The administrative importance of Amritsar was realized by the British authorities in the events of 1857 and effective steps were taken to meet the situation.


            Summary account of the Meeting is based on Foreign Department Political Consultations, 28th April, 1854, Nos. 243-48, National Archies of India, New Delhi


            (1) Measures Taken on Receipt of Intelligence of the Uprising.-On May 12, 1857, when the first intelligence of the Meerut and Delhi uprisings reached Amritsar, the force within the cantonments consisted of the 59th Native Infantry, of whom 216 were on duty inside the Fort of Govindgarh. On the disarming of the troops at Lahore, nothing could be done but await calmly the progress of events. A rendezvous was fixed in case of a disturbance. The next evening (May 13), there came (what turned out to be a false alarm) the news that the disarmed troops at Lahore were preparing to escape, possibly with the idea of swarming into the Fort of Govindgarh. Accordingly, Mr. Macnaghten, Assistant Commissioner, proceeded to Atari with the Tahsildar of Amritsar. Diwan Narain Singh, the agent of Sardar Kahan Singh of Atari, came to the aid of Mr. Macnaghten in rousing the villagers and forming a barrier across the Grand Trunk Road so as to intercept the rebels and give the authorities time to prepare themselves. In the meantime, Colonel Boyd picketed out the 59th Native Infantry in various directions by way of diversion of attention, while Captain Waddy removed the whole of the battery of artillery inside the fort. On the other hand, Mr. F.H. Cooper, Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, had picketed outside the gate of the fort (from the day till it was well garrisoned by Europeans) a company of Sikhs and some sowars (horsemen), who at a certain signal from the fort were to accompany the Deputy Commissioner in. Having adopted all possible immediate measures, attention was paid to the feeling of the city, which was very much excited. As if to try the temper of authority, a Muhammadan chowkidar (watchman) had the audacity to cut down a cow, with the shallow pretence that he thought it was a dog. Setting aside regulations, and in anticipation of approval, the Deputy Commissioner had the man most severly flogged and put in irons and imprisoned for a year. The effect was great, and nothing of the kind occurred thereafter.


            (2) Measures for the Safety of the Govindgarh Fort.-It was a source of much uneasiness for the British authorities that the stronghold was occupied by a detachment of the 59the Native Infantry, with only 70 European artillerymen. Captain Lawrence, Captain of Police, and Mr. Roberts, Commissioner, drove over on 13th May, immediately after disarming the troops at Mian Mir (near Lahore), to arrange for the safety of the fort. On their return to Lahore the following day, they represented to Brigadier Corbett the urgent necessity for pushing a body of European foot into it. he instantly complied and, notwithstanding the alarming events of that day elsewhere, half a company of the 81st Foot was run across the same night in ekkas or gigs. It entered Govindgarh peaceably by the dawn of 15th. The 59th Native Infantry still remained in the fort, but as soon as the Europeans were available, they took their place. As soon as the outbreak occurred, one of the first measures adopted by Mr. Cooper, Deputy Commissioner, was to provision for the fort of Govindgarh. This was rapidly and thoroughly effected without exciting any particular notice,17 and the fort then became one of the trusty bulwarks of the British, which it had not hitherto been. Mr. Macnaghten, Assistant Commissioner, at the same time went out on the Lahore road to raise the country (a part of the Majha) against any rebels who might come by. Rewards were offered for capturing any sepy who had rebelled. Thus the escape for a rebel was impossible, because every village had been made a nest of hornets for him.


