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Bloodbath on Baisakhi: The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

WAJsal

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Ninety Seven Years Ago, one of the bloodiest actions of British Rule was the calculated massacre of close to 2,000 innocent Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims at the Jallianwala Bagh. The firing was ordered by an officer of the British colonial power, General Dyer. While the official figure for lives lost was 1,526 the actual figure was reportedly much higher

Brutal: A painting of British soldiers shooting civilians in Amritsar on April 13, 1919


Jallianwala Bagh

One of the worst political crimes of the twentieth century was committed in Punjab during 1919. Popular resentment had been accumulating in Punjab since the beginning of the War (World War I), mainly due to the ruthless drive – by the British -- for recruiting soldiers and forced contribution to the war fund. Gandhiji’s call for a country-wide hartal to protest against the Black Acts received a tremendous response from Punjab on March 30 and again on April 6.

The agitated mood of the people and Hindu-Muslim solidarity demonstrated on the hartal (strike) days and on April 9 celebration of the Ramnavami festival made the Lt.Governor Michael O’Dwyer’s administration panicky.

Gandhiji’s entry into Punjab was banned: two popular leaders of Amritsar. Kitchlew and Satya Pal, were arrested. These provocations led to hartals and mass demonstrations in Lahore, Kasur, Gujranwala and Amritsar.

In Amritsar, the police firing on demonstrators provoked some of them to commit acts of violence. The next day the city was handed over to Brigadier-General Dyer. Dyer began his regime through indiscriminate arrests and ban on meeting and gatherings.

On April 13-the day of Baisakhi festival – a meeting was called in the afternoon at the Jallianwala Bagh a ground enclosed on all sides. Thousands of people, many of whom had come from surrounding villages to the fairs in Amritsar and were unaware of the ban order, gathered in the meeting.

Suddenly Dyer appeared there with troops and without any warning to the people, ordered firing on the completely peaceful and defenceless crowd. The fusillade continued till Dyer’s ammunition ran out. Atleast about a thousand people, if not more, are estimated to have been killed. This cold-blooded carnage, Dyer admitted later, was perpetrated ‘to strike into the whole of Punjab’. The massacre stunned the people and became a turning point in the history of India’s struggle for freedom.

Rabindranath Tagore’s Wrote a Strong Letter of Protest to the Viceroy, dated May 31, 1919, renouncing his Knighthood
“….The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilised governments…. The accounts of insults and sufferings undergone by our brothers in the 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 imagine as salutary lessons….the very least that I can do for my country is to take all consequences upon myself in giving voice to the protest of the millions of my countrymen, surprised into a dumb anguish of terror. The time has come when the badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part wish to stand shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen, who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer a degradation not fit for human beings….”

The Hunter Committee

The Hunter Committee was appointed by the British government. Halfway through its proceedings, the Hunter Committee had also suffered the setback of being boycotted by Indian nationalists, represented by the Congress, because of the government’s refusal to release Punjab leaders on bail.

Of the eight, the Hunter Committee had three Indian members. The conduct of the Indian members is a study in principled independence and courage.
Example of the Cross Examination of General Dyer


Brigadier Reginald Dyer was in charge of British troops and ordered the massacre in Amritsar

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘You took two armoured cars with you?’
Dyer: ‘Yes.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘Those cars had machine guns?’
Dyer: ‘Yes.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘And when you took them you meant to use the machine guns against the crowd, did you?”
Dyer: ‘If necessary. If the necessity arose, and I was attacked, or anything else like that, I presume I would have used them.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘When you arrived there you were not able to take the armoured cars in because the passage was too narrow?’
Dyer: ‘Yes.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘Supposing the passage was sufficient to allow the armoured cars to go in, would you have opened fire with the machine guns?’
Dyer: ‘I think, probably, yes.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘In that case the casualties would have been very much higher?’
Dyer: ‘Yes.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘And you did not open fire with the machine guns simply by the accident of the armoured cars not being able to get in?’
Dyer: ‘I have answered you. I have said that if they had been there the probability is that I would have opened fire with them.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘With the machine guns straight?’
Dyer: ‘With the machine guns.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘I take it that your idea in taking that action was to strike terror?’
Dyer: ‘Call it what you like. I was going to punish them. My idea from the military point of view was to make a wide impression.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘To strike terror not only in the city of Amritsar, but throughout the Punjab?’
Dyer: ‘Yes, throughout the Punjab. I wanted to reduce their morale; the morale of the rebels.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘Did it occur to you that by adopting this method of “frightfulness” –excuse the term-you were really doing a great disservice to the British Raj by driving discontent deep?’
Dyer: ‘I did not like the idea of doing it, but I also realized that it was the only means of saving life and that any reasonable man with justice in his mind would realize that I had done the right thing; it was a merciful though horrible act and they ought to be thankful to me for doing it. I thought I would be doing a jolly lot of good and they would realize that they were not to be wicked.’

