The Bloodiest Baisakhi: Remembering the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

The Bloodiest Baisakhi: Remembering the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

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(This article was originally published on 13 April 2017 and has been republished from The Quint’s archives.)

Video Editor: Hitesh Singh

The act was not to disperse (the meeting), but to punish the Indians for their disobedience.
General Reginald Dyer

10 minutes. That’s all it took.

10 minutes of unprovoked, non-stop, ruthless firing. Firing until “all ammunition was spent”. After 1,650 bullets had been rammed into over a 1,000 bodies.

Silence, bloodstains and bullet holes: That’s the story of the Jallianwala Bagh.

How Did the Massacre Happen?

On 18 March 1919, the British Indian Govt passed the Rowlatt Act – a draconian anti-militancy law. Led by Gandhi, India rose in anger.

On 13 April, a protest meeting was planned at Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh; it was Baisakhi that day, Punjab’s biggest festival.

General Reginald Dyer, Amritsar’s acting military commander, had banned all public gatherings of over four people.

But protesters ignored Dyer’s order. By 4 pm, there were already thousands of protestors at Jallianwala Bagh. Police had shut a nearby Baisakhi mela, which added to the crowd. If only they had stayed away...

Because, at 5.30 pm, General Dyer – with 90 Gurkha soldiers – blocked the main exits. Without warning, Dyer’s troops opened fire, shooting where it was most crowded and targeting men, women, and children.

Many were killed in the stampede to avoid the bullets – while scores died jumping into an unused well.

Ten minutes later, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre stared India in the face.

While the British Govt put the death toll at 379, an Indian National Congress inquiry found it well over 1,000.

Consequent to this horrific tragedy, Rabindranath Tagore renounced his British knighthood and Gandhi returned his Kaiser-i-Hind medal.

The British repealed the infamous Rowlatt Act in 1922.

Almost a century on, the massacre has not been forgotten. Popular films like Gandhi, Rang de Basanti, Phillauri – even British TV series Downton Abbey – have relived and remembered 13 April 1919.

Jallianwala Bagh remains the symbol of a 98-year-old act of inhumanity.

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