            16Punjab Government Records, Vol. VIII, Mutiny Reports, Part I (Lahore, 1911), pp. 269-70


            (3) Discovery of a Muhammadan Conspiracy.-June 1857 presents some peculiar features. The 59th Native Infantry continued to be armed though their numbers in the Govindgarh Fort were much reduced. All letters to the sepoys were intercepted. Some of them contained very suspicious matter, but the time had hardly arrived to press matters. The evidence of a Muhammadan basis of the rebellion soon stood forth as some clear cases of “seditious conversation and projected treason” were brought to light. Muhammad Sharif, a relation of Risaldar Barket Ali, of the mounted Risalah at Amritsar (“himself no small thorn in Mr. F.H. Cooper’s side”, a Hindustani and resident of Shahjahanpur) ; Mir Sahib, a clock-maker ; Mian Sahib, a fakir (whom the Deputy Commissioner arrested at night in the city) ; a Nur Muhammad Khan, who admitted to have left Delhi on 22nd May (he was an ex-Munshi, had a fine horse and disguises, and clearly had left for the crusade in Amritsar) ; a Munshi Rajjab Ali, and others, were at once tried and thrown into prison. A Muhammadan Thanedar on the day of that trial had left his district and was found in the shop of the conspirators ; he was promptly dismissed from Government service.18


            (4) Execution of Radha Kishan.-During the same month, i.e. June 1857, Radha Kishan, a Brahmin, was hanged in the presence of the whole movable Column under Brigadier-General Chamberlain, for “high treason”. A proclamation proclaiming his crime and punishment was printed in the gaol and published in the city19.


            (5) The ‘Black Hole’ and the ‘Well of Death’ at Ajnala.20-Amidst a multitude of grim and gruesome acts of retribution perpetrated by the British rulers during the Uprising of 1857, the cold-blooded murder of some 500 rebels at Ajnala is one of the most ghastly barbarities. Immediately after the news of the outbreak of Meerut and Delhi had been flashed to the Punjab, the 26th Native Infantry Regiment had been disarmed at Mian Mir (near Lahore) on May 13, 1857, and placed under surveillance. It was apprehended that the regiment was planning to flee. On July 30, the Indian soldiers bolted in a body. Parkash Pandey, a more desperate member of the party, rushed at Major Spencer, who tried to intervene, and put him to death. The Sergeant Major, who came to his aid, was also killed. If there was any hesitation, it was the indiscriminate firing by the Sikh levies who precipitated the murders and frightened all, good, bad, or indifferently disposed to flight. An unexpected duststorm covered their escape and the authorities could not determine in which direction they had gone. Pursuing parties were sent after them towards the south in the belief that the fugitives might head for Harike Ghat. But it was reported on the following day that they had proceeded towards the north, perhaps with the intention of going to Kashmir or joining hands with some Hindustani regiments in the district in its neighbourhood.


            17“Each different sort of provision came out from different bazaars at different hours of the day and at different gates which device effectually obviated any curious concentration of attention on the plain opposite the fort”. (Ibid)


            18Ibid., pp. 270-71


19Ibid., p. 272


20The tragic events have been fully described in an article entitled “Black Hole and Well of Death at Ajnala” by V.S. Suri, published in The Tribune, dated September 15, 1957.


            By midday, on 31st July, Mr. Cooper, Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, was informed by the Tahsildar of Saurian, at Ajnala, that it had been reported by the Village Chowkidar that nearly 800-1000 Purbias had arrived near Dadiyan. The Chowkidar had been asked by the Purbias to show them the fords on the left bank of the Ravi, but he feigned ignorance and referred them to his son. The father hastened to the Tahsildar and brought the presence of the host of strangers to his notice. The news of the revolt had already been circulated and so all were prepared.


            Meanwhile the Tahsildar, with a posse of police, rushed to the Ghat, about 41 km from Amritsar, to intercept the fugitive sepoys. In the struggle that ensued, about 150 of the sepoys were shot, mobbed backwards into the river and drowned in the strong current caused by the rains. The banks of the stream bore the marks of gore and the trampling of hundreds of feet. The disarmed sepoys, after their 64 km flight, were too weakened and famished to battle with the floods. The main body of the sepoys had, however, fled upwards and sought refuge on an island about a mile away from the bank by swimming or flating on pieces of wood.


