A British investigation committee’s findings on the socio-economic and political conditions of Punjab in the backdrop of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre reveal the apprehensions felt by British police official Miles Irving, who served as the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar during the massacre that resulted in the horrifying bloodbath on April 13, 1919.
“There were causes arising directly out of the war (First World War), the general feeling of war-weariness… a great feeling of disappointment that the end of the war had not produced any relaxation of the stringency,” Irving explained to the committee when asked about the probability of a revolt against the British rule.
Examining the economic situation of the Punjab at large, Lord Hunter, who presided over the committee session in Lahore on November 13, 1919, questioned Irving about the condition of Amritsar’s fabric business – a trade that marked the commercial landscape of contemporary Amritsar. “I think the piece-goods trade was hit too, and the piece goods merchants, I think, were discontented at having to pay high war taxes,” stated Irving in is reply.
On the probable reasons that led the British authorities in Amritsar to fire upon the unarmed crowd in Jallianwala, the committee asked Irving about the ‘religious troubles’ in the region. In his answer to the committee, Irving explained that the defeat of Ottoman Turkey had particularly been a blow to Muslim sentiments in Punjab. “There was the prevailing feeling of unhappiness among Musalmans in respect to the fate of Turkey,” remarked the erstwhile British Deputy Commissioner.
Irving also mentioned before the committee about the ‘trouble’ that the local competition during the municipal elections presented for the British police. “Rival claimants, had organized gangs of, I should say, bad characters, to support their claims in the streets and that had been a distinctly local pre-disposing cause,” told Irving to the committee.
The senior police official who was at the helm of police administration in Amritsar, additionally informed the committee about an incident in which the railway administration closed the issue of platform tickets on account of cramped space. Reacting to the incident, Dr. Satyapal (a celebrated national leader during the freedom struggle) said that the Indians were not being treated as human beings by the British administration.
In his explanation to the committee, Irving also talked about public meetings that undermined the British orders on public assembly. He mentioned that ‘strong language’ was used during these meetings while leaders spoke on issues like ‘future of Constantinople’ and the Rowlatt Bill itself.