The worst human massacre  

The holy city of Amritsar saw the worst ever, human massacre that happened in Indian history. The incident that took place in Jaliannwala Bagh on April 13 in 1919 on the Baisakhi day was the proof of intentions of extreme cruelty the British had in store for Indians. Amritsar, the city of Golden temple having the tank of nectar, the most sacred place of Sikhs turned red with blood of innocent, unsuspecting people of the city who were there to protest against atrocities of the British rulers. Jaliannwala Bagh incident brought Amritsar in limelight but seeds of protests against unlawful rule of British had long been sowed. 

No one will forget revolutionaries like Kartar Singh Sarawa and Lala Har Dayal, who were working to for waking people to fight against English rule ever since the first decade of early 20th centaury. All this made a big impact on people of Punjab who were inactive, neutral or did not mind British rule in India. People like Maharaja Dilip Singh son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was then living out of India courtesy Britain, was not active and that became a big reason for people of Punjab to not to decide properly for their home land. 

However, not all revolutionaries were inactive but almost 1000 of them had returned to Punjab from different parts of the world. And these were active awakening the people in different areas of Punjab. They were running their activities silently but surely and were leaving their impact on people’ mind. Activist like Ras Bihari Bose and V.G. Pingley, the actual leaders of Revolutionary party were making their all out efforts to make this country free. However, British were not ignorant and they provided Punjab government different ordinance to crush such movements ruthlessly. During that period, 20 people were hanged, 58 sent to Kala Pani and almost same number jailed for life. But the movement did not slow down. 

Forced recruitment in British army

By the time the world war-1 began, the world was divided in to two camps. In one camp, countries listed were Germany, Japan, Austria, Hungary and Turkey the other group had countries like France, Britain, America, Russia in their side. British knew that Indian soldiers could prove a deciding factor in such a crucial war therefore, they began recruiting Indians especially Gorkhas and Sikhs, the warriors who were used to keep swords and Khukaris as their traditional weapons. From Punjab itself, they succeeded to recruit more than one hundred thousand soldiers and more than half of the total number of soldiers recruited in the army was from Punjab only. The British government tried to recruit as many soldiers from Punjab as they could and they even adapted to falls means by bribing, paying commission to mediators and insulting Punjabi women to force their men to join army. British needed as many men to join army to face German attacks. They even admitted prisoners from Punjab jails to increase the number of their army personals.   

Effects of bad economical conditions

Indian government provided a very big amount despite the famine in 1918, to Britain during war period that showed its signs on Indian economy. Incidents of loot and unsocial elements taking over in several places including Calicut, Pathankot, Mysore, Karnal, Lailpur etc then plague shook the country in 1919. The country suffered loss of lives and money on many fronts due to war and killer diseases during that period. Indians had high hope of freedom for their country after the war was over but despite the increased powers to Indians in different fields, the British were not ready to allow freedom to Indians, and that made a big difference. 

Increased activities in Amritsar

Amritsar was always a center of political activities, but very few local leaders were associated with congress party . Few eminent leaders associated with congress like lawyer Kanahaiya Lal, Doctor and businessman Satya Pal, Barrister Doctor Saifuddin Kichloo, Barrister Badrul Islam Khan, Pundit Kotumal, Ratan Chand, and Choudhary Bugga Mal who wanted to see Amritsar as leading the freedom movement. They all wanted to see Amritsar emerge on the national scene of politics, therefore decided that the1919 conference to be held at  Amritsar and the venue for the same was fixed at Jaliannwala Bagh. The address of Swami Satya Dev was to be the main feature of that meeting, as suggested by Rattan Chand another prominent activist of the city. 

By 17 February, everything was fine but once the Rowlett Act was passed, the atmosphere began to change. On 29 February, a meeting was called to protest the Rowlett Act in Vandematram Hall presided by Lala Kanahaiya Lal and then another meeting on March 23 deciding to support Gandhi Ji and his non-cooperation movement finalized the matter with a strike call on March 30.  

The Government was alert on the issue

The changed atmosphere of Punjab put government on high alert, they banned Doctor Satya Pal’s public address on 24 March under India Safety Act but people participated on 29 March and decided to support Gandhi Ji and carry on their strike on next day. Almost 30,000 people were present in that meeting on 30 March presided by Dr Kichloo. Government did not find a single point that could provoke it and take any action against the meeting as not a single word was spoken against the government but the focus was on Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. Swami Satya Pal who was to deliver his lecture did not speak a word but others like, swami Anubhavanand, Deenanath, and Pundit Kotumal spoke freely. The meeting finished peacefully without any incident. 