            The Deputy Commissioner set off for the Bul Ghat, 36 km from Amritsar, after collecting a party of sowars. He was accompanied by Sardar Jodh Singh (an old Sikh Chieftain), Extra Assistant Commissioner, and the Tahsildar of Amritsar. On the way, he was joined at Raja Sansi by Sardar Partab Singh Sindhanwalia along with five or six well-mounted and armed attendants. The Deputy Commissioner and party, passing by Ajnala, reached the bank opposite the hiding-place of the fugitives by 5 p.m.


            They planned to capture and ferry the helpless sepoys to the mainland. The captives were to be taken ashore under adequate protection in two or three trips “after the model of the old fable of the fox, the geese and the pack of oats”21. There were but two boats. Leaving most of the Hindustani sowars, ostensibly to look after the horses, the party dismounted and set off towards the island in the two boats, about 30 in each one of them.


            When they neared the island, of which all that was left above water by the rising stream was an inhospitable patch, about 200 yards long by 70 yards wide, half covered with tall grass, it became clear to them that the number of the sheltering sepoys was much larger than had been seen at first.


            The Tiwana sowars were ordered to jump out of the boats, matchlock and carbine in hand, to invest the lower or downstream side of the island. Seeing them approach, forth or fifty of the sepoys jumped into the river in utter despair, rose at a distance and disappeared in the increasing gloom and swift current.


            The Tiwana horsemen, who were eager for a fray, obeyed the strict injunction not to fire upon those who had taken to the waters. This had the effect of apparently restoring confidence among the rebel sepoys, who probably imagined they would be subjected to a court-martial with the usual contingencies to light punishment or moderate incarceration, with eventual return to their homes22. Indeed Mr. Cooper alone knew what fate was in store for his victims. All of them were, however, landed on the bank of the river in boats.


            All the rebels were, thereafter, escorted by the sowars and were surrounded by a host of villagers, marched to the Ajnala Police-Station, situated at a distance of 9 km from the spot. Thus by midnight, all the captives were safely lodged in the Police-Station. The drizzling rain, however, prevented their immediate execution, which had to be unavoidably deferred till day break.


            Partab Singh Sindhanwalia had volunteered to take charge of the fugitives who had been confined in the surrounding villages, of whom he brought in no less than 66 during the night23. The police-station being already full, they were ushered into a small bastion of the tahsil building. The total number of prisoners of all ranks swelled to 28224.


            To complete the preparations for the execution of the captives (and that had been clearly visualized by the Deputy Commissioner), he had, before starting from Amritsar, issued orders for a large supply of rope to be sent out to Ajnala as also for 50 levies as a firing-party. The rope had arrived but it was not found to be sufficient to hang so many. So it was decided to shoot them in small batches.


            21Cooper, Frederic, The Crisis in the Punjab from the 10th of May until the Fall of Delhi, p. 156


            22Punjab Government Records, Vol. VII, Mutiny Correspondence, Pt. I, p. 392


            23Ibid., p. 393




            Before taking up the actual work of execution, search was made for a convenient place of punishment and disposal of the dead bodies. The difficulty was soon removed by the discovery of a deep, dry and deserted well, about ninety metres from the police-station.


            On the morning of August 1, ten by ten, the sepoys were called forth, their names having been taken down in succession. An equal number of the firing-party instantly moved up within one yard, fired at their hearts and in one moment they were launched into eternity.


            Bodies with the slightest signs of life in them were dispatched by the sowars and were flung into the pit (Pandeys, Tiwaris, Brahmins and Muslims) by the sweepers of the village. And so on, 130 had been regularly executed, when one of the firing-party having swooned, orders were given for their relief. The remainder were then executed without let or hindrance. The execution commenced at sunrise, and 237 had met their doom by 10 a.m.25. All through, the captives had maintained remarkable composure, showed on sign of contrition, and, though many declared their innocence, none volunteered to divulge any secret.


