British Prime Minister Theresa May was recently seen and heard expressing deep regret for the massacre that had taken place at Jallianwala Bagh in northern Indian city of Amritsar on April 13, 1919 when the British Indian Army troops – under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer – fired machine guns at a crowd gathered at the public park. Speaking at the House of Commons on April 11, Prime Minister May described the incident as a ‘shameful scar’ on British Indian history. However, she refused to tender a formal apology to the Indian people sought by a cross-section of the British Parliament in previous debates.
The British premier had no other option, but to express regret as India marked the centenary of the horrific event by organising various events throughout the country on April 13. May’s regret, reportedly, was not so ‘deep’, else she would have clarified why she was so sorry! It is being perceived as a really unfortunate incident that a British head of the government did not apologise to India even 100 years after an incident! Perhaps, it is because the Britons, within themselves, still nurture a colonial mentality!
If the British PM and her speech writers were to consider the scandalous episode of their national history from a liberal point of view, then they would have little bit cordial while remembering the incident. As PM May did not tender a sincere apology, it was quite natural that the Indian Subcontinent should feel insulted.
An Incident, like the Jallianwala Bag Massacre, is rare even in the eventful history of the British Raj. However, the Britons have always tried to avoid this incident! It is to be noted that when The Bombay Chronicle – the only daily in British India to have published the news, the British government ordered its Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Guy Horniman (1873-1948) to return to England for his audacity! Even when the British government decided to suspend Colonel Dyer, the House of Lords had opposed the move! The House of Lords slammed the House of Commons and British Secretary of State for India (between 1917 and 1922) Edwin Samuel Montagu for taking actions against the colonel!
The British society has never considered Colonel Dyer as a murderer. English journalist, short-story writer, poet and novelist Joseph Rudyard Kipling , who claimed that Dyer was “the man who saved India” – was alleged to have started a benefit fund that raised over GBP 26,000, including GBP 50 for Dyer contributed by Kipling himself. However, Subhash Chopra, in his book ‘Kipling Sahib – the Raj Patriot’ (2006), mentioned that the benefit fund was started by the Morning Post newspaper, and not by Kipling. He also wrote that Kipling made no contribution to the Dyer fund. Kipling’s name was conspicuously absent among the list of donors as published in the Morning Post. Nonetheless, he clearly admired Dyer.
Prime Minister May’s recent statement at the House of Commons has made it clear that it is impossible for the people with nationalist sentiment to condemn the Reign of Terror. Instead, they try to justify terror through nationalist sentiment according to which emotion is important than morality! This emotion is often seen giving birth to mental sickness. On the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, it has been proved that violence in the name of State is still considered as sacred! It is a fact not only in imperialist countries, but also in colonised nations!
The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre had taken place on April 13, 1919, when troops of the British Indian Army under the leadership of Colonel Dyer fired bullets into a crowd comprising mostly of Punjabis, who had gathered at the public garden – named Jallianwala Bagh!
Prior to this incident, the British Government had implemented the Rowlatt Act (1919), but did not inform the civilians of the same. The civilians had assembled at the public garden for a festival, known as Baisakhi, which marks the Sikh New Year!
On April 13, 1919 (Sunday), Dyer was convinced of a major insurrection and he had issued ban on all meetings… Incidentally, the notice was not widely disseminated. On hearing that a meeting had assembled at the Jallianwala Bagh, Dyer went with his forces and entered the garden, blocking the main entrance! Then, the soldiers took up position on a raised bank, and on Dyer’s orders, fired on the crowd for about 10 minutes. Later, Dyer claimed that approximately 1,650 rounds had been fired. According to the colonel- 379 people were killed, while approximately 1,100 received bullet injuries. Dyer had even mentioned this figure in his letter to the British Parliament!
However, the casualty, estimated by the Indian National Congress, was more than 1,500 injured, with approximately 1,000 dead! The ineffective inquiry and the initial accolades for Dyer by the House of Lords prompted the Indians to launch the Non-cooperation Movement against the colonial rulers in 1920-22.
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