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Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Jallianwalabagh massacre and the libel suit by the butcher !!

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 ??- People have died on battlefields, not on meeting platforms !


Have you ever read about - Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair,   President of the Indian National Congress in 1897, later  elevated to the bench of the Madras high court as a Judge and been knighted in 1912 

Amritsar historically  known as Rāmdāspur is in the Majha region of the Punjab.  The Bhagwan Valmiki Tirath Sthal situated at Amritsar is believed to be the Ashram site of Maharishi Valmiki, the writer of Ramayana. This was also the place of Ramtirth ashram where Lava & Kusha were born.  There is also a tree here that marks the place where the ritual horse from Ashvamedha Yagna of Lord Rama was captured by Lava Kusha. Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh guru is credited with founding the holy city of Amritsar in the Sikh tradition.  The town grew to become the city of Amritsar, and the pool area grew into a temple complex after his son built the gurdwara Harmandir Sahib, and installed the scripture of Sikhism inside the new temple in 1604.


Sadly, Amritsar is also the place when on 13th April 1919 hundreds of innocents were massacred by the British – the  Jallianwala Bagh massacre, involving the killings of hundreds of Indian civilians on the orders of Reginald Edward Harry Dyer.  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. 

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 (did we ever read about them in our school books ?). 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. 

For one man it was not a peaceful assembly - Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer entertained himself,  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. 

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.

Uptil the above can be found in many websites – perhaps the following is not so well known.

Visitors to the famed Guruvayur temple for sure would have seen the large and tall lamp made of bronze, over 30 ft in height with 300 wicks – this was presented by Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair.  He was the President of Indian National Congress in 1897,  elevated to the bench of the Madras high court as a Judge and knighted in 1912. In 1914, he was invited by the Viceroy Lord Hardinge to become a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, the highest governing body in British India. He was the only Indian member of the Council.   Sir Nair was in the Executive Council when the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh took place, and martial law was imposed in the Punjab. Even in this exalted position, he had not been aware of the horrors that were occurring there as press censorship was so severe in the Punjab. When news trickled down he was horrified that he was part of a government that had permitted these atrocities and resigned.

He went initially to England to fight for the right of Indians to govern themselves and later, on his return to India, wrote a book in which he blamed the then Lt. Governor of the Punjab, Sir Michael O’Dwyer for the atrocities that were committed.  In 1923, Sir Michael O’Dwyer, who had been Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab until 1919, sued Nair for libel. As Sir Nair refused to apologise or retract, O’Dwyer sued him for defamation at the Court of the Kings Bench in London to be tried by an English Judge and Jury.   In his book, Gandhi and Anarchy, Nair had written: ‘Before the reforms it was in the power of the Lieutenant-Governor, a single individual, to commit the atrocities in the Punjab which we know only too well.’ The book had been written to attack Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-co-operation movement, but Nair, who was a moderate, had not resisted the opportunity to take a swipe at a man whose oppressive policies he, and much of India, regarded as the real cause of the Punjab Disturbances of 1919 and the repression under Martial Law which had followed them.

The case was heard before Mr Justice McCardie in the Court of King’s Bench in London over five weeks from 30 April 1924, and, apart from being one of the longest civil hearings in legal history, was notable for being the only court to air in England any of the matters arising from the Punjab Disturbances of 1919. The case was seen, and particularly so by the plaintiff, Sir Michael O’Dwyer, as a method by which to vindicate the actions of officials of the Punjab Government who had taken a hand in suppressing the disturbances, among them most notably Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, the perpetrator of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar. 

In preparation for the case, both sides gathered evidence from supporting witnesses. For O’Dwyer, this was a relatively easy matter, as many key figures who had been involved in India in 1919 were by now back in, or close to, England and could appear in person. These included the Viceroy of the time, Lord Chelmsford, by 1924 a Government Minister, First Lord of the Admiralty; his Commander-in-Chief in India, General Sir George Carmichael Munro, by now Governor of Gibraltar; and Major-General Sir William Beynon, General Officer Commanding 16 Division in Lahore, Sir Michael O’Dwyer’s military equivalent in the Punjab and Martial Law Administrator during the disturbances, who had by now retired. So strong and impressive were these supporting witnesses, that O’Dwyer felt the need to solicit testimony from only six men in India.

Nair found himself at a very great disadvantage. In England in 1924 there were few who were prepared to support his view that Sir Michael O’Dwyer had been a repressive tyrant, and those who were, had little public standing.  Nair’s legal team was forced to fall back on depositions legally sworn by over 120 witnesses in India. Justice McCardie made it plain that he attributed these far less weight than he did the evidence of those who appeared before the jury. In the event the Indian depositions had little effect and have been forgotten since. Sir Michael O’Dwyer won his case, and was able ever thereafter to maintain that he and Dyer had been vindicated in a British court of law. 

On 15th Aug 1947 India obtained freedom without shedding blood – Gandhi was hailed as Father of the Nation and the leader of Indian National Congress Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India – WE  have read lot of history in our schools and colleges.

 Nair's eldest daughter Lady Madhavan Nair and son-in-law and nephew Sir C. Madhavan Nair (a legal luminary and a judge of the Privy Council) lived in  estate known as Lynwood, in Chennai. The British defeated Sir Sankaran Nair, while Indians have forgotten him .. .. Sad !! 

Jai Hind

With regards to all those martyrs whose sacrifices have given us this freedom.

-      S. Sampathkumar.
-      13th Apr 2o22


1 comment:

  1. 🙏🙏🙏.regards to all those martyrs whose sacrifices have given us this freedom.