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Sunday, April 22, 2018

the gory butchering at Jallianwala bagh

Often Indian freedom struggle gets described in one pithy statement  - Gandhi got us freedom without shedding blood !  ~ how much away from truth, and why the sacrifices and blood of martyrs was so deliberately buried under ? – how can the Nation forget the bloodshed on that day in Apr 1919 ??- at Amritsar.  People have died on battlefields but not on meeting platforms !

No event within living memory, can ever make so deep and painful an impression on the Indian subjects than the history or the very thought of massacre of innocents at Amritsar.  The ruthless execution has no parallels and this Nation suffered economically more severely from the World war despite no direct participation.   It was the cruel General Dyer who had earlier written  a spirited account of his campaign against some nomad tribes on the frontier of South- East Persia and Baluchistan in 1916. As an example of what can be done by courageous diplomacy, backed by an insignificant force, this campaign well deserved recording,  passed unnoticed amid the greater events of the war.

The Sarhad- literally meaning boundary—is a tangle of rough volcanic hills and salt desert which is not clearly marked on the latest Staff map of Persia. This Region had been giving British rulers more anxiety during those trouble days, menace from Afghanistan.  On 20th Feb 1919, Amir Habibullah was murdered at sleep in his tent in the Laghman valley.  He had long followed a policy of friendship with Britishers and had resisted the blandishments of Germany and Turkey.  A few weeks earlier to his death, he had entered into an alliance with the emir of Bokhara and several other Central Asian Princes to oppose the Moscow Soviet and the murder that way was a blow to Great Britain.

History further has it that in Dec 1912, while Lord Hardinge of Penshurst was Viceroy, O'Dwyer was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab, a post which he held until 1919. When he assumed charge in May 1913, for which he was knighted with the KCSI in the King's Birthday Honours on 3 June,  he was cautioned by the Viceroy that "the Punjab was the Province about which the Government were then the most concerned; that there was much inflammable material lying about; which required very careful handling if an explosion was to be avoided". O'Dwyer was appointed a GCIE in the 1917 King's Birthday Honours list on 4 June 1917.

The gory massacre was to occur and make Baisakhi day April 13, 1919, a tragic day on that day, local residents in Amritsar decided to hold a meeting  to discuss and protest against the confinement of Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, two leaders fighting for Independence. People were also protesting implementation of the Rowlatt Act, which armed the British government with powers to detain any person without trial. It was no violent crowd – it had a mix of men, women and children,  gathered in a park called the JallianwalaBagh, walled on all sides having  a few small gates.  It was to be a peaceful meeting of peasants and people and included pilgrims visiting the famous Golden temple. 

The otherwise serene public garden in Amritsar, ‘JallianwalaBagh’ would ever nurse the wounds and painful memory of those lives lost on that fateful day on 13th April 1919……… it now houses a memorial of national importance, established in 1951 to commemorate the massacre.  The brutal killings of British Raj statistically placed by their own historians as :  379 fatalities and 1100 wounded.  The true figures of fatalities may never be known  but certainly would far exceed the official figures. 

For one man it was not a peaceful assembly - Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer entertained to self,  thoughts of  a major insurrection and thus he banned all meetings. On hearing that thousands had gathered in the park,  Dyer went with fifty riflemen to a raised bank and ordered them to shoot at the crowd. Dyer continued the firing for about ten minutes, till the ammunition supply was almost exhausted; Dyer stated that 1,650 rounds had been fired, a number which seems to have been derived by counting empty cartridge cases picked up by the troops. Dyer was removed from duty and forced to retire. He became a celebrated hero in Britain among people with connections to the British Raj.  For those of us with little knowledge of history – the names are confusing -   there were two of them.  Michael O'Dwyer, the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab who approved the action and Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer who executed the mindless massacre.

History as ordained by the British was to state that a  British investigation committee’s findings on the socio-economic and political conditions of Punjab in the backdrop of the JallianwalaBagh massacre reveal the apprehensions felt by British police official Miles Irving, who served as the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar during the massacre that resulted in the horrifying bloodbath on April 13, 1919.“There were causes arising directly out of the war (First World War), the general feeling of war-weariness… a great feeling of disappointment that the end of the war had not produced any relaxation of the stringency,” Irving explained to the committee when asked about the probability of a revolt against the British rule. Examining the economic situation of the Punjab at large, Lord Hunter, who presided over the committee session in Lahore on November 13, 1919, questioned Irving about the condition of Amritsar’s fabric business – a trade that marked the commercial landscape of contemporary Amritsar. “I think the piece-goods trade was hit too, and the piece goods merchants, I think, were discontented at having to pay high war taxes,” stated Irving in is reply.

