Jallianwala Bagh, Monument of Sacrifice - An Emotional Journey

“They may kill me, but they can’t kill my ideas. They can crush my body but they will not be able to crush my spirit” - Bhagat Singh

I have grown up reading, listening about sacrifices and struggles of freedom fighter, historical events. Always have great respect for them and admire their sacrifices for our freedom. To get Independence we as a nation have seen some darkest moments in our history.

April 13th marks the auspicious day of Baisakhi every year but in 1919 this auspicious day turned in to one of the darkest and saddest moment in our history.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

In 13 April 1919 when a crowd of nonviolent protesters, along with Baisakhi pilgrims, had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh Amritsar were fired upon by troops of the British Indian Army under the command of  Brigadier General Dyer.

I visited the Jallianwala Bagh last week, it is a public garden in Amritsar and now a memorial of national importance, established in 1951 by the Government of India. The 6.5-acre garden site of the massacre is near Golden Temple complex.

Before I write about my visit there, let’s get down the memory lane and let me tell you in detail what exactly has happened in Jallianwala Bagh (This is going to be lengthy and I made these notes below from information center out there)

  • 6th February 1919 Rowlatt Bill was introduced by British Govt and passed in to Act in March 1919. Under this act, people suspected of so-called sedition could be imprisoned without trial. This resulted in frustration among the people of India and there was great unrest. While people expecting freedom, they suddenly discovered their chains were being strengthened.
  • At that time Punjab was governed by a reactionary Lt. Governor, Sir Michael O’Dwyer, who had contempt for educated Indians. He truly ruled Punjab with an iron hand .At this juncture, Mahatma Gandhi decided to launch a Satyagraha campaign. 
  • 6th April 1919, the city of Amritsar responded to Mahatma’s call by observing a “Hartal”
  • 9th April 1919 a procession was taken out, in which Hindu and Muslim participated giving proof of their unity and Govt ordered arrest of Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlu and Dr. Satyapal, popular leaders.
  • 10th April 1919 as people wanted to meet Deputy Commissioner to demand the release of two leaders, they were fired upon. This angered people and disorder broke out in Amritsar, some bank building were sacked, telegraph and railway communication were snapped. Three Britishers were murdered and one woman injured.
  • 11th April 1919 Brigadier General R.E.H. Dyer arrived from Jullundur Cantonment and virtually occupied the town as civil administration under Miles Irving the Deputy Commissioner.
  • On 13th April 1919 the Baisakhi day, a public meeting was announced to be held in the Jallianwala Bagh in the evening. Dyer came to Jallianwala Bagh with a force of 150 troops. They took up their positions on an elevated ground towards the main entrance, a narrow lane in which hardly two men could walk abreast. At six minutes to sunset they opened fire on a crowd of about 20,000 people without giving any warning. A massacre was perpetrated, the like of which has no parallel in history in barbarous and cruelty. 
  • Official British Indian source gave figure of 370 identified dead and approx 1100 wounded. Civil Surgeon Dr Williams DeeMeddy indicated that there were 1526 casualties. However, the casualty number quoted by the Indian National Congress was more than 1500, with roughly 1000 killed.

Arthur Swinson thus describes the massacre

“Toward the exits of either flank, the crowds converged in the frantic effort to get awat, jostling, clambering, elbowing and trampling over each other. Seeing this movement, Briggs drew Dyer’s attention to it and Dyer mistakenly imagining that these sections of crowd were getting ready to rush him, directed the fire of the troop straight at them. The result was harrow, men screamed and went down, to be trampled by those coming after. Some were shot again & again. In places the dead and wounded lay in heaps, men would go down wounded to find themselves immediately buried beneath a dozen other.

The firing still went on. Hundreds abandoning all hope of getting away through the exits, tried the wall which in places were five feet height and at other seven or ten. Fighting for a position, then ran at them, clutching at the smooth surfaces trying frantically to get a hold. Some people almost reached the top to be pulled down by those fighting behind them. Some more agile than the rest, succeeded in getting away but many more were shot as them clambered up and some as they sat poised on the top before leaping down on the further side,

20,000 people were caught beneath the hail of bullets, all of them frantically trying to escape from the quiet meeting place which suddenly become a screaming hell.

Some of those who endured it gave their guess as a quarter of an hour. Dyer though probably ten minutes, but from the number of rounds fired it may not have been longer than six. In that time 337 men, 41 boys and a baby seven weeks old had been killed and 1500 men and boys wounded.

The whole bagh was filled with sound of sobbing and moaning and the voice of people calling out for help”

Though Dyer claimed that he had nipped a revolution by his drastic action, he never had sound sleep after the massacre. He died on July 23 1927 and buried at the church in London. Sir Michael O’Dwyer survived hum by thirteen year. On March 13, 1940, he was shot dead by Udham Singh at Caxton Hall London.

If its too much of reading, here is one scene from Gandhi Movie

Close to 1650 bullets and thousands of innocent people. 10 minutes of nonstop firing and after that silence, bloodstains and bullet holes. That’s the story of the Jallianwala Bagh.

Jallianwala Bagh is not a place to see but to feel. Now very well preserved and maintained garden.The entry to Bagh is through a narrow lane, this was the only way to escape but was blocked by Dyer and his army.

On entering the premises, you will see a notice board informing the historic importance and then right hand side you could see Amar Jyoti , the flame of immortal souls

Near to Amar Jyoti, stone set up to indicate that people were fired from here

Mix of emotions pain, anger, sorrow when you see the two most heart touching sites in the garden , The Martyrs well and bullet marks at wall

Martyr’s well stands testimony to the brutal killings of innocent who jumped into it in panic to escape bullets, 120 bodies were recovered from it.

Bullets that hit the walls and structures in the Jallianwala Bagh have been well preserved. To me it was chilling and all these bullet marks reinforced the feeling. The freedom we all are enjoying is not free. Many sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

The flame lighted at Jallianwala Bagh ultimately set the whole of India aflame. It is a landmark in India’s struggle for freedom. It gave impetus to Satyagraha movement, which ultimately won freedom for India on 15 Aug 1947. To remember that 45 foot red stone pillar in the shape of flame was built.

There also information center, photography not allowed there but it has lot of newspaper news and articles of that time covering this horrified event, pictures of freedom fighter and stories of those that served to further freedom was very informative and inspiring. 

I was in Amritsar for three days and every day I visited Jallianwala Bagh, sat there and made notes of all the info available there for writing this blog. Every day I observed crowd over there and sadly this historical place is turning in to some sort of picnic spot, family outing, many taking a power nap, trying to take cool selfie, student group mocking and acting Dyer. I think many see this place as resting spot after visiting Golden Temple and Harmandir Saheb.
There I was sitting quietly and thinking for this generation can we understand to some degree what people went through during Pre-Independence era, their sacrifice, their pain, their fight for Independence? I don’t think so!!!

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