Issue :   
May 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.    Wishing You All a Happy New Year.       May 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:January' 2018


Remembering Jallianwala Bagh

Prabhjot Singh

  • Did it give birth to the concept of state terrorism ?
  • Was it handiwork of General O.Dwyer alone ?
  • Has the country done justice to martyrs and their families ?
  • Is it time to look beyond rituals ?
  • Bagh’s epoch and media
  • Punjab’s tryst with Censorship

People hold a candlelight march outside the Jallianwala Bagh
Memorial to pay homage to massacre victims
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre was a gruesome episode that changed the narrative of the freedom struggle. It not only symbolized the brute power that the British used to contain growing demand of the populace for freedom, liberty and equality but also exposed the desperation of the rulers in suppressing the growing revolt.
This epochal event not only gave a new direction to the war for independence but also changed the course of the sub-continental history. It paved way for Mohan Dass Karam Chand Gandhi to become Mahatma.

Before the Vaisakhi 1919 massacre, Jallianwala Bagh was a dumping ground of no political significance. But things witnessed a massive change afterwards. It provided the much-needed launch pad that guided the destiny of the nation.

Interestingly, many in the crowd had come to Amritsar to join Vaisakhi celebrations at Golden Temple and some others were there for the annual cattle fair. To kill time, the headed for Jallianwala Bagh without realizing what was in store for them. That day there was no leader in the Bagh that could control or keep the gathering together.

Local politicians, including MP Gurjeet
Singh Aujla and Punjab Minister OP Soni;
and kin (below)of Jallianwala Bagh martyrs
during the march in Amritsar
People hold a candlelight march outside the Jallianwala Bagh
Memorial to pay homage to massacre victims

General Dwyer refused to believe that the crowd that had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh was innocent but hostile that had come prepared to defy the authority.

People hold a candlelight march outside the Jallianwala Bagh
Memorial to pay homage to massacre victims
Jallianwala Bagh Memorial at Amritsar

Historian VN Dutta believed that it was Hans Raj, chief organizer of the rally. It was he who prevented people from dispersing. Rather, he asked everyone to sit down as the Government would not resort to feared fire.

“After a while, he waved his handkerchief signaling to Dwyer and his Indian soldiers to open fire. Hans Raj had already left. He was an agent provocateur. He was later moved away to Mesopotamia and his house in Amritsar was burnt,” V.N. Dutta said in an interview.

General Dwyer refused to believe that the crowd that had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh was innocent but hostile that had come prepared to defy the authority.

Has the nation given Jallianwala Bagh and its martyrs their due?

Rituals were gone through meticulously as the events unfolded for observing the centenary of the epochal event. The country’s VicePresident came , laid a wreath, joined ceremonial salute to the unknown martyrs, released a coin and set of postage stamps to mark the historic event.

Unfortunately, after 100 years, no one knows how many freedom seekers laid down their lives in a most controversial barbaric action that in the present day would have put to shame the infamous 9/11 terrorist attack on twin towers in New York.

At that time there were no human right activists and not many would know what terrorism, including state terrorism, was all about.

Even after 100 years the majority belief that the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was the result of a conspiracy has not been satisfactorily counter argued. Was it a unilateral action on the part of the then Lieutenant Governor Sir Michael O. Dwyer? Or was it the culmination of incidents, including the widespread violence following the arrest of some Punjab leaders, including Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satya Pal, besides the murder of five Europeans and assault of missionary Miss Sherwood? Or was it because of infamous Rowlett Bills?

Whatever be the background or provocation, it was one of the single largest instances of brutal misuse of state power against innocent, armless, and peaceful protestors. Even after 100 years, no one is sure of the number of innocent people who lost their lives just for defying the prohibitory orders. Was the punishment given to the victims proportionate to the violation of law committed by them wittingly or unwittingly?

Not many references were made those days about terrorism, what to talk of State terrorism. Now when the world has redefined terrorism and state terrorism, social scientists in general and those studying armed conflicts will have little or no hesitation to identify Jallianwala Bagh massacre as probably the beginning of State terrorism of suppressing or silencing the voice of dissent with brute fire power. It was the worst or blatant violation of human rights.