This erudite exchange on the pointed killings ordered by Dyer on April 13, 1919 – the Jallianwala Bagh massacre-- took place during the hearings of the Hunter Committee. The hearings took place in Lahore on November 19, 1919. These questions were part of a detailed and rigorous cross examination of General Dyer. It was Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, a lawyer from Bharuch, Gujarat based in Bombay who had conducted this particular cross-examnation.

The bullet marks are still visible

Setalvad’s cross examination followed Lord Hunter’s and that of one more British member. Dyer had already admitted to Lord Hunter that although ‘a good many’ in the crowd might not have heard of his ban on the public meeting, he had ordered the firing at Jallianwala Bagh without giving any warning. He went further when he said before the Committee that, although he could have ‘dispersed them perhaps even without firing’. He felt it was his ‘duty to go on firing until (the crowd) dispersed’.

An eight-member committee headed by Lord William Hunter, former solicitor general in Scotland constituted the Inquiry Committee. Apart from Setalvad, then Vice Chancellor, Bombay University, two other Indians were part of the Committee. Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, Pandit Jagat Narain, Member of the Legislative Council of the Lt. Governor of U.P. and Sultan Ahmed Khan, Member for Appeals, Gwalior State.

Lord Hunter, Justice Rankin and WF Rice, Add. Secretary to the Government of India, Home Department, Major-General Sir George Barrow, Commanding the Peshawar Dn and Smith, Member of the Legislative Council of the Lt. Governor of U.P. were the members. The questioning was done, in turn, by eight members.

Following up on the admissions by Dyer to the two British members before him, Setalvad probed Dyer on the two armoured cars that he had been forced to leave out. Dyer’s callousness stood exposed: even after the firing had left almost 400 dead and many more injured, when asked by Setalvad if he had taken any measures for the relief of the wounded, Dyer replied, ‘‘No, certainly not. It was not my job. But the hospitals were open and the medical officers were there. The wounded only had to apply for help.’

All three Indian members of the Hunter Committee displayed a remarkable degree of independence faced with sharp differences with the British members. The differences arose over the recording of conclusions.

The Hunter Committee ended up giving two reports – the majority report by the five British members and the minority report by three Indian members.

Both reports indicted Dyer, in no uncertain terms. The differences were in in the degree of condemnation, in so far as Jallianwala Bagh was concerned.

The report by the British members’ report condemned the action by Dyer on two counts: that he opened fire without warning and that he went on firing after the crowd had ‘begun to disperse’. Though his intention to create a moral effect throughout Punjab was ‘a mistaken conception of duty’, the British members thought it was ‘distinctly improbable that the crowd would have dispersed without being fired on’. Even the British members of the Hunter Committee, rejected the official stand that Dyer’s action had ‘saved the situation in the Punjab and averted a rebellion on a scale similar to the (1857) mutiny’.

The minority report, drafted by Chimanlal Setalvad, on behalf of all the Indian members was not only more severe in general. It specifically condemned Dyer for ‘suggesting that he would have made use of machine guns if they could have been brought into action.’ Members expressed strong anguish at the fact that even after the crowd had begun to disperse, Dyer had continued the firing ‘until his ammunition was spent.’

Citing Dyer’s own admission in cross examination, the Indians disagreed with the opinion expressed by the British members of the Committee that the crowd was unlikely to have dispersed without the firing. In conclusion, the Indian members of the Hunter Committee described Dyer’s conduct ‘as inhuman and un-British and as having caused great disservice to British rule in India’.

