In April 1919, on the 13th of the month, the day when Sikhs celebrate the most important date in their calendar – Vaisakhi, Colonel Reginald Dyer, the regional commander of British Indian Army, ordered his troops to open fire at about 2500 unarmed civilians gathered peacefully in an enclosed garden park – the Jallianwallah Bagh.

When all the ammunition of 1,650 rounds had been fired, approximately 1000 had died and over 1500 injured, (Indian National Congress figures) amongst whom were children and women, many who jumped into a well. When asked at his tribunal about his actions Dyer replied – “ because they had to be taught a lesson”.

This incident came to be known as the Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre. It stunned and angered Indians, particularly since it came six months after the end of WW1, a war in which quarter of a million young Indian men had gone to fight for Great Britain, from which 74,187 died and 76,000 came back injured.

The tightening of British attitude came in response to wider protests by Indians against reneging on promises of greater autonomy made by British Govt in return for Indian participation in the Great War.

The draconian measures included introduction of Rowlat Act – allowing extension of emergency measures of indefinite detention, incarceration without trial and judicial review enacted in the Defense of India Act 1915 during WW1.

After the War is in development for a tour of schools and community spaces as a dramatic piece of performance /workshop to mark 100 years since this controversial and tragic episode in British Empire history took place.

Further reading

Rowlatt Act…    

Jallianwallah Bagh

Image:Reproduced courtesy of the Council of the National Army Museum 
Native crawling up the street where Miss Sherwood was assaulted, 1919' "The soldiers depicted were probably from the 25th County of London Cycle Battalion. The caption refers to an incident on 10 April 1919 in Amritsar in the Punjab. Riots had broken out that day during anti-British demonstrations and several Europeans had been killed and many buildings damaged. Around 20 Indians were shot by the Army. During the unrest, Marcella Sherwood, a Church of England missionary, was set upon by a crowd as she cycled down a narrow lane. Although badly beaten she survived, but the incident outraged British opinion and helped convince them to place most of the Punjab under martial law. In the days that followed, the British made Indian men, even those who had gone to Miss Sherwood’s aid after the attack, crawl along the street as a punishment.

Three days later, thousands of unarmed protesters, as well as people out enjoying a local festival, were gathered at Jallianwala Bagh (garden) when they were fired upon without warning by Indian Army troops. Most of the people present did not know that Martial Law had been declared. The order to fire was given by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer. The official report stated that 379 people were killed and 1200 wounded, but the true figure was much higher. The massacre was a watershed in the history of British India and helped pave the way for the growth of Gandhi's independence movement."