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Weekly Current Affairs: April week-2 - The Jallianwala massacre

  • Category
    History
  • Published
    15th Apr, 2020

On April 13, 1919, hundreds of unarmed men, women and children were gunned down by British troops at Jallianwala Bagh. The events of Jallianwala Bagh 101 years ago today reflect a shameful act in British-Indian history.

Context

On April 13, 1919, hundreds of unarmed men, women and children were gunned down by British troops at Jallianwala Bagh. The events of Jallianwala Bagh 101 years ago today reflect a shameful act in British-Indian history.

About

  • The massacre was the most barbaric act by British colonialists against a rising mass movement for independence and civil rights.
  • Defiant speeches were made against British rulers prior to the incident.
  • Then-acting military commander for Amritsar, Colonel Reginald Dyer, wanted to crush the rebellion, hence he ordered the killing of innocent protesters.
  • Dyer marched a force of 90 Gurkha and Indian soldiers into the enclosure and, without warning, they opened fire for about 10 to 15 minutes on the panicking crowd trapped in the enclosure.
  • According to an official figure, 379 were killed and some 1,200 wounded, though other estimates suggest much higher casualties.

What led to the massacre?

  • After World War I, the British, who controlled a vast empire in India, agreed to give Indians limited self-government due to India’s substantial contributionto the war effort.
  • These reforms, named the Montagu-Chelmsford reformsafter the secretary of state for India and the viceroy of India, promised to lead to more substantial self-government over time.
  • However, around the same time the British had passed the draconian Rowlatt Acts, which allowed certain political cases to be tried without trial. And the trial was also to be conducted without juries. The acts were designed to ruthlessly suppressall forms of political dissent.
  • The Rowlatt Acts were designed to replace the constraints on political activity that had been embodied in colonial rules, known as the Defense of India Rules, which had been in force during World War I.
  • Not surprisingly, there were widespread public protests, led by the noted Indian nationalist leader, Mahatma Gandhi.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the World War I, pressure for Indian independence mounted.
  • Early in April 1919 news of the arrest of Indian nationalist leaders in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar sparked riots in which a mob went on the rampage, killing several Europeans, leaving an English female missionary for dead, and looting numerous banks and public buildings.
  • British and Indian troops under the command of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer were sent to restore order and Dyer banned all public meetings which, he announced, would be dispersed by force if necessary.
  • Despite this, thousands gathered in protest in a walled enclosure called the Jallianwala Bagh, near the city’s Golden Temple, sacred to Sikhs. 

Aftermath:

  • The news of the massacre provoked fierce disapproval. Speaking in the House of Commons, Winston Churchill condemned ‘an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation’.
  • A committee under Lord Hunter, a Scottish judge, was appointed to report on what had happened.
  • Dyer appeared before it to defend himself, but its conclusions were damning; he was strongly censured and forced to resign from the Indian Army.
  • Opinion was divided between those who agreed with the Hunter Committee’s verdict and those who thought that Dyer had acted effectively to prevent another Indian Mutiny.
  • The episode soured relations between British and Indian politicians for years, but it helped to gather recruits to Mahatma Gandhi’s policy of non-violent resistance to British rule.


    Important Information:

    •  Dyer’s actions were praised by the governor of the Punjab, Sir Michael O’Dwyer, and he was made an honorary Sikh by the elders of the Golden Temple. Excused from growing a beard, he did promiseto cut his smoking by one cigarette a year.
    • Dyer died in England in 1927. Sir Michael O’Dwyer was assassinated in  London in 1940 by a Sikh revolutionary, Udham Singh, who had been injured at Amritsar. He was duly hanged.
    • Gandhi condemned his action as senseless, but in some quarters in India he was praised as a heroic martyr.
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