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  India   All India  22 Apr 2019  The killing before the Great Killing, the bloodbath before the 1919 massacre

The killing before the Great Killing, the bloodbath before the 1919 massacre

Published : Apr 22, 2019, 12:01 am IST
Updated : Apr 22, 2019, 12:18 am IST

These policies that we are still not aware of are worth every effort required to unearth them.

Kishwar Desai’s Jallianwala Bagh Centenary Commemoration Exhibition.
 Kishwar Desai’s Jallianwala Bagh Centenary Commemoration Exhibition.

When an imperial government decides to mass-murder and starts searching for a reason — however flimsy or ill-founded. When killers are out and about, and respectable, indeed in authority, and sometimes, venerable. When they want an opportunity to exterminate the most in the shortest time. When they do not want to waste their bullets. Those are the circumstances when the Jallianwala Bagh massacre happens.

The greenery-processed air at India’s premier art body, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, starts to suffocate as you walk through the art gallery where Kishwar Desai's Jallianwala Bagh Centenary Commemoration Exhibition is ongoing.

I pause to ask the curator: “Why Jallianwala?”

“Jallianwala marks a watershed moment in the Indian freedom struggle. It is crucial to our understanding of British colonialism. One must look at the history of our freedom struggle through the prism of Jallianwala — what happened before it, during it and after the massacre,” is the answer.

The exhibition not only authenticates Desai’s book — Jallianwala 1919: The Real Story — it also makes the audience timetravel. No wonder member secretary of IGNCA Sachchidanand Joshi is emotional when he says, “If they (the British) are not ashamed of their inhuman behaviour, if their conscience is so dead, then we (Indians) don't need their apology.” Comforting him, Prof Chaman Lal says, “They are not apologising because they are scared of paying the compensation to the victims' kin.”

Compensation! Do you know that the number of those whom Reginald Dyer slaughtered in the April 13, 1919, holocaust is unknown, and that the figures offered varies from hundreds to thousands? Yes, we still don’t know how many lives were lost.


“It is, no doubt, strange that when every act of rebellion was noted down meticulously and minute-to-minute in war diaries, there is this silence over hundreds of deaths,” writes Desai.

Those massacred were not there to celebrate Baisakhi. They were there to listen, and get advice from Amritsar’s citizens, on how to find the whereabouts of their jailed leaders, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal. Dyer came to Amritsar on April 11 — and till date it is not clear on whose order he arrived. Was it someone from the British administration who decided to teach Indians a lesson because they assumed a mutiny was on the anvil? What they actually did was that they killed them merely for asking the whereabouts of their leaders.

Desai, who has been in Amritsar for the last two years, setting up the Partition Museum, will have come across people, documents and various stories of the event. She would know that it is not just one single instance of inhuman horror that makes it significant but the chronology of happenings leading up to it and afterwards that tell the stories of struggle and sacrifice of the people of Amritsar that the world must know.

The dark reality is that we are not bothered about knowing the facts. If you ask me why, I can say with confidence that for the people of Delhi it is because you will not find them visiting the gallery… they are busy watching TV debates and cooking up their own facts.

The young boys, whose bodies were pierced by powerful .303 bullets from such a short distance that they went onwards piercing two more bodies, were there because their fathers took them along as they wanted them to know the facts.

Bhagat Singh, living in Lahore, will come to Amritsar, after hearing the news. He will fill a bottle with the blood-drenched soil to keep inside his home and pay his tribute to the martyrs. He will then be all of 11 years old.


Dr Achal Pandya of IGNCA adds, “Those who praise British for preserving our heritage should understand that the ones who can’t spare living Indians cannot preserve anything of their dead. There are hundreds of things that should be known to everyone.

“On April 10, 1919, there had been no electricity for 10 days and no water supply for five days. The entire city of Amritsar was demanding to know why Drs Kitchlew and Satyapal had been arrested. When some of those seeking answers were fired upon and they died, banks were set on fire. Five Europeans died.

“The British army - for its soldiers, the blood of Indians had become that dirty water which is meant to be drained - had lost its senses. The bodies of dead Indians lay in their homes, and their blood flowed on the streets, with no water to bathe them for cremation, no water to wash for the yet-alive-and-blood-covered families. Was this Part 1 of the massacre, ahead of Part 2: the Jallianwala Bagh massacre that would happen on April 13?”

Visiting the exhibition and reading the book (and staying away from TV) have made me ponder, what could’ve constituted the divide-and-rule tactics that made the British break the ultimate brotherhood of 1919 between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus — who on April 9 celebrated Ram Navami together; drinking water from each other's glasses? During those days both temples and mosques welcomed Hindus as well Muslims. Yet soon, riots were to be the new reality, starting from Kohat in 1924 and finally dividing the country.

These policies that we are still not aware of are worth every effort required to unearth them. They are still dangerous, they are still poisoned.

The Jallianwala Bagh Centenary Commemoration Exhibition is on at the Twin Art Gallery in IGNCA and will continue till April 28. The writer is an interior designer with a passion for photography, Hindustani literature and culture.

Tags: jallianwala bagh massacre, british army