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.

January 30th 1948: Gandhi assassinated

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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)

 

On this day in 1948, Indian pacifist and leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. Gandhi was famous for his non-violent struggle for Indian independence, instead using mass civil disobedience to secure India’s independence. His goal was achieved a year before his death. Gandhi is referred to as ‘Mahatma’ (meaning ‘Great Soul’) and ‘Bapu’ (‘father’) in India, as he is remembered as the ‘Father of the Nation’.

 

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Gandhi lies in state

 

He was shot at point-blank range whilst walking to a platform to address a prayer meeting by Godse, a Hindu nationalist who felt Gandhi was sympathetic to Muslims and held him responsible for weakening India by insisting on payment to Pakistan. Gandhi was mourned nationally, and is still revered today and considered a martyr. Supposedly, his last words were “Oh God”.

 

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The crowd at Gandhi’s funeral procession

December 27th 1911: Jana Gana Mana first sung

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Indian flag

On this day in 1911, the Indian national anthem (‘Jana Gana Mana’) was first sung in the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress. The song was written by Rabindranath Tagore, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. The anthem was first sung a few days before King George V was to arrive in India, and some reporters erroneously claimed it was a tribute to him, rather than a celebration of India. ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was officially adopted as the Indian national anthem on January 24th 1950.

 

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Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)

A national anthem has always been forefront in establishing a national identity. Be it La Marseillaise, Deutschland Uber Alles or Jana Gana Mana, national anthems unite people around a common identity. Whilst it took another 36 years for India to achieve independence, Indian nationalism has much older roots.