Punjab's Twin Cities (Lahore-Amritsar) And Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

Qasim Khan Lahore

April 13, 1919 - Jallianwala Bagh Massacre When People of Punjab's Twin cities (Lahore-Amritsar) were on streets!

(in this rare Photo shown acceleration of Police to stop Demonstration in Amritsar)


By April 6, the anti-Rowlatt satyagraha was at its peak in Punjab. "Practically the whole of Lahore was on the streets," historian Hari Singh has recorded. "The immense crowd that passed through Anarkali was estimated to be around 20,000."

The trial and martyrdom of the Ghadar Party leadership in the Lahore Conspiracy trial, and the internment of some 1,500 of the emigrants in India, proved an abiding symbol for a younger generation of radicals. News of young Muslim who had left to fight for the restoration of the Turkish Caliphate (Tehrek-e-Khilafat) but ended up struggling in the ranks of the Red Army during the defence of Kirke, also trickled in. In Punjab, the doubling of prices of wheat, rice and bajra, and the tripling of salt prices fuelled discontent, particularly among artisans and peasants.

In Amritsar, over 5,000 people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh. By April 9, a new spirit seemed to be in the air. Hindu and Muslim protesters drank water from the same glass. British authority appeared to be collapsing. "The Khan Bahadurs and Rai Sahibs are dead," Amritsar Deputy Commissioner Miles Irving wrote, explaining his lack of control over events, "and are not fresh corpses at that."

On April 10, 1919, Over 15,000 people gathered at the Carriage Bridge. The enraged crowd, armed with lathis, turned on British officials. Four British residents were killed and two were seriously injured; one, missionary Marcella Sherwood, was left for dead. Government property was burned and looted, with persons from the Katra Kanhaiya red light area and members of the Pherna and Safeda communities ("criminal tribes", in colonial nomenclature) joining the revolt.

When Brigadier General Dyer arrived in Amritsar from Jalandhar at 9 p.m. the next day, his fellow British residents had convinced themselves that the events of 1857 were about to repeat themselves. Irving had called Maqbool Mohammad and asked him to inform the city that it was under military occupation.

In Lahore, the uprising had yet to subside. The Danda Fauj (stick-army) of impoverished Muslim artisans led by Chanan Din marched through the streets with sticks and toy guns, declaring their loyalty to the Amir of Afghanistan and the German Kaiser. Crowds of students proclaimed the death of King George, while rumours were spread that Indian troops had mutinied in the Lahore cantonment.

More dangerously for the Raj, the 4,000 Indian railway employees in Lahore went on strike. Even in rural Kasur, which had earned the wrath of Amritsar and Lahore by failing to join the hartal of April 6, huge demonstrations were held. "This is our last chance," local leader Nadir Ali Shah told the gathering. "We must remove the knife around our throat."

On the morning of April 13, Baisakhi day, Dyer's troops marched through Amritsar, proclaiming that all assemblies would be "dispersed by force of arms if necessary." Shortly afterwards, two people walked through the city banging tin cans to announce a rally at 4:30 p.m. at Jallianwala Baug. By afternoon, a peace gathering of over 20,000 people was in place, hearing a succession of speeches condemning the Rowlatt Act and the recent arrests and firings. (Many of those who had gathered at the maidan, however, were villagers, who were on a visit to Amritsar on the occasion of the Baisakhi fair, and were probably unaware of the morning's drama).

No effort, Dyer later admitted, had been made to prevent the gathering from taking place. An aircraft briefly hovered overhead as five speeches were completed before Dyer arrived at Jallianwala Bagh, along with two young officers, Briggs and Anderson, 50 Indian and British rifle-men, 40 Gurkhas, and two armoured cars.

Dyer was convinced that a major insurrection was at hand. He banned all meetings, and hearing a meeting of 15,000 to 20,000 people had assembled he marched his fifty riflemen to a raised bank and a few minutes before sunset, ordered them to shoot at the crowd which included men, women, and children.

The first of 1,650 rounds were fired into the crowd. Dyer kept the firing up for about ten minutes. Bodies were falling all around and no warning was given to disperse before Dyer opened fire. Many died when they jumped into the well at the left-hand side of the maidan, only to be crushed by others who desperately dived on top of them. The wounded cried for help, but there was no aid at hand.

"I fired and continued to fire until the crowd dispersed," Dyer told the official Lord William Hunter Committee of Inquiry set up to probe the violence, "and I consider this is the least amount of firing which would produce the necessary moral and widespread effect it was my duty to produce, if I was to justify my action."

To this day, no one knows how many died. The Punjab Government first asserted that 291 people were killed. An enquiry by Amritsar Deputy Commissioner F.H. Burton later raised the official toll to 379, and some alleged inaccuracies. It is not impossible that the figure could have been higher, given the turmoil and poor communications of the time. Even, casualty number quoted by different sources was more than 1,500, with approximately 1,000 killed.

Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, with another leading Lawyer, C.R. Das proceeded to Lahore to defend the leaders who were being prosecuted. The Governor of Punjab banned their entry in the province. However, after a year on 13 April 1920 a huge meeting was held in Bombay. Mr. Jinnah presided and said that Dyer was a butcher, and the massacre at Amratsar would move even the stones. The great poet Tigore sent a moving message. Mahatma Gandhi moved the Resolution of condemnation.

Jallianwala Bagh was only the beginning of a prolonged phase of appalling brutality. In Gujranwala town, an attempt to provoke a communal riot on April 14 by hanging up the leg of a pig and a dead calf came to nothing' the police were held responsible, and fighting followed.

Spontaneous protests broke out in rural tracts such as Sheikhpura, Sangla and Chuharkhana. The local authorities asked for military help, and since the bridges to the town were destroyed, airplanes were used to put down the rebellion. Aircraft from Lahore dropped three bombs on protesting crowds on April 14 and 15, following it up with machine-gun fire.

Armoured trains were used to fire at demonstrators in Kasur. The official death toll, just 11 in the Gujranwala bombing and strafing, for example, appears laughable. A total of 334 people were reported killed in the uprising.

In Lahore, college students were ordered to walk up to 20 km in the sun four times a day for roll call before military administrators. In Gujranwala, those arrested for the disturbances were forced to work as punkha-pullers (to operate a hand-operated fanning device) for soldiers. At Kasur, the six largest school students were whipped simply for their size. Throughout Punjab, infringements of the salaam order were punished by whipping and beatings. In all 1,229 people, largely urban artisans and youth, were convicted of involvement in the uprising. Eighteen people were sentenced to death, 23 were transported for life and 58 were flogged on the orders of the Martial Law Commission.