- The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, took place on 13 April 1919 when troops of the British Indian Army under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer fired rifles into a crowd of Indians, who had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab.
- The civilians had assembled for a peaceful protest to condemn the arrest and deportation of two national leaders, Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew.
- The Jallianwalla Bagh is a public garden of 6 to 7 acres (2.8 ha), walled on all sides, with five entrances.
- On Sunday, 13 April 1919, Dyer was convinced of a major insurrection and he banned all meetings; however this notice was not widely disseminated. That was the day of Baisakhi, the main Sikh festival, and many villagers had gathered in the Bagh. On hearing that a meeting had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh, Dyer went with Sikh, Gurkha, Baluchi, Rajput troops from 2-9th Gurkhas, the 54th Sikhs and the 59th Sind Rifles they entered the garden, blocking the main entrance after them, took up position on a raised bank, and on Dyer’s orders fired on the crowd for about ten minutes, directing their bullets largely towards the few open gates through which people were trying to flee, until the ammunition supply was almost exhausted.
- The following day Dyer stated in a Report to the General Officer Commanding that “I hear that between 200 and 300 of the crowd were killed. My party fired 1,650 rounds.”
- The casualty number estimated by the Indian National Congress was more than 1,500 injured, with approximately 1,000 dead.
- Dyer was initially lauded by conservative forces in the empire, but in July 1920 he was censured and forced to retire by the House of Commons. He became a celebrated hero in the UK among most of the people connected to the British Raj, for example, the House of Lords, but unpopular in the House of Commons, which voted against Dyer as a Colonel. He was disciplined by being removed from his appointment, was passed over for promotion and was prohibited from further employment in India.
- Upon his death, Rudyard Kipling declared that Dyer ‘did his duty as he saw it’.
- This incident shocked Rabindranath Tagore (first Asian Nobel laureate) to such extent that he stated whilst refusing his knighthood that “such mass murderers aren’t worthy of giving any title to anyone”.
- In the wake of World War, the Defence of India Act 1915 was passed limiting civil and political liberties.
- the Rowlatt Act, an extension of the Defence of India Act 1915, was enforced in India to limit civil liberties.
- Gandhi’s call for protest against the Rowlatt Act achieved an unprecedented response of furious unrest and protests. The situation especially in Punjab was deteriorating rapidly, with disruptions of rail, telegraph and communication systems. The movement was at its peak before the end of the first week of April, with some recording that “practically the whole of Lahore was on the streets, the immense crowd that passed through Anarkali was estimated to be around 20,000.” In Amritsar, over 5,000 people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh. This situation deteriorated perceptibly over the next few days. Michael O’Dwyer is said to have been of the firm belief that these were the early and ill-concealed signs of a conspiracy for a coordinated uprising around May, on the lines of the 1857 revolt, at a time when British troops would have withdrawn to the hills for the summer. The Amritsar massacre, as well as responses preceding and succeeding it, was the end result of a concerted plan of response from the Punjab administration to suppress such a conspiracy.
- On 14 October 1919, after orders issued by the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, the Government of India announced the formation of a committee of inquiry into the events in Punjab. Referred to as the Disorders Inquiry Committee, it was later more widely known as the Hunter Commission.
- On 13 March 1940, at Caxton Hall in London, Udham Singh, an Indian independence activist from Sunam who had witnessed the events in Amritsar and had himself been wounded, shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab at the time of the massacre, who had approved Dyer’s action and was believed to have been the main planner.
- the nationalist newspaper Amrita Bazar Patrika, made statements supporting the killing. The common people and revolutionaries glorified the action of Udham Singh. Much of the press worldwide recalled the story of Jallianwala Bagh, and alleged O’Dwyer to have been responsible for the massacre. Singh was termed a “fighter for freedom” and his action was referred to in The Timesnewspaper as “an expression of the pent-up fury of the down-trodden Indian People”. Reporter and historian William L. Shirer wrote the next day, “Most of the other Indians I know [other than Gandhi] will feel this is divine retribution. O’Dwyer bore a share of responsibility in the 1919 Amritsar massacre, in which Gen. Dyer shot 1,500 Indians in cold blood. When I was at Amritsar eleven years after [the massacre] in 1930, the bitterness still stuck in the people there.”
- Although Queen Elizabeth II had not made any comments on the incident during her state visits in 1961 and 1983, she spoke about the events at a state banquet in India on 13 October 1997:
It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past – Jallianwala Bagh, which I shall visit tomorrow, is a distressing example. But history cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise. It has its moments of sadness, as well as gladness. We must learn from the sadness and build on the gladness.
1977: The massacre is portrayed in the Hindi movie Jallian Wala Bagh starring Vinod Khanna, Parikshat Sahni, Shabana Azmi, Sampooran Singh Gulzar, and Deepti Naval. The film was written, produced and directed by Balraj Tah with the screenplay by Gulzar. The film is a part-biopic of Udham Singh (played by Parikshit Sahni) who assassinated Michael O’Dwyer in 1940. Portions of the film were shot in the UK notably in Coventry and surrounding areas.
- 1982: The massacre is depicted in Richard Attenborough‘s film Gandhi with the role of General Dyer played by Edward Fox. The film depicts most of the details of the massacre as well as the subsequent inquiry by the Montague commission.