, a man made catastrophic, it could be averted if then General took decision wisely. The carnage occurred in 1919, that time it was proved a turning point in history of Indian revolution. People’s conscious woke and they became unite. They also adopted a resolution that India should have home rule not despotic tyranny. Although 104 years have been passed yet British monarchy did not release any official condemnation on this genocide. Queen Elizabeth II once visited Bagh in 1997 and showed solidarity to Martyrs but it was just lip-sympathy and left the place without offering any apology. Every year on Baisakhi eve people come here and bow down before the memorial of Martyrs. In 1920 a trust was formed to build a stupa in honour of people who laid their lives. This memorial completed in 1960 and inaugurated on 13th April 1961 by the president of India in presence of others leaders. This year too on 13th April Baisakhi people will assemble there and commemorate their Martyrs.  To pay tribute to Jallianwala’s martyrs Sarojini Naidu composed few lines: How shall our love console thee, or assuage. The sacred rivers of thy stricken blood. Shall prove the five-fold stream of freedom’s flood. To guard the watch-towers of our Liberty”.


Dr. Geeta Lakhotra

Assistant professor in English and NSS.PO.