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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 18 New Delhi April 20, 2019

Jallianwala Bagh: Hundred Years of Sacrifice

Tuesday 23 April 2019

by Prem Singh

Today (April 13, 2019) is the hundredth year of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It was the day of Baisakhi festival. Thousands of male, female and children had come to Amritsar from nearby villages and towns. Many of them had camped in Jallianwala Bagh’s open ground. There was an atmosphere of tension in Punjab due to the agitation organised to oppose the infamous Rowlatt Act. The public and police forces had clashed in Amritsar three days before the Jallianwala Bagh incident. In the protest against police suppression, on April 10, five British people were murdered and the mischief with Miss Sherwood was reported. The Congress leaders, Dr Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, had been arrested. A public meeting was organised in Jallianwala Bagh in the evening where resolutions were adopted to release the arrested leaders and withdraw the Rowlatt Act. General Reginald Edward Dyer (who was called to Amritsar by the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Michael Francis O’Dwyer) directly ordered the soldiers to open fire on the gathering without any proclamation or warning. There were 15 to 20 thousand Indians present in the meeting. Among them 500 to 1000 people were killed and thousands were injured. After the firing, General Dyer refused to take the injured to the hospital for treatment saying that that was not his duty! Martial Law was not applicable in Amritsar on April 13. The Martial Law was imposed three days after the massacre, in which the British Government heavily oppressed the public.

The eyewitnesses, historians and administrative officials have analysed the “duty” played by General Dyer from various perspectives and angles—starting from Dyer’s racial hatred towards Indians to his psychiatric disorder. The British Government constituted the Hunter Commission for investigation and the Congress also set up its probe committee. The Army Commission was also set up in England to investigate the role of General Dyer. Dyer’s action of direct firing was discussed in England’s Lower and Upper Houses as well. Although the majority in the Lower House rejected Dyer’s action, the majority in the Upper House was in favour of Dyer. The Morning Post, a newspaper in England, collected around 30,000 pounds for Dyer in recognition of his services to the Empire. The British in England and British officials in India mostly acclaimed Dyer as the protector of the ‘Raj’.

Jawaharlal Nehru has written in his autobiography that while returning from Lahore to Delhi by train, he himself heard General Dyer telling his military companions that he did precisely what he ought to do on April 13, 1919. General Dyer was returning in the same compartment after giving testimony before the Hunter Commission. General Dyer, in his every testimony and conversation, had justified his action without any sign of regret or remorse. There are indications that he even said that if he had more ammunition and soldiers, he would have taken more strict action. It seems that if Dyer had been able to carry the two armoured cars with built-in guns, which could not be taken inside Jallianwala Bagh due to the narrow road, the scale of the massacre would have been enormous!

Based on the Hunter Commission’s report and other evidences, General Dyer was removed from his military post and barred from further employment in India. Dyer, who was born in India, returned to England and died on July 24, 1927 from illness. Revolutionary Udham Singh shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer on March 13, 1940 at Caxton Hall in London, as he had pledged just after the massacre. Udham Singh did not run away from the spot. He was arrested and hanged on July 31, 1940. Udham Singh was raised in an orphanage. He was admirer of Bhagat Singh and advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity. It is said that while living in the orphanage, he had named himself Ram Mohammed Singh Azad.

After the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Rabindra-nath Tagore and Gandhi returned their titles of ‘Knighthood’ and ‘Kesar-e-Hind’. After this incident, the Indian independence movement entered a new phase. After three decades of strong struggle and sacrifices, the country got independence. However, the ruling class of India has not been able to keep that independence safe. Instead, it has pushed the country into the slavery of neo-imperialism. Now only communalism, casteism, dynastic rule, individualism and Englishism are the basic contents which have been left in the name of ‘free India’. Under the leadership of this very ruling class, the people of India are quarelling with each other to grab the maximum share in the neo-imperialist loot of the country. It is being proudly told by the ruling class that this is the ‘New India’, which should be admired by everyone and flourish at all costs!

In such a situation there is no need for the centennial celebrations of sacrifice made at Jallianwala Bagh. The need of the hour is to restore the anti-imperialist spirit and to keep it ignited. So that the sacrifices of the martyrs should not go in vain. In this direction the Socialist Party will organise some programmes throughout the year beginning from today. The participation and support of all fellow citizens would be expected.

Salute to the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh!

The author teaches at Delhi University and is the President of the Socialist Party (India).

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