While the demand for apology from the British for this unprecedented massacre has been growing louder year after year, many still see it as a major aberration or act of rashness on the part of General O Dwyer. He believed that by killing innocent people in Jallianwala Bagh, he was sending a message to Punjab and the world that he would manage to put a finger in the dyke.

Provoked by the Punjab rebellion especially after incidents of April 10, 11 and 12, O Dwyer became furious and aggressive. With 25 Gurkhas and equal number of Baluchis, he reached Jallianwala Bagh on the fateful day. The troops fired about 1650 bullets. Number of people actually killed in firing and those who jumped into the well could not be authenticated even after 100 years. Even today no one has authentic number of those who attained martyrdom that day, Many injured died due to lack of medical attention.

The figures of 359 or 379 killed in firing were not working figures. Local newspapers, however, put the figure of those killed at over 1,000. Historian VN Dutta held that as many as 700 were killed in the firing. Besides, several thousands were injured who received treatment at non official clinics or health centres.

All O.Dwyer wanted was to send a strong message that Amritsar in Punjab could become a storm centre of rebellion against the British Empire and the evil had to be nipped in the bud.

Realizing that Vaisakhi was a big event and there could be massive turnouts for protests against Rowlett Bills, the British ordered prohibitory orders on April 12 and 13 that banned public rallies, taking out of processions or gathering of group of people at a place.

Without any warning to the crowd, he ordered fire. Havoc ensued. The gathering, terrorized by the firing, broke up. People ran for shelter and the narrow passageways were all crammed. Some jumped into the well for safety. Those who tried to climb the walls were caught.

Killing armless innocent people in cold blood in Jallianwala Bagh probably gave birth to ruthless State Terrorism. For Punjab it was nothing new except that magnitude this time was enormous.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre was also a litmus test for the media which at that time was in its infancy and limited to a few newspapers. One of the newspapers that the British tried to dismiss as a small local newspaper was The Tribune.

Media coverage of the events became a subject of considerable comment and criticism. The State used law not only to prevent publication of what was called “:objectionable material”, the publishers of a number of newspapers, including those who were opposed to the British Empire, were accused of “secessionist propaganda”. But it did not deter upright media.

Punjab was the centre point of growing turbulence. Intriguingly, the laws British framed to curb freedom struggle, have subsequently been used by Independent India.

In a liberal democracy, media has a vital role to play. Though acknowledged as fourth Estate, freedom of Press has become a mere bogey as was during the Jallianwala Bagh epoch.

Kalinath Ray Not many would know that it was the Jallianwala Bagh epoch that saw the British using the draconian law to curb the freedom the Press. They resorted to Censorship, not once, but twice to gag the media. Still not satisfied, the then Editor of The Tribune, Mr Kalinath Ray, was taken in custody for opposing the Empire.
A section of media, including The Tribune, served its readers as a fearless voice of the people of Punjab. When one looks back at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, one cannot overlook the role the media played.

  • The Tribune organized centenary commemoration of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by inviting Chief Ministers of Punjab (Capt Amarinder Singh), Haryana (Mr Manohar Lal Khattar) and Education Minister of Himachal Pradesh (Mr Suresh Bhardwaj).
  • The function, organized in continuation of the historical role the newspaper had played in awakening the people across North India before and after the massacre, was held at the Bhargava Auditorium of the PGI. It was attended by the elite of the city.
  • Starting with a minutes’ silence in memory of the Jallianwala Bagh martyrs, four of the descendants of those who made the supreme sacrifice on the premises of Jallianwala Bagh were honoured.
  • Those honoured were Mr Rajender Sharma, great grandson of martyr Haqim Amin Chand; Mr Mahesh Behal, grandson of martyr Hari Ram; Mr Sunil Kapoor, great grandson of martyr Masoo Mal; and Mr Surinder Singh, nephew of maryr Sunder Singh.
  • Besides,Mr Ranabir Ray, grandson of Mr Kalinath Ray, the then Editor of The Tribune, was also felicitated at the commemoration function.
  • A book “Martyrdom to Freedom: 100 years of Jallianwala Bagh” was also released.
  • Earlier, The Tribune ran a series of articles from its archives of 1918, 1919 and 1920 to give its readers a background of how this publication served the interests of the undivided Punjab those days.