The rebellion by the people of undivided Punjab in 1919 has finally received its due at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial in Amritsar.
The makeover of the Bagh, which was launched by the central government in the 100th year of the massacre, brings to light a forgotten chapter of the freedom struggle.
Instead of focusing on the Baisakhi day of 1919 when the massacre took place, the revamped memorial now has three galleries shedding light on the history of Punjab and its society before and after the first World War. It shows how the war impacted the rebel activities in Amritsar, Lahore, Kasur and Gujranwala.
The new gallery recounts how Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in Punjab had come together post this massacre to put up a collective resistance against the British.
Pictures of Mohd Allah Din, Lala Ratan and Mota Singh adorn the third gallery, which is yet to be opened. A statue of a Sikh, a Hindu and a Muslim reading a newspaper together a day after the massacre shows how news about the killings spread like wild fire.
“The news of atrocities and massacre committed in Amritsar reached every city and village. If the massacre in Amritsar was brutal then what British did in Gujranwala was not any less cruel. It happened for the first time that common people were bombed using airplanes. Three airplanes bombed people in Gujranwala who were protesting against the massacre in Amritsar. Many were killed in the bombs dropped on homes, public meetings, women and children. Many were arrested and others were sentenced to death for attending public meetings,” reads the first wall in the section dedicated to Gujranwala now in Pakistan.
A second wall on Lahore reads, “Lahore, the political headquarters of Punjab, had witnessed protests against the Rowlatt Bill even when it was being drafted. The imposition of martial law, arrest of leaders and firings brought people to the streets. Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims were fired upon outside the Badshahi mosque and the Britishers had to rush additional troops to retain their hold over Lahore and nearby countryside. The situation in other districts was no different.”
From April 15 to 18, an armoured train was deployed to fire on people near the railway tracks right from Lahore to Sheikhupura and then Chuharkana. This train returned firing at people at Pucca Dulla and Mahanianwalia. The number of people killed were never counted.
Earlier, on the night of April 13, some protesters led by an army havildar ransacked the Wagah railway station and cut the telegraph wires. The protesters damaged part of the tracks leading to the derailment of an armoured train, but there was no loss of life.
Later, 44 men from different villages were tried by a Martial Law Commission. It was found that the leader of the rioters, as also the principal organizer of the meeting, was the havildar in a Sikh regiment. It was admitted in the Official Report that the outrage was a local affair and was not organised from Lahore.
The Impact of World War I
Dr Kamaljit Kaur, who recently completed her doctoral thesis, on the topic ‘Contextualising Unrest in the Punjab (1919)’, says “The strong-arm recruitment policy of Michael O’Dwyer for the first world war created unrest in the province. The agricultural classes were also discontented as the Government forcibly confiscated wheat and sent it to war fronts and other provinces. Prices of daily commodities soared and epidemics took a heavy toll of life.”
Kaur says the soldiers who were demobilised after four years of war returned home to see their families in a pitiable condition. Then the government introduced the Rowlatt Bill, which allowed internment of suspects without trial.
The agitation against the Rowlatt Bill in Amritsar and Lahore started much before Mahatma Gandhi announced his decision to launch a movement against it.
The outrage against the bill united all the communities and for once, the annual Ram Navmi procession in Amritsar on April 9 was led by Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, who drank from one tumbler.
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