|This painted mural at the Jallianwala Bagh Memorial depicts the horrors of April 13, 1919|
99 years ago on this very day, thousands of innocent Indians were shot and killed by armed British forces in Amritsar, and to date there has been no formal apology from Britain.
So what really happened...
The ground zero was Jallianwala Bagh. Around 15,000 men, women and children had gathered at this open public space on Baisakhi Day to protest the Rowlatt Act (an Act that empowered authorities to imprison without trial). Upon learning of this gathering, General Edward Henry Dyer rounded up a troop of 50 men armed with 1,650 bullets who were instructed to fire at the chests of the Indians until the last bullet was fired. They sealed the only two exits of the Bagh, then the size of three football fields surrounded by homes. Without any warning, rounds were fired and with all the exists sealed by the troops, to escape the bullets, many died jumping into a well or in the resulting stampede. Though formal investigation concluded that around 367 Indians were killed, the actual number was in thousands, with thousands more injured. The 1982 Oscar winning Attenborough film 'Gandhi' brought that scene to life - it is a painful watch. Back in Britain, the man behind the massacre, General Dyer, was admired and was even given a full military funeral when the 'Butcher of Amritsar' died a lonely death.
|Dyer's troops marched through this narrow lane and fired at the crowd|
|The well that many jumped into to escape Dyer's bullets|
|Bullet marks visible till date on the wall|
Inside Jallianwala Bagh today...
In January 2018, on my last morning in Amritsar, I spent some time at the Jallianwala Bagh. Today it looks nothing like it did 99 years ago (it was then supposedly a bare public space used as a dumping ground). In the 1950s, the Indian Government spent around 12 lakh rupees to build a memorial at the site where thousands visit the lush gardens to pay respects to the martyrs. The well lies wire-meshed and is called The Martyr's Well. A flame at the memorial stays burning, and a wall with 28 bullet marks still stands firm as a reminder of the fateful 13/4/1919. In the Bagh is a small museum with stories of freedom fighters and martyrs in relation to the massacre. Here are just some of them:
|L-R: Ratan Devi, Udham Singh and Rabindranath Tagore|
Ratan Devi was at home near the Bagh when she heard the shots fired. Her husband was one of many killed in the massacre. She found his dead body among a pile of bodies. And on that cold April night, with no one to help her carry her husband's body home, she lay beside him crying alone amidst a field of corpses and barking dogs. "What I experienced that night is known only to me and to God.", she said. Udham Singh was just 20 years old when he witnessed the massacre and thereon, avenging it became the obsessive mission of this young revolutionary. Circa March 13, 1940, at a meeting held in Caxton Hall, London, he shot dead Sir Michael O'Dwyer (the Lieutenant Governer of Punjab in 1919 under whose watch General Dyer committed the massacre). Four months later, he was hanged to death at the Pentonville Prison. One month after the massacre, Rabindranath Tagore wrote this letter to the then Viceroy of India Lord Chelmsford, to protest against the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by renouncing the knighthood that had been conferred to him in 1915. In his letter, Tagore wrote, "The time has come when badges of honor make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen."
The massacre, 99 years on...
In 2013, David Cameron became the first British Prime Minister to visit the Bagh and pay his respects, however he did not apologize stating that the incident happened 40 years before he was even born. Did he miss the point? Absolutely. I recommend reading this article by The Guardian on his controversial 2013 trip. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre is a stark reminder of one of many blotches left behind from two centuries of the British Raj in India. Politician, former diplomat and author Dr. Shashi Tharoor wrote prolifically about the rapacity of the colonial rule in his bestseller 'Inglorious Empire: What Britain did to India', and you can read more about some revelations from his book in this article on my blog. Today, Tharoor is a prominent voice who proposes that April 13, 2019, the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, would be the perfect occasion for Britain to formally apologize to India for the 200 year rule that destroyed India, once a rich country that contributed 27% of the world's GDP. In December 2017, London Mayor Sadiq Khan (he is the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver) said that it is time for the Britain government to apologize for the tragedy of April 13, 1919. Apology or no apology, we Indians are a forgiving lot, but let us NEVER FORGET.
For more information, visit Jallianwalabagh.ca.
For more information, visit Jallianwalabagh.ca.