The Jallianwala Bagh massacre was one of the most disastrous events in the chequered history of the Indian National Movement. It stunned the whole nation and created great sensation both in India and abroad.
Rowlatt Act and its Repercussions
In March 1919 the Imperial Legislative Council passed a collection of bills popularly
called the Rowlatt Act in spite of vociferous Indian opposition. The Act empowered the British government to imprison people without trial. Gandhiji was disillusioned and he lost all faith in the British sense of justice and fair play.
A separate body called Sathyagraha Sabha was constituted with Gandhiji as its President. A general hartal all over the country was called for to be observed on 6 April 1919 to disobey this legislation. There were strikes, hartals and demonstrations all over the country. In Punjab the protest was particularly strong. Orders were served upon two popular leaders of Punjab Congress, Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew,not to address any public meetings. Subsequently on 10th April both of them were arrested and taken to an unknown place. When the people came to know of it, a complete hartal was declared in Amritsar. Martial law was imposed and all meetings and gatherings were prohibited. However, the proclamation was not given wide publicity so that people living in various localities of the city and neighbouring villages remained unaware of such an order.
The Great Genocide
To protest against the arrests of their leaders a large crowd gathered for a public meeting on 13 April in Jallianwala Bagh, a small park enclosed by buildings on all sides in Amritsar.
Some people had come to attend the annual Vaisakhi Fair without knowing about the protest meet. In connection with the fair a cattle and horse show was going on at Amritsar and many farmers were in the city from distant villages. Soon after the meeting commenced, General Dyer arrived at the spot, blocked the exit points and without issuing any warning ordered his troops to fire on the crowd, killing hundreds of people. The firing continued till the whole ammunition at his disposal got exhausted.
The bullet marks can still be seen on the walls of Jallianwala Bagh which is now a national monument. The meeting had been peaceful and there had been no provocation from the side of the participants. Among the gatherings there were women, children and the aged. All of them were practically unarmed and defenceless. Even those who lay flat on the ground were shot.
As per the British records the shootings of ten minutes killed 379 protestors and about 1200 were wounded. In fact, the death toll was more than thousand. No arrangements were made by the authorities to bury the dead and take care of the wounded. This monstrous act provoked unparalleled indignation throughout the country.
Raveendranath Tagorerelinquished his knighthood to register his protest. The massacre was followed by a series of humiliating orders. The water and electric
supply of Amritsar were cut off. Curfew was imposed for weeks and people were flogged in public. However, the “Crawling order” was the worst of all. The Punjab was treated by the military as even worse than an enemy territory. Dyer justified his action with the argument that he wanted to teach the people a lesson so that they might not laugh at him.
The British government was forced to caution Dyer and remove him from active service.
But in India the Englishmen regarded him as the saviour of the British Empire. However, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was a calculated action of inhumanity and was unparalleled for its brutality in the history of modern British administration. The Punjab tragedy brought Gandhiji to the forefront of Indian politics. The incident caused many moderate Indians to abandon theirprevious loyalty to the British and become spirited nationalists distrustful of the British.