Jallianwala Bagh: A Critical Juncture in the Indian National Movement
The massacre which gave a deep shock to the people of Punjab and created wide reverberations in the country took place on 13 April, 1919 at a public meeting which had been organized at Jallianwala Bagh in defiance of official proclamation banning such gatherings. About twenty thousand persons were present at the meeting. They included some people belonging to the surrounding countryside who had come to Amritsar on that day in connection with the Baisakhi festival. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer went along with soldiers to Jallianwala Bagh where the meeting was being held and immediately after his arrival, he ordered his men to fire. No warning was given, nor was the crowd asked to disperse. The firing continued for ten minutes; in all 1650 rounds were fired. Dyer ordered fire to be focused where the crowd was thickest including the exits. He gave orders to cease fire only when his ammunition was virtually exhausted.1 According to an official account, 379 people were killed and 1200 wounded.2 However, the official figure is very much on the lower side; the number of casualties was actually much higher.3 The massacre evoked sharp criticism both in England and India. Winston Churchill called it *a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation'. Herbert Asquith expressed a similar view when he observed that it was 'one of the worst outrages in the whole of history'.4 These responses indicate that even those who believed that the British government in India was based on justice were shocked and disturbed. In India a large number of people felt that it was a gruesome event unparalled in history. The disturbance and anguish caused by the massacre, and what the grim event signified to the people of India was best reflected in Mahatma Gandhi's reaction when he wrote: 'We do not want to punish Dyer. We have no desire for revange. We want to change the system that produced Dyer'.5 The massacre deeply influenced the subsequent course of anti-Imperialist, struggle in the country and contributed in its own way to the strengthening of forces which posed a challenge to the British rule in India.
Professor of History, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra.
Social Scientist, Vol. 25, Nos. 1-2, January-February 1997