98 years ago on 13th April, the course of British rule in India changed forever. The Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre happened and shook the world.
History textbooks give us a very brief idea about the incident. As to why the gathering had taken place in the Bagh in the first place is still not known for sure. It might have been a silent protest against the unjust act or a religious gathering to celebrate Baishakhi. The gathering contained a number of pilgrims who were not aware of the law imposed by which Indians could not hold any sort of meetings.
General Dyer was furious at this violation of the law and approached the Bagh with Gurkha troops. He blocked the main exits so that no one and could escape and ordered his troops to open fire on the peaceful, non-violent crowd and did not let them stop till the ammunition was almost exhausted.
This caused a stampede and people died not only from being shot, but also from being squashed. The official number of deaths is uncertain and it is an open speculation that the actual number may be way higher than the official number.
General Dyer’s actions received mixed reactions from the British themselves. While some officials approved of his actions, he received severe backlash from Churchill and Asquith. Churchill’s speech in the House of Commons still rings out loud and clear, with its sound and precise description of the event:
“The crowd was unarmed, except with bludgeons. It was not attacking anybody or anything… When fire had been opened upon it to disperse it, it tried to run away. Pinned up in a narrow place considerably smaller than Trafalgar Square, with hardly any exits, and packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies, the people ran madly this way and the other. When the fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed to the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, the fire was then directed down on the ground. This was continued to 8 to 10 minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion.”
In fact Dyer himself has later defended himself saying,
“I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself.”
Nothing good can ever come out of something as horrible as this. And yet, it ignited a fire in the heart of Indians which led them to finally throw the British out of India. It started with Tagore’s renunciation of his knighthood soon after the Massacre. In his repudiation later 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.”
Following that, the Indians put their heart and soul into liberating India.
Since then Queen Elizabeth II and David Cameron have visited the site of this horrific incident. They have expressed their grief, but did not issue a formal apology.
One hopes that the spirits of those who lost their lives on that day, now rest in peace.