Recalling the Jallianwala Bagh massacre

Atanu Dey | Apr 13, 2013

Recalling the Jallianwala Bagh massacre

Today, April 13th, is the anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre during the British Raj in Amritsar in 1919. It was a Sunday. The Wikipedia says:

On Sunday, 13 April 1919, Dyer was convinced of a major insurrection and thus he banned all meetings. On hearing that a meeting of 15,000 to 20,000 people including women, children and the elderly had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh, Dyer went with fifty riflemen to a raised bank and ordered them to shoot at the crowd. Dyer continued the firing for about ten minutes, until the ammunition supply was almost exhausted; Dyer stated that 1,650 rounds had been fired, a number which seems to have been derived by counting empty cartridge cases picked up by the troops. Official British Indian sources gave a figure of 379 identified dead, with approximately 1,100 wounded. The casualty number estimated by the Indian National Congress was more than 1,500, with approximately 1,000 dead.

Though Brigadier-General Dyer was hailed as a hero by the British at that time, he was nonetheless an evil, ruthless person. He gave the orders and therefore he rightfully shoulders the blame for the extremely brutal action – which stands out in its brutality even given that the British Raj was generally brutal.

But I wonder. Who actually did the firing? I suppose Indian “sepoys” did the work of mowing down peaceful, unarmed protestors caught in a blind alley. The British were motivated by their hatred of the people they ruled over and at some level one can understand why Dyer ordered the killing. But what about the sepoys who killed so ruthlessly? Did they not have any compassion? What motivated them to kill their compatriots? Did they lack the basic humanity to see that it was not right to kill unarmed civilians?

I blame Dyer of course. But I blame those sepoys more because they did what they did not out of conviction or patriotism but out of expediency – to save their own skins, to avoid being court-martialled for disobedience, they killed innocents. Dyer is evil by nature but those who followed his orders were needlessly ruthless.

Today too the story is not much different. The people in government give the orders that eventually kill millions but their work needs the willing cooperation of legions of Indian sepoys who lack compassion for their own countrymen. This has to change.


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Atanu Dey

Atanu Dey is an economist. He blogs on India's Development at deeshaa.org.