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Jallianwala Bagh Massacre: A Turning point in the Freedom Struggle

Context: Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi has paid tribute to the martyrs of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

  • Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, also called Massacre of Amritsar, incident happened on April 13, 1919, in which British troops commanded by Gen. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer fired on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in an open space known as the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in Punjab, killing several hundred people and wounding many hundreds more.

Analysis

An overview of the political & social conditions in Amritsar and rest of India prior to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

  • Revolutionary attacks in Bengal, associated increasingly with disturbances in Punjab, were significant enough to nearly paralyse the regional administration.
  • Influenza pandemic in India between 1918 and1920 lead to millions of people losing their life.
  • A lot of soldiers were recruited forcibly (for participation in World War 1) started showing resentment.
  • Some Ghadar party members had returned to Punjab to incite armed revolution for Indian Independence. They smuggled arms into India and incited Indian troops to mutiny against the British.
  • The Rowlatt Actor Black Act which was a Draconian Act passed by the British Government which gave powers to the Police to arrest any person without any reason whatsoever.
  • The purpose of the Act was to curb the growing nationalist upsurge in the country.
  • Gandhi called upon the people to do Satyagraha against such oppressive “Act”.

The Massacre

  • On April 10, 1919, demonstrations were held across Amritsar to demand the release of two popular leaders of the Indian Independence Movement, Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, who had been earlier arrested on account of their protests against Rowlatt Act.
  • The crowd was shot at by British troops, the shooting started more violence.
  • Later in the day, several banks and other government buildings, including the Town Hall and the railway station were attacked and set on fire.
  • The violence continued to increase, and resulted in the deaths of at least 5 Europeans, including government employees and civilians.
  • By April 13, the British government had decided to place most of the Punjab under martial law.
  • The legislation placed restrictions on a number of civil liberties, including freedom of assembly, banning gatherings of more than four people
  • However, over 5,000 people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919. The date was for the Baisakhi festival which was also the Sikh new year.
  • Michael O’Dwyer (Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab) is said to have believed that this was part of an attempt to rebel against the British.
  • The British were also fearful of a Ghadarite uprising in the midst of an increasingly tensed situation in Punjab, and the British response that ended in the massacre.
  • British troops commanded by Gen. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer fired on a large crowd of unarmed Indians killing several hundred people and wounding many hundreds more.

Hunter Committee

  • After worldwide criticism an investigation committee named Hunter Committee was constituted.
  • Three Indians, Sir Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad, Pandit Jagat Narayan, Sardar Sahibzada Sultan Ahmad Khan also were made a part of the 9 members committee.
  • In the final report submitted in March 1920, the Committee unanimously condemned Dyer’s actions. 
  • However, the Hunter Committee did not impose any penal or disciplinary action against General Dyer.
  • General Dyer was named as “The Butcher of Amritsar” in the aftermath of the massacre, and was removed from command and exiled to Britain.
  • Reaction in Britain to the massacre was mixed, however.
  • Many condemned Dyer’s actions—including Sir Winston Churchill, then secretary of war, in a speech to the House of Commons in 1920—but the House of Lords praised Dyer and gave him a sword inscribed with the motto “Saviour of the Punjab.”
  • In addition, a large fund was raised by Dyer’s sympathizers and presented to him.
  • The Jallianwala Bagh site in Amritsar is now a national monument.

Outcomes

  • 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 Mahatma Gandhi’s full commitment to the cause of Indian nationalism and independence from Britain.
  • Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, as a sign of condemnation, renounced their British Knighthood and Kaiser-i-Hind medal respectively.
  • In 1922, the infamous Rowlett Act was repealed by the British.
  • Michael Francis O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab in India from 1912 until 1919, who endorsed Colonel Reginald Dyer’s action regarding the Amritsar massacre and termed it a “correct action”, was assassinated by Udham Singh in London in 1940.

Do you know?

  • The Montagu-Chelmsford Report, presented to the British Parliament in 1918, did in fact recommend limited local self-government.
  • Instead, however, the government of India passed what became known as the Rowlatt Acts in early 1919, which essentially extended the repressive wartime measures.
  • Gandhiji first conceived satyagraha in 1906 in response to a law discriminating against Asians that was passed by the British colonial government of the Transvaal in South Africa.
  • The Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 was the first Satyagraha movement led by Gandhiji in India.
  • The Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act was the first nationwide Satyagraha movement led by Gandhiji in India.

 

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