Remembering this week: Jalianwala Bagh Massacre – April 6th to April 15th, 1919
6th April was observed as Black Sunday to protest against the Rowlatt Act, which allowed any suspected person searched and arrested without a warrant, and the confined person had no right to a lawyer. The Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Acts was to commence with the observance of a 24 hours' fast, prayer, general strike and a resolution to be passed at a public meeting declaring the people's opposition against the Acts imposed by the Sedition committee named after Justice Rowlatt.
In Punjab, Lt.-Governor Michael O’Dwyer had been ruthlessly suppressing the rights of the people and insulting the educated. He interned hundreds of people, censored the press, and blocked nationalist papers from coming into the province. He was especially hated for his forcible recruiting methods and tyrannical ways of raising funds for the war.
The two hartals were fairly peaceful, but on April 9 he deported two prominent leaders. A large crowd marched in Amritsar. While approaching the Civil Lines where the British officials lived, they were fired upon, killing six. The crowd became unruly, murdered five Europeans, and destroyed several buildings. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer arrived on April 12 with several hundred troops and began by arresting people and banning all meetings.
When a public meeting was called for April 13 in the enclosed courtyard at Jallianwala Bagh, he did not warn people it was illegal and ordered troops to fire at the densest part of the crowd of 10,000 people for ten minutes. Only 1,650 bullets were fired, but they killed 379 and wounded 1,137 people. Dyer did not even have anyone take care of the wounded.
Martial law was declared in Amritsar on April 15, and it was not lifted until June 11. Airplanes with machine guns killed at least nine and wounded sixteen people, but unofficial estimates were much higher. The Martial Law Commissions charged 298 people, convicted 218, of whom 51 were sentenced to death, 46 to transportation for life, and 104 to imprisonment for three years or more.
The official Hunter Report quoted Dyer’s own report that he was less concerned with dispersing the crowd and more intent on “producing a sufficient moral effect from a military point of view.” General Drake-Brockman of Delhi also made the statement, “Force is the only thing that an Asiatic has any respect for.”
The Hunter Report concluded that the moral effect was quite opposite from the one intended; General Dyer was censured and later relieved of his command.
General Dyer was regarded as a savior of the British Empire by many, and the English ladies in India raised £26,000 for him. Indian feelings were outraged by both the atrocities and the public support for them.
The poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote a letter of protest to the Viceroy and renounced his knighthood.
Gandhi emphasized the constructive program. On 6th April, the day's programme began with the sea bath. Gandhi was the first one to arrive at Chowpatty with several volunteers to take sea bath and later in the morning, Gandhi started his speech. After the meeting, people formed a procession to go to Madhav Baug Temple to offer prayers. At the end of the day, Gandhi suggested the sale of prescribed literature “Hind Swaraj” and “Sarvodaya” and the proceeds of the sale were utilized for the Civil Disobedience Movement.
On 11th April, a public meeting was held in the evening on the Chowpatty beach. Gandhi gave the following message to the public:
" Brothers and sisters,
This is not the moment for me to enter into the near past. I must refer to what has just happened. As you see I have been set free by the Government. The two days' detention was no detention for me. It was like heavenly bliss. The officials in charge of me were all attention and all kindness to me. Whatever I needed was supplied to me, and I was afforded greater comforts than I am used to when free. I have not been able to understand so much excitement and disturbance that followed my detention. It is not Satyagraha. It is worse then duragraha (antonym of Satyagraha)."
Source: Gandhi and India 1919-1933, Sanderson Beck