Jallianwala Bagh massacre

Jallianwala Bagh massacre
Jallianwala Bagh massacre
Jallian Wala Bagh Memorial
Narrow passage to Jallianwala Bagh Garden through which the shooting was conducted.
Jallianwala Bagh massacre is located in India

Location of Amritsar in India
Location Amritsar, India
Coordinates 31°37′14″N 74°52′49″E / 31.62053°N 74.88031°E / 31.62053; 74.88031Coordinates: 31°37′14″N 74°52′49″E / 31.62053°N 74.88031°E / 31.62053; 74.88031
Date 13 April 1919
5:30 pm (UTC+5:30)
Target Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religious and political gathering
Attack type Shooting, mass murder, massacre
Weapon(s) Rifles
Death(s) 379-1500
Injured 1100-1500
Perpetrator(s) British Indian Army unit under the command of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer
Number of participant(s) 50

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre (Punjabi: ਜਲ੍ਹਿਆਂਵਾਲਾ ਬਾਗ਼ ਹਤਿਆਕਾਂਡ, Hindi: जलियांवाला बाग़ हत्याकांड, Urdu: جليانوالہ باغ قتلِ عام Jallianwala Bāġa Hatyākāṇḍ), also known as the Amritsar massacre, took place in the Jallianwala Bagh public garden in the northern Indian city of Amritsar, and was ordered by Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer. On Sunday 13 April 1919 (which happened to be 'Baisakhi'—one of Punjab's largest religious festivals), fifty British Indian Army soldiers commanded by Dyer began shooting at an unarmed gathering of men, women, and children without warning. Dyer marched his fifty riflemen to a raised bank and ordered them to kneel and fire.[1] Dyer ordered soldiers to reload their rifles several times and they were ordered to shoot to kill.[2] Official Government of India sources estimated the fatalities at 379, with 1,100 wounded.[3] Civil Surgeon Dr Williams DeeMeddy indicated that there were 1,526 casualties.[4] The casualty number quoted by the Indian National Congress was more than 1,500, with approximately 1,000 killed.[5]



India during World War I

World War I began with loyalty and goodwill towards the United Kingdom from mainstream politicians in India,[citation needed] contrary to initial British fears of a revolt while they were committed militarily to a European war. British India contributed massively to the British war effort by providing men and resources. About 1.3 million Indian soldiers and labourers served in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, while both the Indian administration and the princes sent large supplies of food, money, and ammunition. However, Bengal and Punjab remained sources of anticolonial activities. Revolutionary attacks in Bengal, associated increasingly with disturbances in Punjab, were significant enough to nearly paralyse the regional administration.[6][7] From the beginning of the war, the expatriate Indian population (notably in the United States, Canada, and Germany) attempted to initiate insurrections in India. Managed by the Berlin Committee and the Ghadar Party, Irish republicans, Germans, and Turks helped foment a widespread conspiracy that has since come to be termed the Hindu-German conspiracy.[8][9][10] This conspiracy also attempted to rally Afghanistan against British India.[11] A number of failed attempts were made at mutiny, of which the February mutiny plan and the Singapore mutiny are the most notable. This movement was suppressed by means of a massive international counterintelligence operation and strict political acts (including the draconian Defence of India act 1915) that lasted nearly ten years.[12][13]

After the war

In the aftermath of World War I, high casualty rates, increasing inflation compounded by heavy taxation, a widespread influenza epidemic, and the disruption of trade during the war escalated human suffering in India. The costs of the protracted war in both money and manpower were great. In India, long the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire, Indians were restless for independence. More than 43,000 Indian soldiers had died fighting for Britain.

Indian soldiers smuggled arms into India to fight British rule. The pre-war Indian nationalist sentiment revived as moderate and extremist groups of the Indian National Congress ended their differences in order to unify. In 1916, the Congress succeeded in establishing the Lucknow Pact, a temporary alliance with the All-India Muslim League.

