Jallianwala Bagh: British Empire's Dark Day

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On a Sunday evening, on 13th April 1919, at a place not far from the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a tragic event unfolded that sent shockwaves across India and Britain. This was the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

A painting depicting the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
A painting depicting the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

This merciless act by a British army officer left hundreds Indians dead and more than a thousand injured, when soldiers opened fire at a peaceful gathering at the Jallianwala Bagh on the occasion of Baisakhi.

Aftermath of Jallianwala Bagh
Aftermath of Jallianwala Bagh

For 10 minutes, soldiers ordered by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer fired 1,650 bullets at the men, women and children gathered in the open ground, till they ran out of ammunition. A British newspaper, the Star, called it the “darkest stain on British Rule in India”.

General Reginald Dyer
General Reginald Dyer

Resentment against the British had been growing. The Partition of Bengal in 1905 had given rise to a group of violent #revolutionaries in #India, and India’s participation in #WWI on behalf of Britain had left 70,000 Indians dead.

Indian Soldiers During World War I
Indian Soldiers During World War I

Then, in 1919, the colonial government passed the Rowlatt Act, which took away the civil liberties of Indians, who could now be arrested and jailed without a trial. It was meant to increase the government’s control over political protestors.

Local People in Punjab Being Made To Crawl On Their Bellies By The British As part of Martial Law
Local People in Punjab Being Made To Crawl On Their Bellies By The British As part of Martial Law

As protests erupted, Punjab came to a tipping point, where taxes had been raised and prices of foodgrains skyrocketed. Amritsar's businessmen called for a strike in early April 1919.

Two Congress leaders from Amritsar, Dr Satyapal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew, were arrested on 10th April. This enraged the public and there were flare-ups between the public and the police.

Dr Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew
Dr Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew

In defiance of a ban on public gatherings, people peacefully gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh on 13th April, which is when Dyer ordered the massacre of unarmed Indians.

Michael O'Dwyer
Michael O'Dwyer

An enquiry commission was set up but it was no more than a sham. Reginald Dyer returned to England, where he died in 1927. Thirteen years later, an Indian revolutionary named Udham Singh killed Michael O' Dwyer, Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab when the massacre took place.

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