Michael O’Dwyer - governor of Punjab 

Brigadier General Michael Francis O’Dwyer the then governor of Punjab was a strict but shortsighted ruler. He was strict but did not care for long-term results of his actions. Reginald Dyer another Brigadier General worked under O’Dwyer and both of them known to be as ruthless and strict while handling administrative matters without human touch in their decisions. The incident of Jaliaanwala Bagh was the combination of indecision of O’Dwyer and ruthless nature of Dyer that resulted in form of massacre of thousands of innocent people who were participating in a peaceful meeting on the occasion of Baisakhi. There were some stray incidents of violence prior to the big massacre, which caused the inhuman incident. The atmosphere in Amritsar was slowly heating up and British were ready to teach a lesson to retaliating Indians. The martyr's well 

 The Martyrs well

General Dyer had a motto

There were different reasons those prompted Indians to react against British people but such incidents prompted general Dyer to plan a scheme to punish people of Amritsar in a big way. He later admitted in front of a Military council – “If I had a reason to punish people of Amritsar by ordering the army to fire at them, my sole idea was to protect European women, children and men from those who wanted to kill them. I had a firm belief that if did not accept this challenge or will not act in a certain way by acting against those warring Indian groups, I would not be able to save their lives. That only prompted me to give an order to fire on people who gathered in Jaliannwala Bagh to harm the people and interrupt the Government work.”

Role of an Indian named Hansraj 

To complete his ill designs, Dyer needed an Indian who could help him plan in a proper way. To carry out his plans he wanted the help of someone who knew the local mentality as well the people had trust in him as well. He found one such person in Hansraj who was a former ticket collector in railway but was dismissed for his corrupt behavior. Later he joined Union Club of Amritsar but he misused the funds of the club and was thrown out from there also. Later he came in contact with Kichloo Ji and won his confidence. Kichloo Ji recruited him as a regular worker of the movement activities and he worked regularly and actively. He was one of the trusted workers of different movement works including very active protests against Rowlatt act. However, in reality Hansraj was a different person altogether, an opportunist, selfish and someone who had bigger plans for his future. He wanted everything in his life but did not want to work for them but always tried to find easier and illegal ways to fulfill his dreams and to accomplish his dreams he did not mind using his own mother and sister. In fact, he was an informer of the British police who joined the freedom movement to collect information and supply it to British. 

How Dyer managed it

Dyer was ruthless all right but he planned his scheme carefully. He knew that 13 April is big day for Punjabi as Baisakhi is their biggest celebration of the year when they gather in public places in big numbers, and to gather them in a single place, he wanted them to organize a meeting. He also knew that given the atmosphere of Amritsar those day people would do anything in the name of Kichloo Ji and Satyapal. This gave him the idea and he planned in a meeting with local officers where Hansraj was also present to bring all the people in a single place so that he could carryout his plan of teaching them a lesson. The plan was to punish the locals to give the dipping reputation of British government by killing as many people as possible. 

This all was possible for Dyer because he was indirectly in-charge of the affairs including civil affairs despite of the fact that he was only responsible for security. Because he did not consult anyone into this matter therefore, he did not find it necessary to impose martial law to keep the unfavorable activities, which were going on in the city. Instead of taking other safety measurements, he kept all the gates under strict security placing armed forces and army on alert and on the move. In the meantime, he received a message from commissioner of Lahore division that Sikhs from Malwa were planning to attack army posts in Amritsar that made him more cautious toward the security of the city. 

In the meantime, Hansraj was playing his own game by calling a meeting in Hindu Sabha School in the evening of 12 April. Since all the big leaders were under arrest and he was considered an active worker of the party therefore, local people had not the slightest of doubt that he could be playing double game with them. Initially the number of people was limited to 40 or so but the count slowly rose to 120. Hansraj started his lecture with subjects like peace, self-governance and situation of the city etc and later proposed a meeting on Baisakhi day in Jaliannwala Bagh under the leadership of aged leader Lala Kanahaiya Lal Ji and also proposed that wife of Shri Kichloo Ji will read a letter sent by him and Satyapal Ji for the occasion. Incidentally, he did not take any permission from Kanahaiya Lal Ji about this meeting but used his name only. 

They were ready for the kill 

General Dyer succeeded in his planning to fetch the people to Jallianwala Bagh because he wanted to kill them in an open place. He knew that it was not an easy job to fight with local people in lanes and by lanes because that could prove futile and not that useful. He therefore, posted 40 of his soldiers at the main entrance covering the main meeting place. Dyer reached to the venue of meeting lead by a company of soldiers by a car. Another platoon of soldiers following his car and then the special commando trucks and police car were covering them from behind. 