Prelude to the massacre

The events that ensued from the passage of the Rowlatt Act in 1919 were also influenced by activities associated with the Ghadar conspiracy. British Indian Army troops were returning from Europe and Mesopotamia to an economic depression in India.[14][15] The attempts at mutiny during 1915 and the Lahore conspiracy trials were still in public attention. Reports of young Mohajirs who fought on behalf of the Turkish Caliphate, and later, in the ranks of the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, were beginning to reach India. The Russian Revolution had also begun to influence Indians.[16] It was at this time that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, until then relatively unknown to Indians, started becoming a popular leader.

Ominously, in 1919, the third Anglo-Afghan war began after Amir Habibullah Khan's assassination and institution of Amanullah Khan in a system influenced by the Kabul mission. In addition, in India, Gandhi's call for protest against the Rowlatt act achieved an unprecedented response of furious unrest and protests. The situation especially in Punjab was deteriorating rapidly, with disruptions of rail, telegraph and communication systems.

In Amritsar, more than 5,000 people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh. This situation deteriorated perceptibly during the next few days. Michael O'Dwyer is said to have believed that these were the early and ill-concealed signs of a conspiracy for a coordinated revolt around May, at a time when British troops would have withdrawn to the hills for the summer. The Amritsar massacre, as well as responses preceding and succeeding it, contrary to being an isolated incident, was the end result of a concerted plan of response from the Punjab administration to suppress such a conspiracy.[17] James Houssemayne Du Boulay is said to have ascribed a direct relationship between the fear of a Ghadarite uprising in the midst of an increasingly tense situation in Punjab, and the British response that ended in the massacre.[18]

On April 10, 1919, there was a protest at the residence of the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, a city in Punjab, a large province in the northwestern part of the then unpartitioned India. The demonstration was to demand the release of two popular leaders of the Indian Independence Movement, Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, who had been earlier arrested by the government and removed to a secret location. Both were proponents of the Satyagraha movement led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The crowd was shot at by a military picket, killing several protesters. The shooting set off a series of violent events. Later the same day, several banks and other government buildings, including the Town Hall and the railway station were attacked and set afire. The violence continued to escalate, culminating in the deaths of at least five Europeans, including government employees and civilians. There was retaliatory shooting at crowds from the military several times during the day, and between eight and twenty people were killed.

For the next two days, the city of Amritsar was quiet, but violence continued in other parts of the Punjab. Railway lines were cut, telegraph posts destroyed, and government buildings burnt. Three Europeans were murdered. By April 13, the British government had decided to put most of the Punjab under martial law. The legislation restricted a number of civil liberties, including freedom of assembly. Gatherings of more than four people were banned.[19]

The massacre

On April 13, the holiday of Baisakhi, thousands of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh (garden) near the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. Baisakhi is a Sikh festival, commemorating the day that Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Panth in 1699, and also known as the 'Birth of Khalsa.' During this time people celebrate by congregating in religious and community fairs, and there may have been a large number who were unaware of the political meeting.

The Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919, months after the massacre.
"The Martyrs' Well" at Jallianwala Bagh.
Cartoon in Punch 14 July 1920, on the occasion of Montagu labelling as "frightful" General Dyer for his role in the Amritsar massacre

An hour after the meeting began as scheduled at 4:30 pm, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer marched a group of sixty-five Gurkha and twenty-five Baluchi soldiers into the Bagh, fifty of whom were armed with rifles.[20] Dyer had also brought two armoured cars armed with machine guns, however the vehicles were stationed outside the main gate as they were unable to enter the Bagh through the narrow entrance.

The Jallianwala Bagh was bounded on all sides by houses and buildings and had few narrow entrances, most of which were kept permanently locked. The main entrance was relatively wider, but was guarded by the troops backed by the armoured vehicles. General Dyer ordered troops to begin shooting without warning or any order to disperse, and to direct shooting towards the densest sections of the crowd. He continued the shooting, approximately 1,650 rounds in all, until the ammunition supply was almost exhausted.

Apart from the many deaths directly from the shooting, a number of 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 had been declared – 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.[21] This information was likely 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.[22] Additionally, a senior civil servant in the Punjab interviewed by the members of the committee admitted that the actual figure could be higher.[23]

Since the official figures were likely flawed considering the size of the crowd (15,000–20,000), number of rounds shot and 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. The casualty number quoted by the INC was more than 1,500, with approximately 1,000 killed.[24] Despite the Government's best efforts to suppress information of the massacre, news spread elsewhere in India and widespread outrage ensued; however, the details of the massacre did not become known in Britain until December 1919.

