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Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar

Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar

Jallianwala Bagh, located on the Golden Temple Road in Amritsar, is an important landmark of our national struggle for independence. On one hand, it is a symbol of British brutality that was unleashed on our people as they were fighting for self rule; on the other, this 6.5 acre of land showed to the world that no amount of viciousness could subjugate the just aspiration of a nation. In fact, this public garden played the role of a catalyst in our fight against British imperialism. 

A Prelude of Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar

Initially, the land where the garden stands today belonged to the family of Sardar Himmat Singh, a nobleman in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh ji. They had a garden house built here. As they originally belonged to a village called Jalla, which now falls under the district of Fatehgarh Sahib and was collectively known as Jallhevale or simply Jallhe or Jalle, the garden began to be known as Jallianwala Bagh. However, with passage of time, it lay unused.  

India in 1919

Politically India was a little volatile in the first half of twentieth century. A non-violent movement, Saheed Bhagat Singhwhich called for self-rule for the Indians, was gaining ground across the country. In addition, the political condition of Punjab and Bengal was unstable. Different underground groups resorted to arm revolutions to dislodge the British administration. 

On the other end, the British administration was determined to keep their hold on the country, which they knew to be the foundation of their economic prosperity.  Ever since the 1st War of Independence in 1857, they had become a little paranoid and lived in constant fear of mutiny.  On March 21, 1919, the British administration passed the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, 1919. It was popularly known as the Rowlatt Act. Its aim was to curtail all political rights of the natives and to contain every kind of upheaval.

In addition, some of the British officers were of the opinion that the natives should be doubted even when their acts were superficially innocent and even a small upheaval should be brutally crushed so as to send a warning to the public at large.  Sir Michael Francis O'Dwyer, the then Governor of Punjab and Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer of British General Reginald Dyerarmy belonged to this group.

Amritsar in 1919

As we have already said, Punjab has always been in the forefront of armed struggle against British occupation. Here the situation was deteriorating rapidly for the British Raj.  Protests against the Rowlett Act began to intensify. There was disruption in rail, telegraph as well as other communication system. Many British officers took these to be sign of another revolt.

Jallianwala Bagh in 1919

Jallanwala Bagh in 1919
Source: Wikipedia

In 1919, the bagh was an unoccupied piece of land, measuring about 6.5 acres. It was then quadrangular in shape with walls all around it. There were five gates in all. However, four of them were so narrow that only a few people could pass through them at a time. The main entrance was however, a little wider. The garden house was no more. Only a well stood in the middle of it as a reminder of its golden days. The park had houses on all sides.

10th April in Amritsar

On 10th April, Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchew, two popular leaders of this region were arrested for their non-violent movement against the Rowlatt Act and sent to Dharamshala secretly. People gathered in protest against this arrest in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s residence. The military picket panicked and shot at the agitating crowd killing several of them. 

This set in a violent reaction.  Five Europeans were killed in and a British missionary, called Miss Marcella Sherwood was beaten by the mob. The army reacted by shooting dead many more Indians.  The authorities also ordered that no Indian would be allowed to walk on the road on which Miss Sherwood was beaten; they should instead crawl on all fours the entire length of it.

Crawling on the Road

Although Amritsar was quite for next few days, disruption continued in rest of Punjab. Ultimately authorities decided to put Punjab under martial law. This limited civil right for the Indian. For example, the right to assembly was withdrawn. However, not many were aware of it because the edict was not properly announced.

13th April 1919 in Amritsar

Bullet Marks on the Walls

Baisakhi has always been a popular festival in Punjab, especially for the Sikh. In 1919, it fell on13th April. As scheduled, thousands of people belonging to all religion gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh, located close to the Golden Temple. Most of them were from rural areas and did not know about any political agenda or about the ban on public gathering.

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

As the meeting began at 4:30 pm Brigadier General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer arrived with two armored cars and 50 soldiers. While the armored cars carried machine guns, the soldiers were equipped with 303 Lee-Enfield Rifles. He first blocked the main entrance with armored cars.  He then ordered his men to shoot without any warning or giving the crowd a chance to disperse. 

He had later said that it was not his intention to allow the crowd to go away but to punish the Indians for disobedience. He also regretted not being able to take the machine guns into the garden because the gates were too narrow.

Dyer ordered his men to shoot at places where the crowd was densest. This continued until the ammunition was exhausted. People trying to escape through the narrower gates were also shot at. Many died of stampede. Others tried to save their life by jumping into the well and drowned. 120 bodies were later removed from it.

It is not certain how many people actually died on that day. Various parties offered various figures. According to official records, the number of dead was 379. However, the method of enquiry that took place at a gap of three months was highly flawed. Civil Surgeon Dr. Smith on the other hand indicated that there we 1,526 people killed and wounded. Enquiry by National Congress put the number of dead t be around 1000.

In addition to those who died on spot, many more were fatally wounded. Since curfew was on, they could not be shifted to the hospital and died from would. However, the British administration thought the act was just and some of them hailed Dyer as Saver of Punjab. Miss Marcella Sherwood, the British Missionary was one of them.

Post Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

Matyre's Well in Jallianwala Bagh

The British administration had thought that such brutal reaction would make the Indians fall in line and would quell any future rebellion. Instead, the incident stroke fire to the already boiling situation. Protests erupted in all parts of the country. Rabindra Nath Tagore, who had been previously knighted by the British Government decided to give up his Knighthood. In a letter to the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, he wrote "I 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 degradation not fit for human beings".

It may not be out of place to add that after a prolonged trial Dyer was found guilty of mistaken notion of duty and made to retire prematurely. He however, was allowed to retain the title of Colonel.

Memorial at Jallianwala Bagh

Memorial at Jallianwala Bagh

Later it was decided by the India National Congress that a memorial should be built at the site of the massacre. Accordingly a trust was formed in 1920 and Dr Shasthi Charan Mukherji from Hoogly district of Bengal was appointed the first Secretary of the Trust.  On Gandhiji’s appeal, donations began to pour in from all over India. Finally, the garden was purchased in 1923 at an inflated price of 5.65 lakhs. However, the memorial could be built only after independence.

In 1951, the Government of India passed the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Act and established Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust. The memorial was designed by American architect Benjamin Polk and inaugurated by the then President Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1961. All national leaders including Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru were present in that occasion.

The Flame

The bullet marks on the walls of the garden as well as on the walls of the adjoining buildings have been preserved to this day. The well where 120 lives were lost have also been preserved. It is now a protected monument inside the park. A flame has later been added to this park. There is also a museum in the garden, which showcases the brutality unleashed by the imperialist British force on the unarmed people of India.

The garden is now managed by the said Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust.  Every patriotic Indian should visit this place and pay homage to those Indians who were so brutally killed by the imperialist forces.

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