Faced with both reports, the then Viceroy of India, Chelmsford conceded that Dyer ‘acted beyond the necessity of the case, beyond what any reasonable man could have thought to be necessary, and that he did not act with as much humanity as the case permitted’. Dyer had no option but to resign and return to England in disgrace.

Apologists for the Raj in Britain however, bought into Dyer’s claim that it was this bloody firing by Dyer that had saved the Raj in India. This not only reduced the punishment meted out to Dyer, he was also treated as some sort of a hero on his return. In fact, the inquiry itself could only be instituted only after in indemnity law had been passed protecting Dyer and other recalcitrant officers from criminal liability.

Setalvad had been knighted by the British monarch, just a few months before the Jallianwala Bagh inquiry. He was then vice-chancellor of Bombay University. In his memoirs published in 1946,Recollections and Reflections, Setalvad disclosed that within the British and Indian members of the Hunter Committee had developed ‘a sharp cleavage of opinion’.

(Large portions of this article have relied upon excerpts from the autobiography of Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, Recollections and Reflections; Sir Chimanlal Setalvad was the great grandfather of Teesta Setalvad )
Bloodbath on Baisakhi: The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, April 13, 1919 | SabrangIndia

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Stephen Cohen

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The massacres AFTER 1857 were much more terrible

Millions died after 1857 rebellion was crushed

Jalianawala bagh is known and documented but 1857 has been forgotten
 

niaz

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The massacres AFTER 1857 were much more terrible

Millions died after 1857 rebellion was crushed

Jalianawala bagh is known and documented but 1857 has been forgotten

I beg to strongly disagree. In case of 1857 War of Freedom (When I was in school, most of the text books were still from the colonial times and it was known as “1857 Mutiny” or Sepoy Rebellion”) the events were triggered by the disgruntled soldiers, who could fight back and there were many pitched battles. In some cities the English employees of East India Company; including women & children and those not directly involved in fighting; were targeted by the mutineers and killed. Events at the Kanpur where the English were killed after being given safe passage by Nana Sahib were horrifying. This made the attacking British soldiers equally savage.

Let us also not forget that one of the main reasons of the defeat of the insurrection was that with the exception of a minor uprising in Sialkot, Punjab was largely quite under the Sir John Lawrence. In fact many Sikhs and Pushtun soldiers along with the Gurkhas were actually fighting for the British at the siege of Delhi.

Jallianwalla Bagh incident on the other hand was outright massacre. In April 1919 Col Dyer ordered Baluch & Gurkha troops to open fire on the civilians who were gathered at the gardens mainly to celebrate the Baisakhi.

I have great respect for all the Shaheeds of 1857, but honestly the two events are not comparable.
 

untitled

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Brutal: A painting of British soldiers shooting civilians in Amritsar on April 13, 1919
Calling the soldiers British is actually wrong here. The shooting itself was carried out by Indian (Nepalese) soldiers. But that does not change the fact that the orders were given by a British Brigadier.

A scene from the movie Gandhi

 
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Indus Pakistan

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Ninety Seven Years Ago
I have condition that disposes me to look at things differantly. You know those dot matrix tests. Well when I did it I saw flying hippos where others saw elephants. Or saw flowers where others saw guns. Probably wired wrongly. But that is how I am.

Jallianwala Bagh
I see this event as one small price to pay for the gift that the British endowed to Nehru in 1947 called "India". No British. No India. That simple.

Gen. Dyer
There have been far worse tyrants and bloodthirsty generals in South Asia then Dyer ever could dream of. What made him special was that he was British and at least faced some accounting.

1857 War of Freedom
Perspectives. Perspectives. Perspectives. Looking at it from the vantage point of ancestors of most Pakistani's living in 1850s this so called "War of Freedom" was anything but for freedom. Sindh and Punjab had been defeated in 1849 thus lost it's freedom. Many of the soldiers who helped to defeat Punjab and Sindh (modern day Pakistan) were from United Provinces and 1847 mutiny was chance for retribution. Thus they were served just deserts. The British in conjunction with Punjabi (Sikh/Muslim) and Pashtun soldiers got a chance of revenge at those who had helped the British to enslave them only 8 years earlier. Therefore I would call the 1847 event as "War of Retribution".