Back in his headquarters, General Dyer reported to his superiors that he had been "confronted by a revolutionary army".

In a telegram sent to Dyer, British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab, Sir Michael O'Dwyer wrote: "Your action is correct. Lieutenant Governor approves."[25]

O'Dwyer requested that martial law be imposed upon Amritsar and other areas; this was granted by the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, after the massacre. The "crawling order"[26] was posted on Aug 19 under the auspices of martial law.

Dyer was called to appear before the Hunter Commission, a commission of inquiry into the massacre that was ordered to convene by Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, in late 1919. Dyer said before the commission that he came to know about the meeting at the Jallianwala Bagh at 12:40 hours that day but did not attempt to prevent it. He stated that he had gone to the Bagh with the deliberate intention of opening fire if he found a crowd assembled there.

"I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself." — Dyer's response to the Hunter Commission Enquiry.[27][28]

Dyer said he would have used his machine guns if he could have got them into the enclosure, but these were mounted on armoured cars. He said he did not stop the shooting when the crowd began to disperse because he thought it was his duty to keep shooting until the crowd dispersed, and that a little shooting would not do any good. In fact he continued the shooting until the ammunition was almost exhausted.[29]

He stated that he did not make any effort to tend to the wounded after the shooting: "Certainly not. It was not my job. Hospitals were open and they could have gone there."[27]

The Hunter Commission did not award any penal nor disciplinary action because Dyer's actions were condoned by various superiors (later upheld by the Army Council).[30] However, he was finally found guilty of a mistaken notion of duty and relieved of his command.

Demonstration at Gujranwala

Two days later on April 15, demonstrations occurred in Gujranwala protesting the killings at Amritsar. Police and aircraft were used against the demonstrators, resulting in 12 deaths and 27 injuries. The Officer Commanding the Royal Air Force in India, Brigadier General N D K MacEwen stated later that:

"I think we can fairly claim to have been of great use in the late riots, particularly at Gujranwala, where the crowd when looking at its nastiest was absolutely dispersed by a machine using bombs and Lewis guns."[31]

Monument and legacy

Entrance to the present-day Jallianwala Bagh.
Bullet marks, visible on a preserved wall, at present-day Jallianwala Bagh.

A trust was formed later 1920 to build a memorial at the site after a resolution passed by the Indian National Congress. In 1923, the trust purchased land for the project. A memorial, designed by American architect Benjamin Polk, was built on the site and inaugurated by the President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad on April 13, 1961, in the presence of Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders. A flame was later added to the site.

The bullet holes can be seen on the walls and adjoining buildings to this day. The well into which many people jumped and drowned attempting to save themselves from the bullets is also a protected monument inside the park.

Formation of Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee

The most glaring incident followed the massacre. Shortly after, the official Sikh clergy of Golden Temple conferred upon General Dyer the "Saropa" (the mark of distinguished service to the Sikh faith or, in general, humanity), sending shock waves among the Sikh masses.[32] On October 12 1920, students and faculty of the Amritsar Khalsa College called a meeting to immediately liberate the Gurudwaras from the control of corrupt Mahants. The natural result of this action was the formation of Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee on November 15, 1920 to manage and reform Sikh shrines.[33]

Artistic portrayals

  • 1982: The massacre is depicted in Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi with the role of General Dyer played by Edward Fox. The film depicts most of the details of the massacre as well as the subsequent inquiry by the Montague commission.
  • 1984: The story of the massacre also occurs in the 7th episode of Granada TV's 1984 series The Jewel in the Crown, recounted by the fictional widow of a British officer who is haunted by the inhumanity of it and who tells how she came to be reviled because she defied the honouring of Dyer and instead donated money to the Indian victims.
  • 2002: In the Hindi movie The Legend of Bhagat Singh directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, the massacre is reconstructed with the child Bhagat Singh as a witness, eventually inspiring him to become a revolutionary in the Indian independence movement.
  • 2006: Portions of the Hindi movie Rang De Basanti nonlinearly depict the massacre and the influence it had on the freedom fighters.

