April 13th 1919: Jallianwala Bagh massacre

 

On this day in 1919, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre occurred in the Jallianwala Bagh public garden in the Indian city of Amritsar in the Punjab region. The crowd gathered were non-violent Indian nationalists, protesting British conscription of Indians and heavy war tax, and pilgrims celebrating the holiday of Baisakhi. Fifty British soldiers, under the leadership of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, opened fire on the gathering; Dyer told his men to shoot to kill.

 

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Bullet holes remain visible on walls in the Jallianwala Bagh garden today

 

The Jallianwala Bagh garden had only a few narrow entrances, and the stampedes to flee at these narrow pathways caused a number of deaths as well. A curfew was in place, and thus no-one could attend to the wounded, who were left to die overnight. The British Raj claimed 379 fatalities but the Indian National Congress put the figure much higher at around 1,000.

 

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Memorial to the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre

 

The brutality of the unwarranted attack and initial praise for Dyer from the British government caused outrage in India. It seemed emblematic of the issues of rule by a foreign power, and the brutality that is endemic in colonialism. The massacre highlighted these issues with British rule and is seen as an important step on the path to Indian independence. The incident galvanised figures like Mahatma Gandhi into action, and immediately helped to precipitate the non-cooperation movement of the 1920s and eventually the successful struggle for Indian independence from British rule.

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