In the meanwhile, Hansraj was doing his job according to plan with the help of intelligence agency, police and government machinery. Everyone was active playing his part but Hansraj was over active. He arranged cleaning work, set the stage, arranged for drinking water etc and to help him in his job two persons were specially deployed by Dyer to run the operation successfully. 

At last, the people started to gather for the meeting and being the Baisakhi day the people who had come to the city, wanted to attend the meeting. In the meantime, people who had arrived to participate in a cattle fare also took part in the meeting since the government has disallowed the fare to take place. Incidentally, Jallianwala Bagh, located a few hundred meters away from Golden temple is not the same today as it used to be those days but surrounded by houses from three sides and fourth side covered by 5’ high boundary wall was a barren piece of ground.

The stage was set

Every move was going ahead according to the plan. The stage was all set, people have started to reach to the Jallianwala Bagh. General Dyer was getting the information from all sources. His intelligence team and informers were keeping him posted about every detail whatever was happening in and around Jallianwala Bagh. People did not know what was in store for them as they came in big numbers. Most of them came from nearby villages to Golden temple and after the ritual was over, they came to attend the meeting expecting to listen to their leaders. The scheduled time for the meeting was 4 o’clock in the evening but by 3 o’clock there was a large gathering and people were waiting for the commencement of the meeting. Some of them were lying on the ground, some were playing cards and some others even sleeping. 

To top it all, some children were playing in the Bagh as daily routine. Some people had nothing to do with meeting but they were there in the Bagh with their family consisting of small kids in their laps. Some children were doing community service as usual, by offering water to people present there. Meanwhile the informers were keeping a close watch on developments there and informing General Dyer about everything. The meeting began at 3 and by 5.20, eight of the speakers including Abdul Aziz, Dr. Gurbaksh Singh and Rai Ram Singh had finished their speeches. A local poet Braj Gopinath ‘Bekal’ also recited his poem targeting the British government and giving message to the public to face the British rulers’ atrocities fearlessly. The people present in the meeting passed two resolutions, one demanding the return of Rowlatt Act and the second condemning the firing that took place on April 10 with offering their prayers to people who died in that firing. 

To mention a fact here, around four o’clock an airplane came close to meeting place waiving a flag, and seeing the plane flying so low some people wanted to flee. But Hansraj was ever alert with his assurance to public to calm down and asking them constantly to sit down as according to him it was only a routine watch by the government agencies. Actually, Hansraj did not want people to go out of the Bagh, as it would have failed Dyer’s scheme. Hansraj Kept assuring every leaving people to sit down as there was nothing to be afraid of. He even said that British would never dare to attack innocent people attending a nonviolent meeting.  

The meeting was going on and General Dyer was moving towards it to fulfill his plan. The city was well guarded for the purpose with armed forces and apart from that, he had with him 25 Gorkha- riflemen and 40 Gorkhas with Khukhari and 25 other soldiers with rifles and specially designed trucks to control riots. He left for the meeting venue with his guards with information to his officers but he did not take with him any other senior officers. By 4.20 or so, General Dyer was into the ground but he had to leave his armored trucks out on the road because the approach road was not broad enough to adjust them. But, he was confident that he would be able to handle the crowd with available force and ammunition. 

By 5.15 or so Dyer and his subordinates had reached to the meeting spot. Colonel Morgan, Brigs and few others came along with him up to the gate. No civilian officer was accompanying him when he entered the gate on foot, perhaps this was part of the scheme of General Dyer, as he did not want to involve any civilian in his scheme. General Dyer was astonished to see the gathering at the meeting venue because he had  not expected that such a big public presence would be possible even when there were no big leaders present. By the time Dyer reached there it was Durgadas addressing the public. Dyer asked his junior colleague Brigs about the approximate number of people present there and when he said 5000, he did not believe him. Another of his officers Morgan said something around twenty-five thousand people, which was closer to the truth. When they reached near the meeting venue people realized their presence and they began to shout – AA Gaye – meaning-  they have arrived. But Hansraj still lied to them to sit, as the government had no intention to harm them. Meanwhile he signaled to Dyer to begin his operation and moved out of the meeting place pretending to talk to the forces. The narrow passage  

-Jalian Wala Bagemorial

Operation Jallianwala Bagh had begun

Dyer was standing on a comparatively higher place about 150 meters away from the main stage under a Peepal tree from where he could watch the large gathering. Durgadas was still delivering his lecture while some others were requesting people to sit but Dyer’s eyes were burning with revenge. As a matter of rule, he should have warned people to leave before giving a shoot-out order but he did not keep it in his mind. No one had any means to retaliate or fight back as no one had any arms except only Sikhs had their Kripans. Even if the people wanted to leave expecting trouble were not allowed to leave the ground by the forces deployed there and there was no other exit.

