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Remembering Jallianwala Bagh: When Baisakhi in Punjab was struck with massacre

Four months later, the official casualty toll stated 379 dead and 192 wounded. Unofficial sources however, claimed that close to 1000 had died.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
April 13, 2017 1:36:03 pm
jallianwala bagh, jallianwala bagh anniversary, jallianwala bagh massacre, jallianwala bagh tragedy, April 13, Baisakhi, Baisakhi in Punjab, General Dyer, British rule, Indian history, British history, India news, Indian Express When the firing stopped finally, corpses lay all across the garden in heaps. (Source: Sikh-history.com)

When Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer got off from his car, in front of the Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden in Amritsar, he had with him 50 Gorkhas and Baluchis armed with rifles and 25 Gorkhas carrying khukris. A gathering consisting of about 20,000 to 25,000 people was expected to assemble in the garden, against the orders of the British. Dyer had already circulated a proclamation throughout the city that read:

“Any procession or gathering of four persons, (or more) will be treated as an unlawful assembly and dispersed by force of arms, if necessary.”

Despite the official proclamation, when news of the large assemblage reached Dyer, he considered it necessary, not to disperse the crowd, but rather to punish them for the audacity of disobeying British orders. Thereafter, when he reached the spot with armed men, he immediately ordered them to surround the garden from all sides. The Jallianwala Bagh had one main entrance and several smaller ones which were generally locked. Dyler made sure that those part of the meeting had no way to escape.

The day was April 13, 1919, when Punjabis celebrate the commencement of the new year in the form of Baisakhi. On that particular year however, this joyous occasion was singled out by this large group of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs to protest against the implementation of the Rowlatt Act and the detention of two nationalist leaders, Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew. The Rowlatt Act gave unlimited powers to the government to imprison without trial, any kind of perceived revolutionary threat, and was passed in order to facilitate British administration during the First World War. The Jallianwala Bagh meeting on April 13 was a peaceful assemblage to take resolutions against the Act. However, not all were protesters. Several among them were Baisakhi pilgrims who had come to visit the Golden Temple and were passing through the garden on their way. Little were they aware that the auspicious occasion of  new year celebrations would soon be disrupted by a horrifying scene of bloodbath that would continue to haunt Punjab’s and India’s memories for decades to come.

One hour into the meeting, General Dyer stood with his men at the entrance to the garden and shouted “fire.” Immediately thereafter the soldiers went onto a shooting spree that lasted for full 10 minutes, consisting of close to 1650 rounds of fire. When the firing stopped finally, corpses lay all across the garden in heaps. Several died from the stampedes while trying to escape from the narrow lanes. Several others jumped into the solitary well in the garden to escape the firing. An official report states that close to 120 bodies were retrieved from the well itself. Four months later, the official casualty toll stated 379 dead and 192 wounded. Unofficial sources however, claimed that close to 1000 had died.

Once the troops stopped firing they marched out leaving behind a battlefield soon. While corpses lay around all evening, and Jallianwala Bagh filled up with the bloodied stench of foreign oppression, not a single person in Amritsar dared to step out in search of his or her friends or relative till they were absolutely sure that the soldiers had left. The massacre caused by General Dyer had left behind a terrorised Punjab and a more determined nationalist movement.

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