Jallianwallah Bagh in 1919

Three days ahead of the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, UK Prime Minister Theresa May called the tragedy a shameful scar on British Indian history. The statement is in line with Britain’s position since the mid-1990s of expressing ‘deep regret’ for the April 13, 1919, massacre in Jallianwala Bagh and not issuing a formal apology. In this background let’s recall the most tragic incident of British India in brief…..

An agitation was going on in the Punjab against the Rowlatt Bills, which had resulted in violence by the public at places. The Government was particularly sensitive to the conditions prevailing in the Punjab, because of the large number of disbanded soldiers living there and because of its nearness to Afghanistan. Dr Satyapal and Dr. Kitchlu were the popular leader of Punjab at the time.

Gandhiji was arrested on 9th April 1919. Sir Michail Dwyer, the Lt. Governor of the Punjab, addressed the deportation of Dr. Kitchlu and Dr. Satyapal to some unknown place. This angered the people. A procession was taken out at Amritsar by the people to protest against the arrest of the popular leaders. This procession was fired at by the authorities, as a result of which some people died. The dead were taken up by the crowd on their shoulders and on their way back to the city, the processionists set fire to some public buildings and killed some Europeans. The civil administration requested military authorities to take up the charge of the city. General Dyer, who commanded the Jallunder Division at that time, arrived at Amritsar on Aril, 12, 1919 to take up the charge only a day after i.e. on 13th the Jallianwala massacre was ordered by him.



The inhabitants of Amritsar had started assembling in the Jallianwala Bagh from mid-day on April 13 to protest against the firing by the authorities on a peaceful crowd which had resulted in death and to protest against the deportation of their leaders, whose where-abouts were not known. General Dyer prohibited the meeting, scheduled to be held on the 13th. But the notice of prohibition order was not properly proclaimed. Some came even inspite of the knowledge of the order. On hearing the news of people assembling General Dyer proceed to the scene with one hundred Indian and fifty British soldiers. He took a machine gun along with him, which however could not be taken to the place of the meeting, because the passage was too small for it.

The people had assembled for making a protest. The meeting was perfectly peaceful. The leaders to a man were wedded to non-violence. The acts of violence that had occurred on the previous days were sporadic in nature. General Dyer did not give even a warning to the crowd for dispersal, 1650 rounds of 303 were fired. The firing stopped only when the entire ammunition was exhausted. According to the Government report as a result of firing, 379 persons were killed and 1137 wounded. The actual number was much greater. Dyer, after the massacre, heartlessly, left the dead and the wounded to their fate.

Jallianwalla Bagh is an open space in the heart of the city enclosed on all sides by big walls of houses. A part from the only entrance was blocked by the military. Hence, during the course of the firing there was no way to escape. The place where bullets struck in those high walls and trees have been marked, as a standing testimony to the way in which the people were ruthlessly butchered.

Martinal law was declared in Amritsar. A reign of terror followed. In discriminate flogging, firing and bombing followed in its wake. in one of the streets, order was issued for the people to come and go from their houses, crawling as four-footed animals.

Later, 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.


Michael O’Dwyer

1. Sir Michail Dwyer: Sir Michael Francis O’Dwyer GCIE KCSI (28 April 1864 – 13 March 1940) was Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab in India from 1912 until 1919. O’Dwyer endorsed Colonel Reginald Dyer’s action regarding the Amritsar massacre and termed it a “correct action”. In 1940, aged 75, he was assassinated by Udham Singh.

General Reginald Dyer

2. Colonel Reginald Dyer: Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer CB (9 October 1864 – 23 July 1927) was a British officer of the Bengal Army and later the newly constituted Indian Army. His military career began serving briefly in the regular British army before transferring to serve with the Presidency armies of India. As a temporary brigadier-general he was responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar (in the province of Punjab). Considered “the Butcher of Amritsar”, Dyer was removed from duty; he was criticised both in Britain and India, but he became a celebrated hero among people with connections to the British Raj. Some historians argue the episode was a decisive step towards the end of British rule in India.

Udham Singh

3. Udham Singh: Udham Singh (26 December 1899 – 31 July 1940), was a revolutionary belonging to the Ghadar Party best known for his assassination in London of Michael O’ Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India, on 13 March 1940. The assassination was in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919. Singh was subsequently tried and convicted of murder and hanged in July 1940. While in custody, he used the name Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, which represents the three major religions of Punjab and his anti-colonial sentiment.

Udham Singh is a well-known figure of the Indian independence movement. He is sometimes referred to as Shaheed-i-Azam Sardar Udham Singh (the expression “Shaheed-i-Azam”, means “the great martyr”). A district (Udham Singh Nagar) of Uttarakhand was named after him to pay homage in October 1995 by the then Mayawati government.