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. Residents of Amritsar decided to assemble at Jallianwalla Bagh on the day to discuss the confinement of Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, two leaders fighting for Independence and scrapping 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 and the protest was a peaceful one. The gathering included pilgrims visiting the Golden Temple who were merely passing through the park, and some who had not come to protest. Suddenly, as many as 90 British Indian Army soldiers, commanded by Colonel Reginald Dyer, appeared and without any warning to the people, ordered firing on the completely peaceful and defenceless crowd. The fusillade continued till Dyer’s ammunition ran out.
This cold-blooded carnage, Dyer admitted later, was perpetrated “to strike terror not only in the city of Amritsar, but throughout the Punjab”. The official inquiry ordered by the British government said there were 379 deaths but the Congress claimed that more than 1,000 people died in the massacre. A well, located inside the premises of the Jallianwala Bagh, stands testimony to the brutal killings of the innocent who jumped into it in panic to save themselves from the firing. 120 dead bodies were later recovered from the well. The last known survivor of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Shingara Singh, died in Amritsar on June 29, 2009, at the age of 113.
The massacre marks one of the most heinous political crimes committed by the Britishers during the twentieth century. It became a turning point in the history of India’s struggle for freedom. The Jallianwala Bagh site in Amritsar is now a national monument. It houses a museum, a gallery, and a number of memorial structures.
The writer is Principal (I/C), Abhedananda Home, Higher Secondary Institution for Specially-Abled Children, Solina, Rambagh, Srinagar. [email protected]