The mindless butcher of Amritsar   General Dyer was removed from command and exiled to Britain not with fine but  with a gift of 26,000 pounds,  a huge sum in those days. He died in 1927 after suffering a series of heart strokes.  The gift that he got - of £26,000 sterling, emerged from a fund set up on his behalf by the Morning Post, a conservative, pro-imperialist newspaper, which later merged with the Daily Telegraph. A "Thirteen Women Committee" was constituted to present "the Saviour of the Punjab with the sword of honour and a purse". Large contributions to the fund were made by civil servants and by British Army and Indian Army officers, although serving members of the military were not allowed to donate to political funds under the King's Regulations.  The Morning Post had supported Dyer's action on grounds stating that the massacre was necessary to "Protect the honour of European Women".The Morning Post blamed Montagu, Secretary of State (India), and not Dyer for the massacre and asked for his court trial. Montagu, on the other hand, in a long letter to the Viceroy, passed the blame to Sir Michael O'Dwyer.

Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer CB (9 October 1864 – 23 July 1927) was an officer of the British Indian Army  as a temporary brigadier-general, was responsible for the JallianwalaBagh massacre in Amritsar.  Sir Michael Francis O'Dwyer GCIE KCSI (28 April 1864 – 13 March 1940) was Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab in India from 1912 until 1919. O'Dwyer endorsed General Reginald Dyer's action regarding the Amritsar massacre and termed it a "correct action". In 1940, aged 75, he was assassinated by Udham Singh.

The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer is a 2006 historical biography written by Nigel Collett, a former Gurkha officer, which covers the life of Reginald Dyer. The book's title refers to the 1919 massacre at JallianwalaBagh in which 379 people were shot by troops under the command of Dyer. It is the second biography written on Dyer, the first having been written in the 1930s with co-operation from Dyer's widow which was described by Saul David as an "unashamed hagiography".Collett had read Dyer's book Raiders of the Sarhad while he was serving in the army. He returned to it when writing his dissertation for his Master of Arts in biography at the University of Buckingham.

Reginald Harry Dyer came of a west country family long following the sea and long connected with India.  Vaguely, the origin placed to the village Pilton near Devon.  By some accounts John Dyer grandfather of Reginald married Julia at Calcutta.  In 1827, John Dyer was in the pilot service of East India Company and commanded one of the company’s brigs, fought with success those Dyak pirates who then infested the seas of Burma and Malay archipelago.  His son, Edward, father of Reginald was born on 7th July 1831 in Calcutta and was baptised there.

Dyer was initially lauded by conservative forces in the empire, but in July 1920 he was censured and forced to retire by the House of Commons. He became a celebrated hero in the UK among most of the people connected to the  House of Lords, but unpopular in the House of Commons, which voted against Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer. He was disciplined by being removed from his appointment, was passed over for promotion and was prohibited from further employment in India. Among his prominent supporters, Nobel Literature Prize winner Rudyard Kipling called Dyer "the man who saved India" and initiated collections for his homecoming prize.

~ and there is many a story hidden on the attitude of British towards India and the way many uprising were crushed brutally.  Yet, we instead of studying our own heroes, conclude that British left India peacefully, handing freedom on a platter to Gandhi, to be ruled by Jawaharlal Nehru.  History has its share of blood and freedom was obtained by many many martyrs.

Jai Hind

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
Apr 19, 2018.  (next year it will be centenary of the brutal massacre)

Biblio :  The life of General Dyer by Ian Colvin 1929
Amritsar and our duty to India by BG Horniman
Massacre at Amrtisar by Rupert Furneaux

PS  : in 2013 - British Prime Minister David Cameron became the first serving British Prime Minister to voice regret about one of the bloodiest episodes in colonial India, a massacre of unarmed civilians in the city of Amritsar in 1919. Writing in the visitor’s book of Jallianwalla Bagh, Cameron said, “This was a deeply shameful act in British history, one that Winston Churchill rightly described at that time as monstrous. We must never forget what happened here and we must ensure that the UK stands up for the right of peaceful protests around the world”.  Cameron’s trip came 16 years after Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip visited Amritisar in 1997.  He paid floral tributes to the martyrs of Jallianwalla Bagh. He also stood for a few seconds before the Amar Joyti (burning flame) at Jallianwalla Bagh where he bowed his head to show respect to the martyrs. He spent nearly 25 minutes in the park.

1 comment:

  1. Who were the indian sipahi's who fired on the hapless? What is known about them?