Once the army personals started to load their guns, the people present there forgot to breathe the next one but they still had a belief that the army would not fire at them directly but in the air. Even when the first round of fire hit them, they did not believe that they were the direct target but when they saw people lying on the ground in to a pool of blood, then only the realized that something terrible was taking place there. It was not aimless firing but they were shooting to kill. Not a single fire missed but every fire shot killed or injured someone. People wanted to flee away but the only way to go out was blocked by the force. Most probably, even general Dyer did not this fact that there was no other way to get away from the scene. People divided in to two groups to save themselves but Dyer ordered to fire on both the groups. The picture after the massacre took place


Most people standing near the forces were killed instantly and the diseased included children and women. Since there was no way out as the garden was surrounded by houses from three sides and fourth side had a boundary wall with small 4-5 small gates and these too were blocked by public, dead and alive. Some people fell down and were crushed instantly under the feet of fleeing public. Some others died by suffocation because they were buried under the dead bodies. Those who tried to climb the walls to run away were shot down by army to fell down on either side of the wall. Some who tried to take shelter behind the cemetery built inside the garden but army was on higher place so they could locate and still shoot them down. 

After a while, Dyer ordered his men to stop for a moment and inspected the ground that was full of dead and injured bodies. Once the firing stopped, the people thought that it has stopped forever and they tried to escape the scene but Dyer was still not satisfied, so he again ordered to shoot at them. People were lying down on the ground, some of them still alive were crying in pain but Dyer did not let it go at that, as he still wanted to keep the shooting on. Dyer’s assistant Captain Brigs who was standing near him was shaken by looking at the number of causalities and still going on nonstop. He tried to stop Dyer from further shooting but Dyer was in no mood to listen to anyone. He did not react to anybody’s request but kept signaling his men to continue with the firing. 

Thousands of blood stained bodies were lying down there on the ground and out of these hundreds were already dead. Some others who tried to escape died elsewhere. In a lane nearby more than 50 dead bodies of people who tried to escape after they were shot at, but they ran and fell dead after running a few steps. There were more dead bodies lying in the lane adjacent to Sultan Singh gate, the entire Jallianwala ground was looking like a big battlefield where nothing else but blood-stained bodies were visible. Dyer again ordered to fire despite the fact that no one was standing on his own two feet but once they started firing again, the injured whoever could stand and walk tried to run away. Few women jumped into the nearby well alone or with children if they had young kids in their lap. 

Dyer spared no one, even people standing on the rooftops of nearby houses were aimed at and injured or killed. They fired 1650 rounds within a short period of 10 initial minutes and they definitely fired to kill. Those who could somehow run off the ground saving their life had lost the direction but they ran like mad. They did not care for direction or their own condition but kept running. Once there was no one to shoot at, the army started to go back taking the same rout they came by. But by the time they went back the entire city was converted into a big cemetery. People who had lost their relatives came hours after the incident took place. They were still afraid of being shot by the army personals. Since the order to shoot at site was in place if someone was found wandering after 8 in the night so people left the area leaving the dead bodies behind. No body wanted to take the risk  Most probably they were right, as Dyer made rounds to check if anybody found breaking the law. He went to many places with small number of armed guards to confirm that but not a single person was on the roads except a few stray animals. The entire city was quiet and looked barren as if nothing existed there. 


Amritsar came to limelight after the massacre that saw thousands dead and injured. The actual number of people who died in this incident is a disputed topic but people on the scene claim that more than thousand people were killed on the spot and more than fifteen hundred were injured seriously. Many women and children jumped into the well and many lost their lives crushed trying to escape during the incident. General Dyer, the man responsible for this massacre later had to appear before an inquiry commission that started on 29 October that had 46 sittings in different places. The Hunter Committee did not reach to a decision acceptable to British officers and Indian politicians due to many differences but General Dyer did not live for a long time after the incident but died in 1927 due to brain hemorrhage.  

In fact, this incident was considered as one of the worst in the modern history of British Empire. Some bloodshed is expected in case army plays its role in controlling the civilians but the incident in Jallianwala Bagh was entirely different from all such incidents. Killing civilians without warning was loathsome, ghastly and unbelievable. Dyer overlooked the minimum set standards of army action against enemy, especially the civilians.

 Photo source -

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