Very few people in India, perhaps none abroad, know as to why General Dyer ordered massacre of innocent men women and children on April 13 1919, the Baisakhi day. Here are some important little known or unknown facts which resulted in the massacre of more than 500 and serious bullet injuries to more than 1500, mostly citizens of Amritsar who had gathered there to listen to Gandhi and other leaders against what Gandhi called “Devilish” piece of legislation ie. two Bills under Rowlett Act.
Arthur Herman, the author of Book “Gandhi and Churchill, describes the event before massacre of hundreds of innocent Indians gathered in Jallianwala Bagh as under:
‘ Winston Churchill told the House of Commons , “Never has there been a time when people (Indians) were more disposed to turn to courses of violence or show such scant respect for law and custom , tradition and procedure.” To ally the fears of men like Churchill Indian government officials decided to act.’
In February 1919, as the Defense of India Act was to expire six months after the war; two bills by Sydney Rowlett, reached the Legislative Council in Delhi; “an outery began. Even with every Indian member (of legislative council) voting against it the bills were passed in March and became law. The two bills contained two controversial provisions. One allowed judges to convict suspected terrorist or subversives without a Jury, the other sanctioned interning those same suspects without trial.”
Gandhi thought by supporting British war effort India would get independence (Swaraj) or at least Home rule. So Gandhi had enthusiastically supported the British Empire in their war against Germany. He even went so far as to recruit 20 able-bodied persons from each village in Gujarat and walked for hundreds of miles. At the end he could recruit only forty instead of more than a thousand. He justified his war effort to the annoyance of his close associate (Sardar) Patel, who refused to be a party to that effort of Gandhi, due to twist in his philosophy of Ahimsa- Annie Besant sarcastically called Gandhi “Recruiting sergeant” of British Empire. Even many villagers felt ashamed of their Gandhi’s support to British and left his meetings or showed their back.
Gandhi justified his pro British stand. Gandhi went so far as to say “Of all my activities I regard this (recruitment) as the most difficult and the most important.”
It is surprising that there is no mention of Gandhi being pro-British upto 1919 in the ‘Advanced History of India’ by Dr R C Majumdar and others, and also Gandhi going to many villages to recruit as soldiers for British-Indian Army and the sarcastic remark of Annie Besant, that Gandhi was “Recruiting Sergeant” for the British.
It is noteworthy that Gandhi’s pro-British views in 1914 to 1919 were in absolute contrast to Annie Besant’s views…. Annie Besant a British citizen who came to India and after seeing extreme poverty in villages and the conditions of vast majority of Indians, the repressive imperialist rule by the same British who were just and democratic in their own country, got so perturbed that she started ‘Home Rule India’ party. She wanted British to concede independence to India. She said “The moment of England’s difficulty is the moment of India’s opportunity.” But Gandhi differed with her and wanted India to support British war effort “unconditionally, spiritually and physically.” Lokmanya Tilak was released from jail after the 1st world war started in 1914. Tilak wanted like many other Indians British to concede ‘Home Rule’ to India, if not independence, just now. He therefore joined Annie Besant’s Party. As a result within one year, Annie Besant’s ‘Home Rule League’ had more than 60,000 full time members while “Indian National Congress had only 20,000 members.”
However after the end of war with Germany, British Government and in particular imperialist Winston Churchill went back from their promise of conceding Home Rule to Indians. This made Indian National Congress furious and Gandhi, too, felt betrayed by British. So he joined the independence movement of Congress and was going to address congress sponsored meeting at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, just, adjoining the Golden Temple the holiest Sikh Gurdwara. But on way Gandhi was taken out of train before reaching Amritsar, arrested and taken to Bombay. Punjab Government, as well as the British Government of Delhi kept this and Jallianwala massacre and meeting as top secret and did not let anyone know for couple of months.
In brief here is sequence of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre on 13th April 1919: Dyer entered (Amritsar) city central with a convoy of Armoured cars, his troops following. With him was the Amritsar town “crier.” He was shouting Dyers order in Hindi and Punjabi, English and Urdu. “On reaching his temporary headquarters, he learnt that a demonstration was under way in Jallianwala Bagh. He became furious, rather lost balance, at the “deliberate violation” of his order and immediately marched with “ninety Baluchis and Gurkhas towards Jallianwala Bagh where thousands of citizens had gathered to protest against the ‘devilish’ provisions of Rowlett Act. With Dyer were only four British, two officers and two security guards. ‘Otherwise there were no white soldiers at all.’
Arthur Herman describes the order of Dyer as under:
“Dyer barked the order to open fire. For ten minutes Dyer encouraged his soldiers to keep shooting unless bodies carpeted the ground.” Dyer and his troops had marched off after completing the massacre in Jallianwala Bagh leaving about a thousand dead and more than 2000 wounded. “Cries of pain and moans rose to the roof tops, bodies lined the entire wall around the Bagh. In many places the eyewitnesses said, they were ten feet deep.”
Where an English woman had been pulled from her bicycle, “Dyer ordered every citizen of Amritsar to ‘crawl on all fours”. He also set up a whipping post where any ‘native’ who refused to crawl was to be flogged.
‘Gandhi did not hear of this massacre and cruelty at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar ‘until June’. For almost two months there was complete clampdown. But as the news of worst ever British tyranny trickled there were unceasing protests and cries all over India.
Jallianwala Bagh massacre united all Indians against British, for the first time. Rabindra Nath Tagore returned his knighthood in protest, Gandhi returned his Kaisar-e Hind medal that was awarded for his pro-British services in South Africa. Jinnaha relinquished his membership of imperial legislature. Motilal Nehru collected his British furniture, suits and ties and made bonfire in his home garden and started wearing hand span Khadi clothes.
“The evidence was harrowing. Eyewitnesses who had watched the Jallianwala Bagh killings from the rooftops had seen “blood pouring in profusion…even those who were lying down were shot….Some had their head cut open, others had eyes shot and nose, chest, arms or legs shattered.” Some witnesses had sat all night in the Bagh with dying husbands and brothers. Others remembered the bodies of those who had been shot, but managed to escape, being left in the street for dead-including the bodies of small children.”
“At one point an entire wedding party had been flogged for failing to follow the crawling order.”
The pain and cries because of more than a thousand deaths in Amritsar “united Indians as never before and after”. More than any other events “Amritsar and its aftermath solidified national support for Indian independence.