            The 66 sepoys huddleld into the small room in the tahsil building were then to be dealt with. The Deputy Commissioner was informed that the remainder refused to come out of the bastion, where they had been imprisoned a few hours before. Expecting a rush and resistance, preparations were made against escape ; but little expectation was entertained of the real and awful fate which had befallen the remainder of the rebels ; they had anticipated, by a few short hours, their doom. The tragedy of Holwell’s Black Hole had been re-enacted. No cries had been heard during the night, in consequence of the hubbub, tumult and shouting of the crowds of horsemen, police, tahsil guards and excited villagers. Forty-five bodies, dead from fright, exhaustion, fatigue, heat, and partial suffocation, were dragged into light, and consigned, in common with all the other bodies, to one common pit, by the hands of the village sweepers26. The prisoners’ horrible fate had been sealed, because in addition to the extremely limited accommodation and intense heat, all the windows had been securely closed.


            The well, known as Kalianwala Khuh, to which the dead bodies were consigned, was ordered to be filled with charcoal and lime and a high mound of earth was raised over it. A tumulus was raised over the “grave”, which, according to Mr. Cooper, began to be called moofsidgar, or rebels’ hole, by the people of the vicinity.27


            25Ibid., p. 394

            26Cooper, Frederic, The Crisis in the Punjab from the 10th of May until the Fall of Delhi (London, 1858), pp. 162-63


            Some English writers, who have the candour to admit that atrocities were committed by their countrymen, have commented on the wanton cruelty of Mr. Cooper. Greathed has said, “The sacrifice of five hundred villainous lives for the murder of two English is a retribution that will be remembered”.


(6) Temper of the People of Amritsar towards the Uprising28


            The people in general, were not indifferent to what was passing around them. They naturally felt excited at the developments in the country. However, the severe measures adopted by the British authorities against even the mildest eruption of rebellious spirit in any quarter produced a marked change in the demeanour of the people. the moral effect of the presence of General Nicholson’s mobile column at different periods, aggregating about a month, was also great. The general distrust of the British Government was shown by the poor contribution of the wealthy people of Amritsar and Lahore to the six per cent loan. Men worth half a crore of rupees offered a subscription of Rs 1000 and others on the same scale.




Incentive for further Commercial Development of the City


            As a result of the deep personal interest of the Sikh Gurus in the development of Amritsar not only as the foremost center of the Sikh religion but also as a great entrepot of trade and commerce and the unbounded patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh during his stable rule, the city flourished in an unprecedented manner. Amritsar had assumed a pre-eminent position of a commercial town in the whole of northern India. It continued to receive good attention as a great commercial center from the British. After the annexation of the Punjab in1849, the set-back suffered by the city during the period of insecurity and disorders after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was soon overcome under the peaceful British administration. Thereafter, Amritsar continued to be the most important center of trade and commerce in the region. To facilitate further growth of Amritsar trade with distant export centers, like Calcutta, Bombay and Karachi, it was felt necessary to develop faster and cheaper means of communication. To avoid the longer and tedious routes across Rajasthan and the G.T. Road, a quicker and safer artery for the Punjab products was provided for through the Amritsar-Multan Railway. On February 8, 1959, the railway linking Amritsar, Lahore and Multan was opened. The introduction of a vast network of roads connecting Amritsar with principal centers of trade and commerce in the country and the railway system with much lower rates of freight vastly enhanced the commercial importance of the city.


IV. Political Ferment in the Punjab in the Beginning of the Twentieth Century


            The opening years of the twentieth century found the Punjab in a peaceful and prosperous condition. The transition from the old system of administration to the new mode of government was complete. The Punjabis in the liberal professions, such as law and medicine, were gradually becoming conscious of their status in society. The British bureaucracy, however, did not seem to be responsive to the new ideas which the educated class had imbibed as a result of advanced Western education and contact with the British rulers.


            While the Punjab appeared to be peaceful on the surface, an undercurrent of discontent was growing among that class of people who were until then considered to be loyal to the British. Unmistakably, the signs of popular awakening began to manifest themselves. The growing intellectual awakening had slowly created public opinion which had begun to express itself through the press. This was the result of the political and religious ferment in the Punjab towards the close of the nineteenth century. Nationalistic trends were also clearly visible at the time and Indian point of view was beginning to crystallize in the form of a new political organization and leadership. The Indian National Congress founded in 1885 had begun to be recognized as the popular political forum in the country.


