New Delhi: Exactly 93 years back from today, a peaceful gathering of a crowd comprising of mostly villagers was turned into the most horrendous spectacle of cruelty against Indians by the then British rulers eventually rolling the wheel of patriotism which ultimately culminated with India's freedom.
That unfortunate tragic event was the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
On the Baisakhi day of April 13, 1919 a group of some 15,000 to 20,000 people had gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh near the Harminder Sahib in Amritsar for a fair unaware that a ban on meetings was in place in the wake of Mahatma Gandhi's nationwide protest of the Rowlatt Act.
At around 5:30 pm in the evening – an hour into the meet – Brigadier General Reginald Dyer arrived with as many as 90 officers and two armoured cars. At least 50 of his men were armed. Without issuing any warning or provocation, Dyer ordered his troops to open fire. What unfolded is still considered as the most gruesome killings in the history of India and a blot on the face of humanity.
The extent of Dyer's cruelty can be gauged from the fact that he did not order his troops to stop firing and they continued pumping bullets into the bodies of unarmed men, women and children until their ammunition was almost exhausted.
There was no way out of the Bagh for the helpless people because the area was bounded by buildings on all sides with few narrow passages leading to it. Nearly all the passages were blocked either permanently or were guarded by Dyer's men. The brutal British army officer had himself stepped foot in the complex through the main entrance.
Official estimates of the deaths were 379 but actual figures were much higher and stands at an estimated over 1500 casualties from 1650 rounds that was fired.
The senseless firing and lack of escape routes had also sparked a stampede. Moreover a plaque erected post-independence at the site states that around 210 bodies were alone pulled out of the solitary well in which people had jumped to escape firing.
The inhuman act against the Indians at that time appears satanic especially after Dyer's reported confession that he rued not being able to use the armoured vehicles because they could not enter the narrow passageway. Facing the Hunter Commission after the massacre, Dyer admitted to have been aware of the presence of women and children in the crowd yet he decided to open fire to leave a "moral effect" on the people of India.
Dyer also insensately remarked that he was not concerned about providing medical treatment to those injured in the firing.
The reaction to the massacre was not immediate perhaps due to the extent of brutality of the British. However Mahatma Gandhi withdrew his protest on April 18 calling Jallianwala Bagh massacre a 'Himalyan Blunder'. On May 30, 1919 Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood expressing in a strongly worded letter to the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford his agony and anger over the act which "revealed to our minds the helplessness of our position as British subjects in India".
It is also said that Sardar Bhagat Singh, who was a young kid at that time, was greatly moved by the Jallianwala Bagh massacre leading him to join the struggle for Independence. One great man who definitely was moved by the carnage was Udham Singh who himself saw dead bodies lying in a pool of blood in the Bagh. In 1940 he killed Michael O'Dwyer, who was the Governor of Punjab in 1919, for being party to the gruesome massacre.
In a way the Jallianwala Bagh incident led India on a course of extreme patriotic sentiments giving rise to freedom fighters like Lala Lajpat Rai, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismill, Ashfaq Ullah Khan, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Jatin Das, Khudiram Bose, Batukeshwar Dutt, Surya Sen and most importantly, Jawaharlal Nehru and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Every Indian knows about the sacrifice of these heroes but the problem is no one seems to show the slightest respect towards it through their conduct. The manner in which the present Indian government is conducting the spate of affairs in the country is akin to the one in 1919. Yes, we may not be facing a barbaric officer like General Dyer but corruption is a ruthless killer no less. Such is India's penchant for economic growth that all moralities have been discarded to the waste bin.
In the wake of the infighting in the Indian Army and an incapacitated government, patriotism has become the worst casualty. Why is India unable to produce a leader with upright moral values? Why is the government conniving against its own people by hiding crucial facts? Above all, why are the people silent?
Scams have eaten the nation from the inside but the participation of the youth in fighting corruption is dismal. The changing societal demographics indicate that they are far too busy in their personal world where getting a job first and then marriage are the only two things to be done.
Had Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh or Netaji Subhash put their personal interest before the nation, we would have been saluting the Union Jack even today.
The cries of the people on that fateful day in Jallianwala Bagh have yet not died down. Bullet marks are still visible on the walls of the enclosure. The Government of India converted it into a memorial in 1961 but the place has been reduced to yet another tourist destination for people. At the crossroads where India stands today, there are lot of similarities between the troubles India faced then and the problems it faces now.
Political parties use flowery words to describe the heroics of our freedom fighters but stop short from walking the path they charted.
One of the major embarrassments for India in today's context is the number of poor. While the government skews the index of measuring poverty according to its needs the real picture is still hidden from the people. It is similar in the way the British rulers hid the actual number of deaths in the Jallianwala Bagh incident.
The silence in the Jallianwala Bagh today is deafening as if questioning the government and the people as to why India is still suffering.