Prince Philip Controversy

In 1997, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, participating with an already controversial British visit to the Monument, provoked outrage in India with an offhand comment. Having observed a plaque claiming "This place is saturated with the blood of about two thousand Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who were martyred in a non-violent struggle", Prince Philip observed, "That's a bit exaggerated, it must include the wounded". (Official government sources estimated the fatalities at 379, and with 1,100 wounded.[3] Civil Surgeon Dr Smith indicated that there were 1,526 casualties,[4] which might account for the Prince's opinion.) When asked how he had concluded this, Prince Philip said "I was told about the killings by General Dyer's son. I'd met him while I was in the Navy."[34]


Although she had not made any comments on the incident during her state visits later 1961 and 1983, Queen Elizabeth II spoke about the events at a state banquet in India on October 13, 1997:[35]

It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past – Jallianwala Bagh, which I shall visit tomorrow, is a distressing example. But history cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise. It has its moments of sadness, as well as gladness. We must learn from the sadness and build on the gladness.[35]

On October 14, 1997 Queen Elizabeth II visited Jallianwala Bagh and paid her respects with a 30‑second moment of silence. During the visit, she wore a dress of a colour described as pink apricot or saffron, which was of religious significance to Hindus and Sikhs.[35] She removed her shoes while visiting the monument and laid a wreath at the monument.[35]

While some Indians welcomed the expression of regret and sadness in the Queen's statement, others criticised it for being less than an apology.[35] The then-Prime Minister of India Inder Kumar Gujral defended the Queen, stating that the Queen herself had played no part in the events and should not be required to apologize.[35]

Assassination of Michael O'Dwyer

Michael O'Dwyer ca. 1912
Wide view of Jallianwala Bagh memorial

On March 13, 1940, at Caxton Hall in London, Udham Singh, an Indian independence activist from Sunam who had witnessed the events in Amritsar and was himself wounded, shot and killed Michael O'Dwyer, the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab at the time of the massacre, who had approved Dyer's action and was believed to be the main planner. (Dyer himself had died in 1927.)

The action by Singh was condemned generally, but some press, like nationalist newspaper Amrita Bazar Patrika, also made positive statements. The common people and revolutionaries glorified the action of Udham Singh. Much of the press worldwide recalled the story of Jallianwala Bagh and alleged Michael O'Dwyer to have been responsible for the massacre. Singh was termed a "fighter for freedom" and his action was referred to in The Times newspaper as "an expression of the pent-up fury of the down-trodden Indian People".[36] In Fascist countries, the incident was used for anti-British propaganda: Bergeret, published in large scale from Rome at that time, while commenting upon the Caxton Hall assassination, ascribed the greatest significance to the circumstance and praised the action of Udham Singh as courageous.[37] The Berliner Börsen Zeitung termed the event "The torch of Indian freedom". German radio reportedly broadcast: "The cry of tormented people spoke with shots."

At a public meeting in Kanpur, a spokesman had stated that "at last an insult and humiliation of the nation had been avenged". Similar sentiments were expressed in numerous other places countrywide.[38] Fortnightly reports of the political situation in Bihar mentioned: "It is true that we had no love lost for Sir Michael. The indignities he heaped upon our countrymen in Punjab have not been forgotten." In its March 18, 1940 issue, Amrita Bazar Patrika wrote: "O'Dwyer's name is connected with Punjab incidents which India will never forget." The New Statesman observed: "British conservativism has not discovered how to deal with Ireland after two centuries of rule. Similar comment may be made on British rule in India. Will the historians of the future have to record that it was not the Nazis but the British ruling class which destroyed the British Empire?"

Singh had told the court at his trial:

"I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. He was the real culprit. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I have crushed him. For full 21 years, I have been trying to wreak vengeance. I am happy that I have done the job. I am not scared of death. I am dying for my country. I have seen my people starving in India under the British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty. What a greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?"[39]

Singh was hanged for the murder on July 31, 1940. At that time, many, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, condemned the action of Udham as senseless but courageous. In 1952, Nehru (by then, Prime Minister) honoured Udham Singh with the following statement which had appeared in the daily Partap: "I salute Shaheed-i-Azam Udham Singh with reverence who had kissed the noose so that we may be free." Soon after this recognition by the Prime Minister, Udham Singh received the title of Shaheed, a name given to someone who has attained martyrdom or done something heroic on behalf of their country or religion.

