Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre
The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, alternatively known as the Amritsar Massacre, was named after the Jallianwala Bagh (Garden) in the northern Indian city of Amritsar where, on April 13, 1919, while attending one of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s meetings, British Indian Army soldiers under the command of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer opened fire on an unarmed gathering of men, women and children.
On 13 April, the traditional festival of Vaisakhi, thousands of Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh (garden) near the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. Victims of General Dyer’s crawling order spoke, as the crawling order was seen as an extreme response to the attack on one British missionary woman;the order was that every Indian male crawl, not just the men in the mob that attacked Miss Marcella Sherwood. The order to crawl insulted Indians in Amritsar because it was indiscriminant,and so the villagers of Amritsar gathered to protest, peacefully.
An hour after the meeting began as scheduled at 4:30 pm, Dyer arrived with a group of sixty-five Gurkha and twenty-five Baluchi soldiers into the Bagh. Fifty of them were armed with rifles. Dyer had also brought two armoured cars armed with machine guns; however, the vehicles were left outside, as they were unable to enter the Bagh through the narrow entrance. The Jallianwala Bagh was surrounded on all sides by houses and buildings and had few narrow entrances. Most of them were kept permanently locked. The main entrance was relatively wide, but was guarded by the troops backed by the armoured vehicles.
Dyer—without warning the crowd to disperse—blocked the main exits. He explained later that this act “was not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience.”Dyer ordered his troops to begin shooting toward the densest sections of the crowd. Firing continued for approximately ten minutes. Cease-fire was ordered only when ammunition supplies were almost exhausted, after approximately 1,650 rounds were spent.
Many people died in stampedes at the narrow gates or by jumping into the solitary well on the compound to escape the shooting. A plaque in the monument at the site, set up after independence, says that 120 bodies were pulled out of the well. The wounded could not be moved from where they had fallen, as a curfew was declared, and many more died during the night.
The number of deaths caused by the shooting is disputed. While the official figure given by the British inquiry into the massacre is 379 deaths, the method used by the inquiry has been subject to criticism. In July 1919, three months after the massacre, officials were tasked with finding who had been killed by inviting inhabitants of the city to volunteer information about those who had died.This information was incomplete due to fear that those who participated would be identified as having been present at the meeting, and some of the dead may not have had close relations in the area.Additionally, a senior civil servant in the Punjab interviewed by the members of the committee admitted that the actual figure could be higher.
Since the official figures were probably flawed regarding the size of the crowd (15,000–20,000), the number of rounds shot and the period of shooting, the politically interested Indian National Congress instituted a separate inquiry of its own, with conclusions that differed considerably from the Government’s inquiry. The casualty number quoted by the Congress was more than 1,500, with approximately 1,000 being killed.The Government tried to suppress information of the massacre, but news spread in India and widespread outrage ensued. Yet, the details of the massacre did not become known in Britain until December 1919.
Reaction by British Government
Both Winston Churchill and Herbert H. Asquith, openly condemned the attack. Churchill referring to it as “Monstrous”, while Asquith called it “One of the worst outrages in the whole of our history”.Winston Churchill, in the House of Commons debate of the 8th July 1920, said, “The crowd was unarmed, except with bludgeons. It was not attacking anybody or anything… When fire had been opened upon it to disperse it, it tried to run away. Pinned up in a narrow place considerably smaller than Trafalgar Square, with hardly any exits, and packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies, the people ran madly this way and the other. When the fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed to the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, the fire was then directed down on the ground. This was continued to 8 to 10 minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion.”
After Churchill’s speech in the House of Commons debate, MPs voted 247 to 37 against Dyer and in support of the Government.
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