Back in Time is ED’s newspaper-like column that reports an incident from the past as though it has happened just yesterday. It allows the reader to re-live it several years later, on the date it had occurred. Today, we take you back to the deadliest aviation accident in history.
April 13, 1913: Hundreds are feared dead while several more are believed to be injured after a British convoy of troops opened fire on a large gathering of pilgrims in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar.
The incident comes after weeks of protests and unrests across India, especially in Punjab after the passage of several war-era measures by the British administration, especially the much-criticized Rowlatt Act.
Although reports from the spot remain sketchy, local sources suggest that a few dozen Indian troops led by Colonel Reginald Dyer of the British Indian Army shot into a crowd numbering a thousand, a crowd that had men, women and children. The crowd in question, had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate Baisakhi, a religious and cultural festival.
“My uncle was speaking to the gathering from the podium at Jallianwala Bagh. And then suddenly, shots rang out and everyone ran here and there,” says 21-year old Amarinder Singh, now admitted to the local hospital with a bullet wound to his shoulder.
“I tried running to the exit. But, they had it blocked. I could see people falling all around me. I saw my sister jump into the well but, I haven’t seen her since,” says a nine-year-old Gurpreet. She survived with minor injuries after hiding behind a pile of bodies.
As news of the massacre broke out, most of the reactions from the Indian quarters has been one of mostly shock, disbelief and anger. Although no INC leaders were available for comment, local party representatives have roundly condemned the incident and have called for a sustained period of civil unrest until action has been taken against those responsible.
Some British sources, however, claim that the gathering was instead a demonstration organized against the British and in violation of martial law imposed in Amritsar and Punjab. On the other hand, local sources suggest that this new order wasn’t properly disseminated, and the general populace wasn’t properly informed of the same.
Either way, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre comes at a time when the British find themselves the targets of a sustained wave of anger and rage from the Indian populace.
Participation of British India in the First World War wasn’t a popular decision in the eyes of many Indians. Neither was the passage of the Rowlatt Act. With the massacre, however, the very foundation of the British Raj may be in jeopardy sooner rather than later.
Post-Scriptum: News of the massacre was slow to get out and spread across the country. What followed after was a sustained period of outrage, unrest and sporadic acts of violence, unparalleled since Bengal was partitioned in 1905.
The violence at Jallianwala would come to precipitate the Non-Cooperation Movement later and would also catalyze Gandhi’s participation at the forefront of the freedom struggle. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore would also return his Nobel Prize in Literature and his knighthood in opposition to the event and the British inaction after.
The reaction in the UK was mixed though. Although roundly condemned for his actions, Dyer wasn’t legally or militarily prosecuted by The Hunter Commission but was instead, merely censured and asked to resign early from the military.
The House of Lords even celebrated his actions by giving him a commemorative sword with an inscription ‘Savior of Punjab,’ written on it.
Justice for the thousands massacred at Jallianwala would be late but, it would come in 1940 after Udham Singh assassinated Michael O’Dwyer, former Lieutenant-General of Punjab in London, the man many believe to have sanctioned Dyer’s actions.
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