It’s been not too long when Prime Minister Imran Khan extended his wishes to Sikh Community in Pakistan for the Baisakhi festival and granted Sikh Diaspora & Indian Yatrees special permission to visit their holy Gurdwaras in Pakistan and attend the Baisakhi rituals.
What is Baisakhi?
Baisakhi is a spring harvest festival for Sikhs and Hindus. It is usually celebrated on April 13 or 14 every year. It marks the Sikh new year and commemorates the formation of Khalsa Panth of warriors under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Vaisakhi, another pronunciation for Baisakhi, is also an ancient festival of Hindus, marking the Solar New Year and also celebrating the spring harvest.
What happened at Baisakhi in 1919?
The people, a majority of whom were Sikhs, had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate Baisakhi and also to condemn the arrest and deportation of two freedom fighters, Satya Pal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew. On Colonel Dyer’s order, the soldiers opened fire. The firing went on for about 10 minutes.
Another account describes the event as the biggest tragedy in the city. People there think that Amritsar was let down by the British Empire despite the fact that they had devotedly served during the First World War.
According to the excerpt from the book “Jallianwala Bagh: A Groundbreaking History Of The 1919 Massacre”‘ by V.N. Datta people of different castes and communities were present there at Jhallianwala Bagh on April 13. Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus all were there when the most awful mass shooting was done.
That massacre was indeed the ugliest display of ultimate power and authority by British General Dyer and was also an indication of the mysterious temperament of British generals.
Jallianwala Bagh massacre happened just minutes before sunset. On a fateful day, some 15,000 to 25,000 people gathered in Jallianwala Bagh. Suddenly people heard a strange sound. An airplane suddenly appeared from nowhere and began to fly overhead in the ‘garden’. Then in a matter of seconds, people heard the sound of heavy boots from behind and what happened afterward is that every one of us can never forget even after so many decades.
There were things that made the massacre even more dreadful to recall.
Firing without warning
Half of the 25 Gorkha and 25 Baloch soldiers took the ‘position’ by sitting and half by standing at the single shout of Brigadier Reginald Dyer. Dyer ordered: “Fire.”
The soldiers opened fire, firing indiscriminately, and people all around began to fall. Soldiers on their knees were selectively hitting. None of their bullets were lost. General Dyer then ordered the soldiers to reload guns and fire in areas where there is more crowd.
People started running around in fear but they could not find a way out. Everyone was on the narrow street and trying to escape but Dyer’s troops targeted every single person. Many tried to escape by climbing the wall but were shot by soldiers. Some ex-soldiers in the crowd shouted and told people to lie down. But even these people were not spared by the Gorkha who had already taken the position by lying down.
Dyer’s troops fired 1,650 rounds continuously on unarmed civilians
On one side, there were heavily armed and well-trained soldiers, and on the other side, there were armless civilians who gathered for a cause. The protest could have been reverted in a peaceful manner but generally thought the permanent solution of the agitation in firing 1,650 rounds of bullets and that too continuously. He made sure that none of them dare to gather again against the will of the tyrant (general).
Marks on poplar trees and walls
Dozens of people hid behind the trunk of a large poplar tree while trying to escape the firing. Dyer ordered his troops to target the poplar tree.
Bharpur Singh was just four years old on April 13, 1919, when he was thrown across the wall. While unraveling his memories to a British news agency he said: ‘I went to Jallianwala Bagh with my grandfather that day. As soon as the shots were fired, my grandfather picked me up and started running towards the wall. When they thought there was no way out, they threw me across a seven-foot-high wall.”
“Falling down broke my arm, but I survived to tell that story. We did not go to the hospital for several days even in this condition, because we were afraid that we would be oppressed again,” he added.
No medical help
As soon as the firing was ordered to stop, the soldiers moved out as fast as they could. Dyer jumped into his car and headed for Ram Bagh. No medical aid was provided for the victims of the shooting in Jallianwala Bagh that night. Nor were people allowed to take their dead and wounded off the field.
Eagles hovering over corpses
By the next morning, the eagles began to fly over the garden to get food. The bodies began to rot quickly due to the heat. Lala Nathu Ram, a 35-year-old contractor, told the Congress inquiry committee: “I went out to look for my son and brother. I had to work hard to keep my turban on my head because the eagles were attacking my head with their beaks in an attempt to get meat.
Three months after the incident, when the Congress delegation arrived for the investigation, there was still the stench of corpses in the air.
Meanwhile, after the massacre at Jallianwala General Dyer reached his camp around 6.30 pm and made sure the electricity cut off to the entire city. He also forbade people to leave their houses and at ten o’clock at night, he visited the city again to see if his order not to leave the house was being obeyed or not.
The cruelest thing was, perhaps, the fact that people’s children, relatives, and elders were suffering or dying in Jallianwala Bagh, and people were not even allowed to come out to help them.
A clean chit by the House of Lords
Initially, the British government did not take any notice of the massacre, but when the news broke, they formed a Hunter Committee to investigate.
The report of the Hunter Committee was a unanimous report and another was a minority report. Both sides called Dyer wrong.
The British government asked Dyer to resign. The issue was hotly debated in the House of Commons, where it was determined that what Dyer did was completely wrong. But the House of Lords reversed that.
Hiding the dead bodies
The most unjust aspect was that the British invaders attempted to hide the exact figure of the dead. The Hunter Committee acknowledged that 379 people were killed, including 337 men and 41 children but another account tells that at least a thousand people were killed that evening and about four or five thousand were injured. There were some others who did not die in the garden but went home and died.
The Amritsar Massacre won’t stop telling us that invaders can’t be sympathizers. They would do and would continue to do whatever suits their needs and temperament.
That unpleasant night of 1919 has made Baisakhi literally an event with the mix of grief and sorrows, and always bring sad memories of April 13 when a tyrant general played Holi with the blood of harmless citizens; and had never been held accountable for all the wrongs he did whilst misusing the power and authority.
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