April 13, 1919, marked a turning point in the Indian freedom struggle. It was Baisakhi that day, a harvest festival popular in Punjab and parts of north India. Local residents in Amritsar decided to hold a meeting that day to discuss and protest against the confinement of Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, two leaders fighting for Independence, and implementation of the Rowlatt Act, which armed the British government with powers to detain any person without trial.
The crowd had a mix of men, women and children. They all gathered in a park called the Jallianwala Bagh, walled on all sides but for a few small gates, against the orders of the British. The protest was a peaceful one, and the gathering included pilgrims visiting the Golden Temple who were merely passing through the park, and some who had not come to protest.
While the meeting was on, Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, who had crept up to the scene wanting to teach the public assembled a lesson, ordered 90 soldiers he had brought with him to the venue to open fire on the crowd. Many tried in vain to scale the walls to escape. Many jumped into the well located inside the park.
Worst war crimes committed by the British in India
1. While official death toll in the Jallainwalla Bagh massacre stood at 379, with 192 wounded, sources had suggested that more than 1,000 people had lost their lives, while 1,200 peope were wounded.
2. Not all those who died fell to the soldiers’ bullets. Many died in the ensuing stampede while others jumped into the well of the park. Officials reportedly dug out close to 120 bodies from the well. Some of the severely wounded passed away as they could not get up.
3. General Dyer ordered his soldiers to kneel and open fire on the crowd. It has been reported that some soldiers initially fired in the air but Dyer screamed at them to target the crowd.
4. A total of 1,650 rounds were fired by the soldiers in a span of 10 minutes on the unarmed crowd, which was not given any prior warning to disperse.
5. Considered the ‘The Butcher of Amritsar’ in the aftermath of the massacre, General Dyer was removed from command and exiled to Britain with a gift of 26,000 pounds, which was a huge sum in those days. He died in 1927 after suffering a series of heart strokes.