            The British belief in the unflinching loyalty of the people of the Punjab was soon to receive a rude shock. The Colonization Bill and the enhanced land tax and water-rate in certain areas of the Punjab seriously agitated the minds of the peasantry. A distressed peasantry naturally made the Punjab a fertile soil for the activities of the revolutionaries. Urban politicians took the lead in organizing protest meetings. The nationalist press supported their cause and, in its eagerness to help, enlarged the grievance against the Colonization Bill into a racial issue between the brown man and the white man.


            By March 1907, the atmosphere in the cities and the affected colonies had become tense. A new song was on the lips of the people “pagri sambhal jatta” – “O peasant, guard your turban”. Students of the Khalsa College, Amritsar, staged a hostile demonstration at the farewell visit of the outgoing Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Charles Rivaz. Protest meetings were organized by lawyers and members of the Arya Samaj. The fiftieth anniversary of the great Uprising of 1857 was chosen as the occasion for a province-wide protest.29 The British officers actually went into panic at the sudden formation of the Zamindara League in March 1907. Repressive measures far out of proportion with the gravity of the situation were resorted to. The Lieutenant-Governor in his minute to the Governor-General in Council in April 1907 described the situation in the Punjab as “Extremely dangerous and extremely serious, urgently demanding a remedy”. The Punjab Government was so much worried that the British army officers were alerted in Lahore to suppress any possible outbreak of mob-violence.


            Despite repression, the criticism of the bill continued unabated. The authorities sensed that the measure had caused uneasiness among the Sikh soldiers, many of whom had relatives in the colony areas, and the Governor-General, Lord Minto, vetoed the Colonization Bill. The land tax and the water-rate were reduced.30


            The policy of repression followed by the Government in the Punjab succeeded in putting down the sudden political upsurge for some time. But the strong spirit of patriotism could not be quelled effectively. The fire, thus sparked, continued to smoulder in the hearts of the people.


            The extremist elements in the province sought inspiration from political leaders in other parts of the country and tried to establish active liaison with them. The struggle for liberation thus assumed an all-India character and the political movement in one part of the country began to produce serious repercussions in others. Amritsar, the hub of the Punjab, could thus neither be treated as isolated nor remain unaffected by the development in the rest of the country. The stringent measures taken by the British authorities sent a wave of resentment and exhorted the youth to throw away the British yoke. They fully realized that the struggle against the mighty Government would be long and hard. But they prepared themselves for it as best as they could under the circumstances.


            The agrarian unrest of 1907 and its aftermath were responsible for a sudden upsurge of political consciousness in the Punjab, in general, and in Amritsar, in particular. Earlier, the predominantly commercial city carried on its activities under the official patronage. The city was still considered to be educationally backward and very little political activity was noticeable. A few meetings were sometimes held in the Bande Matram Hall, whose foundation-stone had been laid by the famous Indian patriot, Babu Surinder Nath Banerjee.


            29Khushwant singh, A History of the Sikhs, Vol. II, 1839-1964, (London, 1966), p. 158.

            30Ibid., pp. 158-59


V. The Ghadar Movement, 1913-15


            The large number of Indian migrants in other countries, especially in the USA, were subjected to all sorts of humiliating disabilities and difficulties. The treatment meted out to them at the hands of the Government and the people was both discriminatory and degrading. In addition to the hardships which the emigrants were made to suffer, most of the Governments had proceeded to adopt legislative measures to squeeze them out of those countries. The more intelligent among the Indians abroad felt that they were unnecessarily accorded a status inferior to that of the ordinary citizens of those countries. Efforts made to get their grievances redressed proved unsuccessful in the face of public indifference and official apathy. The Indians realized that the main cause of their troubles was the political subjugation of the mother-country and, unless India attained freedom, they could not expect honourable treatment at the hands of the inhabitants of the countries where they had settled.


