Until the bullets ran out………
We have all read about the evil that men can do and, thankfully, most of us just marvel at how a heart can be so black and empty and hard.
In Amritsar, where the Golden Temple is, there is a park. And in that park there was a massacre.
Of course, there was a lot that happened leading up to the massacre – World War I had recently ended. India had sacrificed much in support of Britain during the war (including human and financial resources) and was hoping for more responsibility for its own affairs with the ultimate goal being independence. Ghandi was emerging as a political leader and the country was in civil unrest – especially in Punjab (where Amritsar is located).
In an attempt to maintain stability and based on recommendations set forth by the Sedition Committee, the Rowlatt Act was enforced. This act empowered “the Viceroy’s government with extraordinary powers to quell sedition by silencing the press, including detaining the political activists without trial, arrest without warrant of any individuals suspected of sedition or treason, as well as trial before special tribunals. The passage sparked massive outrage within India.” (thanks Wiki)
The long story, short is that on April 10, 1919, many protesters gathered in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s house in Amritsar. They were demanding the release of two famous leaders of the Indian Independence Movement – Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew. The crowd was fired on and several protesters were killed. As you can imagine, this set off a chain of violent events to the point that the British rulers imposed martial law and outlawed any gatherings of more than 4 people.
Just a few days later on April 13, thousands of people gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh (a garden park in Amritsar). Just one hour after the meeting began, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer marched a group of soldiers into the park and ordered them to fire upon the crowd without warning. They only stopped when the bullets ran out. He had also planned to take in machine guns mounted on vehicles but could not get them into the park because of the narrow gates at the park’s entrances.
Dyer later commented that he knew about the gathering and made no attempts to block it or even to disperse the crowds once the meeting began. He planned fully to open fire on the crowd of people and ordered the soldiers to aim for the densest areas of people. He was later quoted as saying, “I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself.”
The estimates of the number of people killed or injured vary widely depending on who you ask – British sources estimate that nearly 400 people were killed – Indian sources put that number much closer to 1,000. Of course, all of the deaths were not a result of gunfire, there were also stampedes as people tried to escape. At any rate, it is hard to understand why things like this happen. How a man can look in to a crowd of men, women, and children and shout “fire” is just beyond me.
Dyer was revered by some and hated by others. I guess it is all a matter of perspective and probably depends mostly on what side of the gun you were on. But it is really very hard to understand how Dyer could close his eyes and sleep at night.
The events in Amritsar are said to have paved the way for Ghandi’s Non-Cooperation Movement.
This is the spot where the soldiers entered and opened fire. They would have been standing on this side of the fountain and shooting toward the people walking in the picture.
This is a wall that still houses holes where bullets landed.
This is the actual monument in memory of those who lost their lives.
This is the eternal flame that burns in memory of the horrific events of that day.