Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Amritsar Massacre

The Amritsar Massacre, also known as the Jalianwalla Bagh Massacre, was named after the place (Jalianwalla Bagh, in Amritsar), where, on April 13, 1919, British soldiers opened fire on a peaceful political gathering, killing hundreds of Indians.

Protesting against the British enactment of Rowlatt Act in 1919, which gave wide coercive powers to the government, thousands of Indians gathered in the Jalianwalla Bagh in the heart of Amritsar city, one of the major towns of Punjab state. The occasion was Baisakhi Day, a traditional festival on which people celebrate the beginning of the harvesting season by congregating in community fairs. The gathering was in defiance of the prohibitory orders banning a gathering of five or more persons in the city. The Bagh, or park, was bounded on all sides by brick walls and had a single narrow entrance/exit.

Accounts of the British motives vary. One account says that the massacre was a reprisal for the deaths of four Europeans, and the beating of a woman missionary. Another explanation is that it was to crush the gathering.

Troops marched to the park accompanied by an armored vehicle on which machine guns were mounted. The vehicle was unable to enter the park compound due to the narrow entrance.

The troops were commanded by General Reginald Dyer who after a couple of perfunctory warnings to the crowds, ordered his men to open fire. Since there was no other exit but the one already manned by the troops, people desperately tried to exit the park by trying to climb the walls of the park. Some people also jumped into a well to escape the bullets.

When the firing was over, hundreds of people had been killed and thousands had been injured (official estimates were 379 killed and 1200 injured, though the actual figure could be much higher). Fearing a backlash, martial law was imposed by the government.

The event was condemned worldwide and General Dyer was summoned to London to appear before the Hunter Commission in 1920, which found him guilty. However, the British Parliament cleared his name and even praised his ruthlessness. Many upper-class Britons raised a fund in his honour.

In India, the massacre evoked feelings of deep anguish and anger. It catalysed the militant movement in Punjab against British rule and paved the way for Mohandas Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement against the British in 1920.

When India became free, a monument to the dead, in the form of the flame was constructed in the Bagh. Even to this day, the markings of the bullets fired by the British troops can be seen on the park walls.

There was another Amritsar Massacre. Recently, (I do not remember the date), the Sikhs(qv?) wanted independence from India. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent in the troops to the Sikhs' Golden Temple and killed an estimated 700 people. That led to Madame Gandhi's assassination(she had a Sikh bodyguard).