Ranjan Kumar Padmapati
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)
Every year the 13th of April each time, the day comes not to remind the advent of Spring but it comes as Khuni Baisakhi to tell the stories of sacrifices of the people of Punjab at the altar of freedom struggle. Indeed on 13th April 1919, as many as 381 attained martyrdom of which 222 were Hindus, 96 Sikhs and 63 Muslims. Blood of all the faiths intermingled the soil of Jallianwalabag. Pandit Modan Mohan Malaviya revealed that the youngest amongst the deaths was a seven-month-old infant and included forty two boys. The joy of New Year's Day no longer reverberates the air in Jallianwalabag on Baisakhi Day and please do not move away with the Spring spirit, countrymen! Wait for a while, first salute those brave souls before you revel. This is the call of the day...
The World War 1 (1914-1918) ended but the aspirations of Indians not fulfilled as expected though India helped the British with men and materials during war time hoping partial autonomy. The provisions of Defense of India Act 1915 became defunct now, as such British looked for alternative measures to stop upsurge of Indian nationalism. People were already suffering from war time recessions, price rise, forced recruitments in the army during war time etc. Now with the passage of the infamous Rowlatt Act the fundamental freedoms of its citizens were totally curtailed, dissatisfaction increased leading to a kind of revolt against the British. The bill became operative with effect from 21st March 1919. It empowered the British government to detain any individual without trial, imposed stricter control on press, permitted warrantless detention, etc just to name a few. People termed it Black Act. Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for Satyagrah, a nationwide strike on 6th of April. All business establishments, railways, postal and telegraph department in the country came to a grinding halt and the call was spontaneous and successful. Mahatma Gandhi left Bombay on 8th April and planned to visit Punjab. The British did not allow Gandhi to enter Punjab and he returned to Ahmedabad but was arrested at Palval station on 9th April. Amritsar witnessed a series of violence following the arrest of their two most popular leaders of independence struggle Dr Saty Pal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew, the state president of the Indian National Congress on 9th April on Ram Navami day. On Ramnavami day both Hindus and Muslims united and pulled the cart. The news of Gandhi's arrest spread like a wildfire. This infuriated the people further. It is to be mentioned here that Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew spent a total of seventeen years in different jails more than Mahatma Gandhi and Motilal Nehru. Partition of the country pained him very much and he left Amritsar, settled in Delhi, cut off all public life. Huge crowd gathered in streets both at Lahore and Amritsar, violence continued till 10th and 11th April. British banks were burnt down, three bank officials were murdered. On 10th April people went to the residence of the deputy commissioner Miles Arvin for the release of their two popular leaders. Instead of listening to the grievances Miles Irvin ordered firing killing twenty civilians. Later Gandhi suspended Satyagrah on 18th of April in view of continued violence. The British administration was shaken seeing street gathering at Amritsar and Lahore, Lt. Governor of Punjab Mchael O'Dwe was apprehensive of a possible 1857-like revolt in the month of May and imposed martial law on 13th of April banning procession, gathering of more than four persons, holding any kind of meeting, freedom of press etc. Brigadier Reginald Edward Harry Dyer took over full control of Amritsar. He received secret information of gathering public more than ten thousand according to some estimate at Jallianwalabag. People of different faiths like Hindus, Sikhs after visiting Golden Temple and Muslims gathered there to celebrate Baisakhi and a meeting was held against the arrests.
Dyer arrived Jallianwalabag around 05.30 pm with consignment of fifty Gurkhas and Balustani personnel and two armoured vehicles fitted with machine guns. The armored vehicles could not make its entry because of restricted passage, but kept outside as stand by. Without any previous warning ordered firing on the unarmored innocent revelers. The shooting took place slightly more than ten minutes till ammunition exhausted. They fired 1650 rounds killing 379 people and injuring more than 12,00, according to a government report. To escape bullets people jumped into a water well now known as Martyrs' well, and 120 bodies were recovered from it. Dyer pressed into action a reign of terror. C. F Andrews wrote, "Stripping man and women naked and exposing them to unbelievable shame" was some of his punishments. Dyer retaliated by passing an order that Indians passing through Kucha Kurrichhan Road required to crawl on knees and hands as punishment for assaulting an English lady Marcella Sherwood on the same street on 11th April. A heroic story, lesser known, three ordinary women – Paro, Zainab Begum, Sham Kaur – refused to crawl, walked upright as dignified Indians but were shot dead.
Winston Churchill termed it "un-British" in the following words on 8th July, 1920 in the House of Commons "the crowd was unarmed, it was not attacking anybody, or anything… In a narrow place considerably smaller than Trafalgar Square with hardly any exit and packed together so that one bullet would drive through three to four bodies." House of Commons voted 247 to 37 against Dyer but House of Lords praised him. A sword was presented to Dyer inscribing the motto "SAVOUR OF THE PUNJAB". A conservative newspaper collected a fund of twenty six thousand pounds, a sum considered huge in those days, for the use of Dyer after retirement. Even Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling donated ten pounds to the fund. Many perished but aroused a deep sense of rare inclusive nationalism unifying whole of India to freedom. It was actually on that Khuni Basakhi day the sun starts setting in the British Empire. Gandhi returned the Kaiser-I-Hind title bestowed on him in recognition of his service during the Boer War. Rabindra Nath Tagore denounced the Knighthood. The noted historian Ram Chandra Guha remarks "it transferred Gandhi from a emperor loyalist to implacable opponent of British rule". No doubt it is the turning point in the freedom struggle movement seeking Purna Swaraj and begins full non–cooperation movement with the British. It was the Rowlatt Satyagrah and Jallianwalabag massacre that instilled Gandhi as a national leader.