I grew up reading and listening to the sacrifices and brave tales of our freedom fighters. My dad played a huge role in it, mostly because he was my History teacher. I used to listen to his lectures in awe and all thanks to him, I could always envision the historical events and some of the darkest events in our history. One such is the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and I still remember how deeply it affected my little heart.
I was in Amritsar last month and as I entered the gates of Jallianwala Bagh, a shiver ran down my spine. To get to the memorial area, you need to walk through a narrow passageway, which is the reason why the massacre is so devastating. This is the only entrance/opening to get to the garden.
On 13 April 1919, a crowd of peaceful protestors and Baisakhi pilgrims gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar. They were fired upon by troops of the British Indian Army under the command of Brigadier General Dyer.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
Down the Memory Lane
- It all began with the Rowlatt Act, which was passed in March 1919. It was widely condemned by Indian leaders and the public alike, for the act authorized the British government to arrest anybody suspected of terrorist activities, search a place without a warrant, and detain people up to 2 years without trial.
- A nationwide harthal was called by Gandhiji on 6 April.
- On 9 April, the harthal was called off and prominent Congress leaders were arrested.
- On 10th April, people went to meet the then Lieutenant Governor General Michael O’ Dwyer to demand the release of the leaders arrested. However, they were fired upon and this angered the public. Riots and protests made the situation in Punjab alarming. Martial law was implemented which meant it was unlawful for more than 4 people to gather at a place.
- On 11th April, Brigadier General Dyer occupied the civil administration of the town.
- On 13th April the Baisakhi Day, a public meeting was announced to be held in the Jallianwala Bagh in the evening. Dyer along with a force of 150 troops took up their positions on an elevated ground towards the main entrance, the narrow lane in which hardly two men could walk abreast. At six minutes to sunset, he ordered his troops to fire at the unarmed crowd of about 20,000 people which included children as well. It went on for about 10 minutes and around 1650 rounds were fired. A massacre was perpetrated, the like of which has no parallel in history in barbarous and cruelty.
- The British Indian officials estimated the fatalities as 379, with 1100 wounded. However, the numbers estimated by the Indian National Congress was with more than 1500 casualties and with approximately 1000 killed.
- The incident came as a horrifying shock to Indians and many condemned it. As a protest, Rabindranath Tagore gave up his knighthood and Gandhiji relinquished his title ‘Kaiser-e-hind’.
- However, Dyer was appreciated by many in Britain and the British in India. The government set up the Hunter Commission to inquire into the massacre. Although the commission condemned the act by Dyer, it did not impose any disciplinary action against him. He was relieved of his duties in the army in 1920.
- Udham Singh who is believed to have witnessed the massacre as a child assassinated Michael O’Dwyer in London in 1940 as revenge against the massacre.
Check out this scene from the movie ‘Gandhi’ to visualize the horror.
This scene played in my head as I walked along the confined entrance to the Memorial. I couldn’t fathom the effect of the monstrosity that was about to unveil in front of me. There stood the commemorative in all its glory amidst a beautifully maintained garden.
The Jallianwala Bagh Memorial is a 455 foot red stone pillar built in the form of a flame.
Before you get to the memorial, you get to see this:
-the stone set up to indicate from where the firings occurred. As if that didn’t leave me horror-struck, I stepped foot on the Martyr’s Gallery which showcases in pictures the many who lost their lives in this brutal betrayal.
Martyr’s Well stands as a testimony to the barbarous killings of innocent people. I had a lump in my throat trying to envision the reality back then. Bullets fired at random, the stampede, the shrieks, the cries, bodies dropping dead, people jumping into the well only to choose a more desirable form of death.
Towards the center of the garden are the walls with bullet marks.
I get the creeps even by revisiting these photographs.
Over 1650 rounds of bullets fired! The mere thought is truly nerve-wracking.
I moved silently towards the Amar Jyoti – the flame of immortal souls. Looking into the fire, I envisaged the savagery and inhumanity. And then I felt so thankful for the freedom I enjoy today. I can speak my mind, get to meet a friend or two, travel, and simply live a carefree life.
The freedom I enjoy right now is not free. There are millions who sacrificed their lives for me. Isn’t our generation oblivious to this fact? To the hardships of the past? We complain about anything and everything around us – slow internet, a celebrity kid being named Taimur, or simply how many were ready to chop off the head of a leading actress all because she chose to act in a historical fiction. Ha! a century ago, one had to thank their stars to live another day.
I wish the government did something to keep the sanctity of the place intact. I observed people taking weird selfies, laughing in front of the bullet-riddled walls, few taking a power nap, and kids playing cricket. The place looked more or less like a picnic spot. Jallianwala Bagh is nothing short of a war memorial; like the Hiroshima or Kargil. I wish it was treated with utmost sincerity and respect. I missed that solemn air around it.
Quick Facts on Jallianwala Bagh
- The visiting time is from 6.30 am to 7.30 pm. There is no entry fee.
- Jallianwala Bagh is situated next to the Partition Museum and close to Sri Harminder Sahib or the Golden Temple.
- Drinking water and Washroom facilities are available inside.
- Gandhi, Phillauri, Downtown Abbey, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Rang de Basanti, Midnight’s Children and Jallianwala Bagh are few movies that depict the massacre.
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