See also

  • List of massacres in India


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  2. ^ 1920 [Cmd. 681] East India (disturbances in the Punjab, etc.). "Report of the committee appointed by the government of India to investigate the disturbances in the Punjab, etc." pp. 111–112. (Hereafter referred to as the "Hunter Report".)
  3. ^ a b Home Political Deposit, September, 1920, No 23, National Archives of India, New Delhi; Report of Commissioners, Vol 1, New Delhi
  4. ^ a b Report of Commissioners, Vol 1, New Delhi, p 105
  5. ^ "Amritsar Massacre – ninemsn Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. http://www.webcitation.org/5kwriIrvt. 
  6. ^ Gupta 1997, p. 12
  7. ^ Popplewell 1995, p. 201
  8. ^ Strachan 2001, p. 798
  9. ^ Hoover 1985, p. 252
  10. ^ Brown 1948, p. 300
  11. ^ Strachan 2001, p. 788
  12. ^ Hopkirk 2001, p. 41
  13. ^ Popplewell 1995, p. 234
  14. ^ Sarkar 1983, pp. 169–172,176
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  17. ^ Cell 2002, p. 67
  18. ^ Brown 1973, p. 523
  19. ^ Townshend, Britains Civil Wars. p137
  20. ^ Hunter Report, p29
  21. ^ Hunter Report, p116-117.
  22. ^ Nigel Collett (2007), The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer, Hambledon and London, p. 263 
  23. ^ Hunter Report, p117
  24. ^ "Amritsar Massacre – ninemsn Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. http://www.webcitation.org/5kwriIrvt. 
  25. ^ Disorder Inquiry Committee Report, Vol II, p 197
  26. ^ "Reginald Dyer – Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia". Simple.wikipedia.org. http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Dyer#Crawling_Order. Retrieved 2011-02-01. 
  27. ^ a b Terence R. Blackburn (2007), A miscellany of mutinies and massacres in India (illustrated ed.), APH Publishing, p. 173, ISBN 9788131301692, http://books.google.com/?id=yQgt5SYepi8C&pg=PA173 
  28. ^ Benjamin Guy Horniman (1920), Amritsar and our duty to India, T. F. Unwin, ltd., p. 119, http://books.google.com/?id=cNpOAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA119&dq=%22without+firing+but+they+would+have+come+back+again%22 
  29. ^ Benjamin Guy Horniman (1920), Amritsar and our duty to India, T. F. Unwin, ltd., p. 118, http://books.google.com/?id=cNpOAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA118&dq=%22disperse+the+crowd%22 
  30. ^ Winston Churchill (8 July 1920), Winston Churchill's speech in the House of Commons, http://lachlan.bluehaze.com.au/churchill/amritsar.htm  Retrieved on 14 Sep 2010.
  31. ^ Royal Air Force Power Review, 1, spring 2008, http://www.raf.mod.uk/rafcms/mediafiles/BC18F893_1143_EC82_2E16AC19F19FE2D2.pdf, retrieved 24 October 2010. 
  32. ^ Ajit Singh Sarhadi, "Punjabi Suba: The Story of the Struggle", Kapur Printing Press, Delhi, 1970, p. 19
  33. ^ Indian critiques of Gandhi – Google Books, Books.google.com, 2003, ISBN 9780791459102, http://books.google.com/?id=GGGudMuE4PIC&pg=PA173&dq=sgpc+saropa+general+dyer#v=onepage&q=sgpc%20saropa%20general%20dyer&f=false, retrieved 2011-02-01 
  34. ^ The Queen in Amritsar
  35. ^ a b c d e f "In India, Queen Bows Her Head Over a Massacre in 1919". New York Times. 1997-10-15. 
  36. ^ The Times, London, March 16, 1940
  37. ^ Public and Judicial Department, File No L/P + J/7/3822, Caxton Hall outrage, India Office Library and Records, London, pp 13–14
  38. ^ Government of India, Home Department, Political File No 18/3/1940, National Archives of India, New Delhi, p40
  39. ^ CRIM 1/1177, Public Record Office, London, p 64
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