Amritsar Massacre or Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

Amritsar Massacre or Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, the shooting of unarmed Indian demonstrators by the British army on April 13, 1919, an incident that contributed to the downfall of the British Indian empire.

The events of the Amritsar Massacre arose

The events of the Amritsar Massacre arose from the British government`s struggle to maintain control over its Indian colony in the face of a growing movement for Indian independence after World War I (1914-1918). During the war, India contributed extensively to Britain`s war effort, and Indian political leaders expected democratic concessions and greater opportunities for self-government after the war ended. However, the British government in India was worried about subversive activities that could destabilize its rule, because it had faced German-supported terrorist disturbances during the course of the war.

In response to these concerns

In response to these concerns, a commission headed by Sir Sydney Rowlatt drafted legislation in 1919 that empowered the British colonial government to search and arrest people without warrant, detain suspects without trial, and try people before courts without jury or right of appeal. These acts, called the Rowlatt Acts, were strongly opposed by the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League, and other Indian nationalist groups. To protest enforcement of the acts, Congress leader Mohandas Gandhi began a series of nationwide strikes.

In Amritsar

In Amritsar, a holy city of the Sikhs and the second largest city of Punjab province, two general strikes and mass demonstrations were held at an open field in the center of town on March 30 and April 2. In response, the local government arrested and deported two middle-class political organizers on April 10. The arrests led to massive rioting, looting and burning throughout the city, police shootings, and the murder of five British residents.

Unable to control the situation

Unable to control the situation, the local government called on the military for help. British Brigadier General Reginald Dyer arrived in Amritsar on April 11 and assumed complete control of the city. As thousands of pilgrims were arriving to celebrate a festival at Amritsar`s Golden Temple on April 13, Dyer issued a proclamation prohibiting processions or gatherings. The pilgrims, many of whom had not heard of the proclamation, gathered that evening along with thousands of protesters to listen to speeches at Jallianwala Bagh, a walled garden.

Dyer reacted by leading a column of troops

Dyer reacted by leading a column of troops to break up the demonstration. On his orders, without warning, the soldiers blocked the only entrance to the garden and fired for ten minutes into the defenseless crowd of some 10,000 men, women, and children, killing at least 379 people and wounding about 1200 (though some sources put the number of deaths much higher). Dyer later testified that he intended to teach a `moral` lesson to the populace through this action.

The tragedy polarized opinion throughout

The tragedy polarized opinion throughout India and Britain. Some hailed Dyer as `Savior of the Punjab,` while others believed he exemplified the worst kind of imperialist arrogance. Gandhi, horrified by the slaughter, suspended the movement of civil disobedience, but the Indian National Congress held its annual conference in Amritsar later that year to commemorate the martyrs of the freedom struggle. A British parliamentary committee that investigated the shooting was extremely critical of Dyer`s action and of the entire Punjab administration. Dyer was forced to resign his military commission in March 1920, a decision later supported after debate in the British House of Commons. In July 1920, however, the House of Lords deplored the decision, and a funding campaign to support the general raised a total of 26,000 pounds from a wide range of citizens in Britain. In India, the shootings and subsequent government responses convinced Gandhi and millions of others that British rule was corrupt and that India must become independent.

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