This is underscored by the fact that Punjab, Frontier, Sindh on the Indus valley (what is now Pakistan) remained mostly calm whereas Ganges valley burned.
 
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AZADPAKISTAN2009

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I think the past is part of the past and it is time to look forward to present and future

Because we can't single out 1 point in time and stay stuck in 1857 for ever

British amended their approach left region and began a process of healing , that has lasted for good 60-70 years. Post independence , and the time has arrived we start to judge our performance since 1947 and ask what have we done with the freedom we got since 1947

What have we improved since independence

Railways
Education system
Judiciary Availability and Speed of Justice
Police etc
Does water flows 24 hours a day or at least 17 hours a day
Is electricity available

That is the real burning question


The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre still happens , in form of Terrorism , Criminal acts , Mafia running wild , Corrupt police , accidents on road due to neglect but by end of the year the totals add up quite well

While the 1857 incident was a big incident however the 2 World wars is what really changed course of Sub continent

I think even if the original 1857 insurgency (freedom fight , Mutiny etc) was successful the British would have just came back with resupplies with their NAVY and then bigger guns to curb any temporary government that would have come to power

1919 , incident happened in around first world war , and things would have been quite tense just around end of first world war

Still surprising the man in charge was asked to defend his decision to a committee assigned by
and his view was purely to show , an act of power so people would obey

Obviously wrong in his assumption this man when he opened fire on civilians

But as another person stated other folks may have done far more worse in regional wars and conquests and it is part of history.


**I personally was not aware of this incident books I studied did not have this incident listed it was wiped out, Modern Pakistani books cover history rather in haste between 1857 , and 1940 periods. No wonder when grades come back hardly any one gets over a certain "Mark" as the teacher knows there is substantial material missing in answer
 
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Levina

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While the official figure for lives lost was 1,526 the actual figure was reportedly much higher
Days when Indians were killed like roaches...
Have we received an apology? No, not yet.
Back then the Hunter Commission did not impose any penal or disciplinary action on Dyer because of politico-legal limitations.
Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘You took two armoured cars with you?’
Dyer: ‘Yes.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘Those cars had machine guns?’
Dyer: ‘Yes.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘And when you took them you meant to use the machine guns against the crowd, did you?”
Dyer: ‘If necessary. If the necessity arose, and I was attacked, or anything else like that, I presume I would have used them.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘When you arrived there you were not able to take the armoured cars in because the passage was too narrow?’
Dyer: ‘Yes.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘Supposing the passage was sufficient to allow the armoured cars to go in, would you have opened fire with the machine guns?’
Dyer: ‘I think, probably, yes.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘In that case the casualties would have been very much higher?’
Dyer: ‘Yes.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘And you did not open fire with the machine guns simply by the accident of the armoured cars not being able to get in?’
Dyer: ‘I have answered you. I have said that if they had been there the probability is that I would have opened fire with them.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘With the machine guns straight?’
Dyer: ‘With the machine guns.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘I take it that your idea in taking that action was to strike terror?’
Dyer: ‘Call it what you like. I was going to punish them. My idea from the military point of view was to make a wide impression.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘To strike terror not only in the city of Amritsar, but throughout the Punjab?’
Dyer: ‘Yes, throughout the Punjab. I wanted to reduce their morale; the morale of the rebels.’

Chimanlal Setalvad: ‘Did it occur to you that by adopting this method of “frightfulness” –excuse the term-you were really doing a great disservice to the British Raj by driving discontent deep?’
Dyer: ‘I did not like the idea of doing it, but I also realized that it was the only means of saving life and that any reasonable man with justice in his mind would realize that I had done the right thing; it was a merciful though horrible act and they ought to be thankful to me for doing it. I thought I would be doing a jolly lot of good and they would realize that they were not to be wicked.’
The interview is full of remorseless responses from Dyer. If anything, Dyer was a psychopath who imagined the people gathered at jallianwala bagh as rebels. Who else fires at small children and women?
What surprises me is, most of the time Michael O’Dwyer’s name is given a miss in such articles, despite the fact that he was the man who planned Jallianwala bagh. Dyer merely executed it.
 

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