Updated: September 3, 2021 10:14:34 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the newly renovated Jallianwala Bagh complex and museum in Amritsar through video conference on Saturday. The complex is a memorial dedicated to those who were killed on April 13, 1919 on orders of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer. The Indian Express explains the events of that fateful day as brought out in the Hunter Commission report of 1920, in which Dyer’s mindset behind ordering the killing of defenceless people was brought out.
What was the Commission of Inquiry set up in the aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh incident?
It was on October 14, 1919, full six months after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, that the Government of India, with approval of the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, instituted a committee to investigate not only the Jallianwala Bagh incident at Amritsar but also the disturbances which took place in Bombay, Delhi and Punjab. Accordingly the Disorders Inquiry Committee was set up with Lord William Hunter, a former Solicitor General of Scotland as the president with seven members. These included Justice G C Rankin, Judge of the High Court at Calcutta, W F Rice, ICS, Additional Secretary to the Government of India, Home Department, Major General Sir George Barrow, Commanding the Peshawar Division, Pandit Jagat Narayan, Member of the Legislative Council of the Lieutenant Governor of the United Provinces, Thomas Smith, Member of the Legislative Council of the Lieutenant Governor of the United Provinces, Sir Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad, Advocate of the High Court of Bombay and Sahibzada Sultan Ahmad Khan, Bar-At-Law, Member of Appeals, Gwalior State.
The committee held its first meeting in Delhi on October 29, 1919 and heard evidence of witnesses on eight days in Delhi, 29 days in Lahore, six days in Ahmedabad and three days at Bombay.
The report was presented on March 8, 1920 and was in the form of a majority report and a minority report. The majority report was signed by the president of the committee and four members, Justice Rankin, Maj Gen Barrow, WF Rice and Thomas Smith. The minority report was signed by Sir C H Setalvad, Pandit Jagat Narayan and Sahibzada Sultan Ahmad Khan.
What did the majority report say about the Jallianwala Bagh firing?
The majority report delved into the incidents which had taken place in Amritsar prior to April 13, 1919 which included violence at several places in the city and police firing which left at least ten people dead. Military reinforcements were summoned to the city and these included troops from Brig Gen Dyer’s Brigade in Jalandhar and Indian and British Troops from Lahore. On the morning of April 13, Dyer issued a proclamation which prohibited gathering of four or more men at one place.
The report noted that Dyer entered Jallianwala Bagh with 25 Gorkha soldiers and 25 Baluchis armed with rifles, 40 Gorkhas armed with only Khukris and two armoured cars. A crowd of around 10 to 12,000 was gathered there at the time.
“On arriving at Jallianwala Bagh, he entered with his force by a narrow entrance which was not sufficiently wide to allow the cars to pass,” the report noted. It added that as soon as Dyer entered the Bagh he stationed 25 troops on one side of the higher ground at the entrance and 25 troops on the other side.
“Without giving the crowd any warning to disperse, which he considered unnecessary as they were in breach of his proclamation, he ordered his troops to fire and the firing continued for about ten minutes,” the report said. It noted that no one in the crowd was carrying firearms though some may have been carrying sticks.
In all 1,650 rounds were fired by the soldiers. The firing was individual and not volley firing (firing in groups). The report said that at first it was thought that 200 people had been killed but a later investigation brought the number of killed up to 379. Out of these 87 were strangers or those who had come from neighbouring villages of Amritsar. No figure was given for the wounded and it was thought that it may have been three times the dead.
What statements did Brig Gen Dyer give before the committee?
The minority report of the committee brought out the evidence given by Dyer in great detail. He testified that his mind had already been made up to order the firing when he reached the Bagh.
“I had made up my mind. I was only wondering whether I should do it or not….The situation was very, very serious. I had made up my mind that I would shoot all men to death if they were going to continue the meeting,” he said.
Dyer testified that from time to time he adjusted the firing field of the troops and directed them to fire where the crowds were the thickest. He also said that had the entrance to Jallianwala Bagh allowed for the armoured cars to enter he would have ordered firing by machine guns. “They had come to fight if they defied me and I was going to give them a lesson……I was going to punish them. My idea from the military point of view was to make a wide impression,” Dyer said.
When asked if the crowd could have been dispersed without firing, Dyer said, “Yes, I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed them perhaps even without firing….I could disperse them for some time then they would all come back and laugh at me, and I considered I would be making myself a fool”.
How was the report received by the British government?
While broadly agreeing that disproportionate force had been used by Brig Gen Dyer at Jallianwala Bagh, the then Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, was of the opinion that, “Brig Gen Dyer displayed honesty of purpose and unflinching adherence to his conception of his duty cannot for a moment be questioned”. The then Viceroy, Lord Chemlsford, and his council called Gen Dyer’s actions as ‘bona fide’ and ‘dictated by a stern sense of duty’.
“In circumstances such as General Dyer was confronted with, an officer must act honestly and vigorously but with as much humanity as the case will permit,” Chelmsford’s council noted even as it recognised that Dyer had faltered. As a consequence, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army directed Brig Gen Dyer to resign his appointment as Brigade Commander and informed him that he will receive no further employment in India.
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