On 13th April 1919, exactly 101 years ago, India witnessed perhaps one of the cruellest events of mankind: the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The whole episode of sheer atrocity was a result of the inhumane acts of the then-British Raj that gave them the supreme power to imprison and silence the masses. But, what had caused all this in the first place? This is a question whose answer most of us know but, we have to be reminded especially during these days of when some of us are scared, some adamant.
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre is a constant reminder of the ruthless killing of people, and also of the unity that became stronger in the aftermath. The event was not a result of sentiments formed overnight. It waited till our forefathers defied the cruelty of the British Raj, came face-to-face with courage, valour, and embraced the differences that set them apart to be in unison for their freedom; freedom of speech, freedom to be free. And hence, the event went onto to become the precursor of a robust struggle to Indian Independence.
It all started when the Imperial Legislative Council in Delhi passed the infamous Rowlatt Act on 21 March 1919. It allowed the British Raj to indefinitely extend the emergency measures of preventive indefinite detention, incarceration without trial and judicial review enacted in the Defence of India Act 1915 during the First World War. It was enacted in light of a perceived threat from revolutionary nationalists to organisations of re-engaging in similar conspiracies as during the war which the Government felt the lapse of the DIRA regulations would enable.
The Rowlatt Act allowed the British government in then India to stricter control of the press, arrests without warrant, indefinite detention without trial, and was juryless trials for proscribed political acts. The accused were denied the right to know the accusers and the evidence used in the trial. Those convicted were required to deposit securities upon release, and were prohibited from taking part in any political, educational, or religious activities. All this stirred a wave of animosity and unrest all over the country. The Act that which, in the first place was meant to silence the voices of the nationalist movements, had caused it only to become stronger; a common voice that deafened, the voice of the revolution.
Meanwhile, in Punjab, the protests against the Act intensified which culminated into the arrests of Congress leaders Dr Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, both proponents of the Satyagraha movement, were taken to a secret place by the then-British government. The arrests angered the masses and consequent riots from both sides made enough food for the British to only intensify their attacks against Indians.
To be precise, General Reginald Dyer, the then acting military commander for Amritsar and its environs, was now sure of an uprising and banned all meetings by the imposition of Section 144. However, this was poorly disseminated, and on the day of Baisakhi, this day 101 years back, hundreds of people convened at Bagh- some came for leisure, some for celebrating the new year, some came to attend the meet of what the next step would be to repeal the inhumane Act, and some to protest the arrests of the INC leaders. As many as thousands of people were there. General Dyer, adamant and unstoppable, fired at all without issuing a warning.
Confusion, unrest, fear – a culmination of bizarre inhumane emotions caused scores of people to die. Mothers trying to hide and run with their wailing kids, some of them jumping into the well for protection. the imagery well itself forces us to think of how inhumane and scary the massacre had been. The reactions of the then-British government were in fact superficial. The House of Commons condemned the massacre while the House of Lords lauded Dyer for his impulsive act of cruelty.
History is always meant to teach us lessons and should be remembered intricately. Good history should be made better today and the bad shouldn’t be repeated. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre is the saddest yet the most important part of the history of the Indian Independence. The whole incident strengthened people collectively, who demanded a free India, and this was said to be the point when our freedom fighters on the frontline had become even more stern for a free nation.
What needs to be understood here is that the depravity of the British Raj only strengthened people more despite the differences of caste, gender, religion, and they all, with an indomitable spirit, waged the war of freedom non-violently under the leadership of M.K. Gandhi and many others.
Today, we are Indians and India was built on secularism. Something that is being forgotten today and perhaps being fought for. The genesis of the nation was secularism and to uphold in it its truest sense is our duty. Our forefathers and countrymen fought for an India where everyone is equal before the law.
Entitlement to freedom of speech and expression such that it doesn’t endanger or harm anyone. This day, we must remind ourselves about the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh: children, men, women who died for the sake of our freedom that we enjoy today. Their every drop of sweat and blood is a debt that we owe. The debts are cleared by the upholding the foundations on which India was formed and still is. History is not to be forgotten but remembered and learnt; not to let it dust but to be held and introspected.