Part of: GS Prelims and Mains GS-I- Modern History
Context: India pays tributes to those martyred in Jallianwala Bagh on this day (April 13) in 1919.
- Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, also called Massacre of Amritsar was an incident on April 13, 1919, in which British troops fired on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in an open space known as the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in Punjab.
- A large but peaceful crowd had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh to protest against the arrest of pro-Indian independence leaders Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlu and Dr. Satya Pal.
- Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlu and Dr. Satya Pal opposed the passing of Rowlat Act in early 1919, which essentially extended the repressive wartime measures.
- In response to the public gathering at Bagh, the British Brigadier-General R. E. H. Dyer surrounded the Bagh with his soldiers. After blocking the exit with his troops, he ordered them to shoot at the crowd, continuing to fire even as protestors tried to flee.
- The Jallianwala Bagh could only be exited on one side, as its other three sides were enclosed by buildings.
- At least 1000 people were killed and over 1,200 other people were injured
- The ineffective inquiry by Disorders Inquiry Committee (also known as Hunters Commission) together with the initial praise for Dyer, fuelled great widespread anger against the British among the Indian populace, leading to the Non-cooperation movement of 1920–22.
- Britain never formally apologised for the massacre but expressed “regret” in 2019.
What exactly led to Jallianwala Bagh massacre?
- In 1859, the British Crown assumed direct control of the colony. Forever fearful of sedition and conspiracies, the colonial government used the opportunity offered by the First World War to introduce the Defence of India Act in 1915. The wartime legislation gave the government extraordinary powers of preventive detention, to lock up people without trial and to restrict speech, writing and movement.
- In March 1919, it introduced the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act, which extended its wartime emergency powers into peacetime.
- Not long after the war began, Gandhi had returned to India after 21 years in South Africa. Gandhi was loyal to the British Empire and supported Britain in the First World War. Upon his return to India, he spent the first few years leading nonviolent struggles on local grievances.
- The news of the impending Rowlatt legislation became public, Gandhi immediately expressed his opposition and called for a nationwide general strike on April 6, 1919. He asked people to engage in nonviolent struggle, or satyagraha: Observe a daylong fast and hold meetings to demand the repeal of the legislation.
- Punjab was already heating up. The unrest was of particular concern to the British because Punjab was a vital economic and military asset. By World War I, soldiers from Punjab constituted three-fifths of the British Indian Army, which was extensively deployed in the war.
- To restore normalcy to the region, dispatched to Amritsar, General Dyer took control from the civil authorities on April 11. He issued a proclamation prohibiting public assembly and warning that such gatherings would be dispersed by force.
- On April 13, several thousand gathered in Jallianwala Bagh in defiance of General Dyer’s orders.
- General Dyer fired upon unarmed civilians. Shooting continued for ten minutes. The government estimate was 379 dead, other estimates were considerably higher.
Effects of Jallianwala Bagh massacre
- The perpetrator of the massacre, General Dyer, was honored and rewarded by the British public and this removed all illusions about benign British rule in the country.
- The brutality of massacre stunned entire nation. Gandhiji overwhelmed by atmosphere of violence withdrew movement on April 18. Mahatma Gandhi gave up the title of Kaiser-i-Hind, bestowed by the British for his work during the Boer War.
- Rabindranath Tagore, the poet and Nobel laureate, returned his knighthood in protest. Winston Churchill condemned the shooting as “monstrous.”
- Winston Churchill condemned the shooting as “monstrous.”
- Jallianwala Bagh shook faith in British justice. Hunter commission committee formed by the government on India on October 14, 1919 to inquire the events at Punjab
- The purpose of the commission was to investigate the disturbances in Punjab, find the cause and bring measures to cope with the effects
- According to the report submitted by the commission the action of General dyer was strongly condemned but no action was taken against him.
- Jallianwala Bagh massacre marked the beginning of the resistance against the exceptional laws of colonial governance.
Turning point in India’s Modern History
- It marked a turning point in India’s modern history, in that it left a permanent scar on Indo-British relations and was the prelude to Mahatma Gandhi’s full commitment to the cause of Indian nationalism and independence from Britain.
- After the Amritsar Massacre Gandhi became convinced that India should accept nothing less than full independence. To achieve this end, Gandhi began organizing his first campaign of mass civil disobedience against Britain’s oppressive rule.
- In December 1919, the congress session was held at Amritsar. It was attended by a large number of people, including peasants.
- It was clear that the brutalities had only added fuel to the fire and made the people’s determination stronger to fight for their freedom and against oppression.
- Series of new revolutionary leaders justified violence and started new organisations for the execution of the same.
Examples of other such massacre or killings (on same lines of Jallianwala Bagh):
- 1942 Lidice massacre – In World War II, in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, the Lidice massacre was a complete destruction of the village of Lidice, now in the Czech Republic. Orders were passed from Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler.
- 1968 My Lai massacre – The My Lai massacre was one of the most horrific incidents of violence committed against unarmed civilians during the Vietnam War. Many unarmed people were killed by the U.S. Army soldiers.