A day after activist-journalist Teesta Setalvad was arrested by the the Gujarat Police Crime Branch, Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Kanchan Gupta, put out a tweet about Setalvad's great grandfather.
In his tweet, Gupta said, "Teesta Setalvad is great granddaughter of Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad who was member of the infamous ‘Hunter Commission’ on Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Commission gave clean chit to General Dyer who ordered the firing on civilians."
However, the claim is misleading.
While it is true that Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad was a part of the Hunter Commission that investigated the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the Commission put out two reports – majority and minority – as the members disagreed on several counts, including Dyer's motive and punishment for the firing.
The minority report, signed by "Sir C.H Setalvad, Pandit Jagat Narayan and Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Khan," found Dyer in the wrong and used many excerpts from Dyer's account of the incident to show that the general used unnecessary and excessive force at Jallianwala Bagh.
The majority report, too, signed by the English members, found Dyer responsible. But its findings state that as per the majority, Dyer "honestly believed" he was doing was right thing by discharging his duty.
However, neither of the two reports absolve Dyer or mention a "clean chit." After the commission submitted their report, Dyer was forced to resign for his actions.
WHAT WAS THE HUNTER COMMISSION?
The 'Disorders Inquiry Committee' was headed by former Solicitor-General of Scotland Lord William Hunter as president, and had seven members. These were:
Justice GC Rankin, Judge of the Calcutta High Court
Mr WF Rice, Additional Secretary to the Government of India, Home Department
Major General Sir George Barrow, Commander of the Peshawar Division
Pandit Jagat Narayan,
Thomas Smith, Members of the Legislative Council of the Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces
Sir Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad, Advocate of the Bombay High Court
Sardar Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Khan, Bar-At-Law, Member of Appeals, Gwalior State.
You can read the full report here.
The report mentions that the Commission's members had submitted two reports examining the events that unfolded on 13 April 1919 in Amritsar, on the day of Baisakhi – the spring harvest festival – called the majority and minority reports.
It mentioned that the "minority report is signed by Sir CH Setalvad, Pandit Jagat Narayan and Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Khan."
The document clearly states that "most of the findings of fact are unanimous," and both reports agreed that Dyer was responsible for the massacre.
However, the majority side took a softer stand while admitting that Dyer committed a "grave error," while the minority report firmly believed that Dyer had full intentions of firing at innocent people without sufficient warning.
HOW DID THE MAJORITY AND MINORITY REPORTS DIFFER ON DYER'S ACTIONS?
To put it simply, the majority and minority reports unanimously condemned Brigadier-General Dyer's actions.
The majority report reads that Dyer "committed a grave error," but he "honestly believed" that what he was doing was right thing by discharging his duty.
However, it also condemns his "intention to create a moral effect throughout Punjab," but calls it a "mistaken conception of his duty."
The document mentions that the minority report maintained that it was "immaterial whether General Dyer thought he was doing right or not," highlighting that it was always used as an excuse for justifying "Prussian atrocities."
Speaking about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and discussing the point of military excess, it read, "They do not agree with the majority that it was probable that the crowd could not have dispersed without firing, citing General Dyer himself in support of their opinion."
As per this document, the majority report "adversely" criticised Dyer only on two points:
He opened fire without warning,
He continued firing as long as he did, even after the crowd began dispersing.
However, it found that "it distinctly improbable that the crowd would have dispersed without being fired on."
Meanwhile the minority report – signed by CH Setalvad and others – "severely criticised" Dyer for four things, namely:
For suggesting that he would have made use of machine guns if he could have brought them into the Bagh.
For opening fire without warning and continuing after the crowd had started dispersing, until all ammunition was over.
For firing not to disperse, but to punish the crowd and "to produce a moral effect in the Punjab"
For making assumptions that those who had gathered at Jallianwala Bagh were people who were guilty of violence in Punjab four days before the massacre.
NO 'CLEAN CHIT', THE MINORITY REPORT HOLDS DYER STRONGLY RESPONSIBLE FOR JALLIANWALA BAGH
In an archived version of a report on all the disturbances across districts in Punjab in 1920, we found the full copy of the majority and minority reports.
Chapter four of the minority report exclusively discusses the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, elaborating on the criticisms of Dyer's response to the meeting.
It speaks about how the proclamation prohibiting gathering of people was "insufficiently promulgated," estimating that the verbal announcements and Urdu pamphlets containing the prohibition order reached only eight to ten thousand people, whereas the total population was somewhere around 1.7 lakh people.
It elaborates that there was also a "large influx of people from outside" at the time due to Baisakhi celebrations and a cattle fair being held in Punjab.
While making points about Dyer wanting to "produce a moral effect" by firing and aimed to "reduce morale of the rebels," the report contradicted the majority report by showing a statement by Dyer where he admitted that it was possible to disperse the crowd without firing.
It also uses statements given by Dyer to show that he fully intended to use excess force by taking machine guns, but couldn't do so because the lanes leading to the Bagh were too narrow to take them in.
Further, it clearly states that Dyer had four hours to think about his course of action, and quoted him as saying that he had already made up his mind about shooting "all men to death if they were going to continue the meeting," adding that Dyer had ordered redirection of firing to places where the crowd was the thickest.
Both documents clearly show that the Hunter Commission unanimously condemned the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, with the minority team having a more grave stance against Dyer than the majority ones.
TEESTA SETALVAD SPEAKS ABOUT HER GREAT-GRANDFATHER AND DYER
In an article in The Week, Teesta Setalvad spoke about reading her great grandfather's autobiography, discussing the Hunter Commission and the minority report.
The article discussed "unpleasantness" during the drafting stages of the report between Lord Hunter and CH Setalvad. She discussed how at one point, Lord Hunter lost his temper and accused Setalvad of wanting to "drive the British out of the country."
To this, Chimanlal was quoted as saying that it was "perfectly legitimate for Indians to wish to be free of foreign rule," adding that it would only be necessary to drive them out "if the British are represented in this country by people as short-sighted and intolerant" as Hunter.
It mentioned that Dyer had been asked to resign after the commission submitted its report, including the "dissenting" minority report which was drafted by Chimanlal.
Clearly, all members of the Hunter Commission condemned Dyer's actions and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, but to varying degrees.
The minority team of the Commission – consisting of CH Setalvad, Pandit Jagat Narayan and Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Khan – found that Dyer used excessive force and had a stronger opinion against the Brigadier-General, evidently not issuing a "clean chit" as claimed.
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