By Mandeep Singh, COE, 1st Year and Vishesh Kashyap, ME, 3rd Year
Illustration by Sourajit Bhattacharjee, ME, 3rd Year
Throughout history, Punjab has been the hotbed of voices which question tyranny and injustice. When two of her men, Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, were unreasonably detained in 1919, the angst and unrest were no different.
It was the afternoon of 13 April 1919, the traditional and merry festival of Baisakhi. However, little did the crowd of thousands who had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, to protest the arrests of their leaders, know what awaited. An hour into the public meeting, the main entrances of the Bagh was blocked by some ninety-odd men armed with rifles. Leading the charge was a British despot, Colonel Reginald Dyer. Outside the Bagh stood two armoured cars armed with machine guns, unable to enter. Without warning or giving a chance to disperse, the crowd was indiscriminately shot at. The soldiers, belonging to the 2-9th Gurkhas, 54th Sikhs and 59th Sind Rifles, obeyed orders blindly, without any consideration.
''I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made... a fool of myself''
What ensued was the massacre of a thousand civilians. Men, women and children, some as young as weeks old, were slaughtered mercilessly. Dyer ordered his men to fire at the thickest part of the crowd - the exits - until they were out of bullets. 1650 rounds were fired in 10 minutes with over 2000 casualties, including around a thousand deaths. Over a hundred bodies were recovered from the solitary well in the Bagh, which people jumped into to protect themselves from the swarm of bullets. Scores more died or were injured in stampedes. Without any escape routes, or mercy in the heart of the vile colonel, their fate was sealed.
''I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made... a fool of myself'', said Dyer to the Hunter Commission later that year. Were the entry passage wide enough, “if (machine guns) had been there... I would have opened fire with them.” On helping the wounded, ''Certainly not. It was not my job. Hospitals were open and they could have gone there'', he said.
Through one barbaric act, the empire the sun never set on forfeited its claim to civility.
It was a sheer cold blooded act of terror, which could never be vindicated. The British establishment happened to be the oldest and most developed in the era, yet, this vicious act was overlooked and dealt as a normal error on Dyer’s part. Even after this unprovoked, abhorrent deed, the administration barely drew any criticism from their overlords in England. Through one barbaric act, the empire the sun never set on forfeited its claim to civility. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre is an undying blot on the pages of Indo-British relations, written with the blood of a thousand innocent souls. India and its people will never forget this day, and will continue to remember the fallen, in the free atmosphere of this country. Colonel Dyer, will too, continue to be introduced as an unforgivable tyrant in the history books.