            The ground was thus prepared for setting up a political organization to give guidance and direction to the movement. The outcome of the ferment was the formation of the Ghadar Party in 1913, 31 with headquarters at San Francisco. Its aim was to liberate India by force.


            The outbreak of the World Ward I, 1914-18, was hailed by the Indian revolutionaries living abroad as a favourable opportunity to free the country from the British rule through armed uprising with foreign assistance. The Ghadar Party tried to achieve their object by sending Indians, mostly Punjabis, imbued with revolutionary ideas, back to their mother-country to stir up rebellion there. The Government of India were fully informed of the activities of the Ghadar Party and took necessary precautions. The “Ingress into India Ordinance” of September 5, 1914, was purposely passed to deal with the Indian emigrants coming back to India32.


            Scores of the Ghadarites, however, sneaked through enquiries under the Ingress Ordinance and reached the Punjab. But they discovered that the atmosphere in India was far from conducive to revolution. They openly exhorted the people to rise, but, finding little response, the revolutionaries had to fall back on their own resources. Early in 1915, the Ghadarites made contacts with terrorist organizations in other parts of the country. In January, the famous revolutionary, Rash Bihari Bose (leader of the group which tried to assassinate Lord Hardinge in 1912), arrived at Amritsar and took over the general direction of the revolution. He was joined by Babu Sachin Sanyal and the Maharashtrian, Vishnu Ganesh Pingley, who began manufacturing bombs in the city, probably under the supervision of an ex-chemist, Dr. Mathura Singh Kohli. The chief liaison with the Punjabis was through the youthful Kartar Singh Saraba. Bose spent a fortnight at Amritsar and then shifted his headquarters to Lahore33.


            32Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, the founder President of the revolutionary organization started in the USA, hailed from the Amritsar District. The veteran freedom fighter died in 1969 after a prolonged illness.


            33R. C. Majumdar, History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol. II, p. 447.


            It is further started that :


“A serious problem arose for the authorities in the Punjab, when on September 27, 1914 S.S. Kamagata Maru brought 400 Sikhs and 60 Muslims from the Far East in Hoogly” under the leadership of Baba Gurdit Singh of Sirhali, District Amritsar.


            The plans of the Ghadarites were going according to schedule. February 21, 1915, was fixed for a general rising in the province; but unfortunately, the information leaked out. As a safeguard, the date for the revolt was advanced to February 19, 1915. Still the Government forestalled the move and struck in time. The proposed uprising failed to come off. Instead a hunt for the revolutionaries was launched. For the next two weeks, terror prevailed in the Punjab. Everyone was suspect and very few escaped the wide net cast by the police.


            The arrested men were to be tried ; but it was not done until the Government had made things secure for itself. The Defence of India Act34 was hurriedly rushed through the Imperial Legislative Council. Its most important provision was the appointment of ‘Special Tribunals’ for the trials of the revolutionaries. Under the new Act, neither commitment proceedings to these tribunals nor judicial appeals from their decisions were allowed. A Tribunal of 3 was set up in the Punjab ; its only Indian member was Shri Shiv Narain Sharma. On the 27th March, 1915, the First Lahore Conspiracy Trial opened at Lahore. Barrack No. 16 in the Central Jail, Lahore, was specially improvised to serve as the court of trial35.


            Thus ended the efforts of the simple, and in most cases uneducated, people entirely in the foreign surroundings to contribute their little bit to the fight for the freedom of their mother-land. At a time, when the leaders of the Indian national movement were talking of “self Government on British Dominion model”, the heroes of the Ghadar had dared to raise the banner of complete independence and armed revolt against imperialism. It had been the most powerful revolt planned since the great uprising of 1857. The Ghadar Movement, which may be characterized as a ‘revolution’ in the Punjab, was in a way the first secular effort to liberate India by the use of arms. The Ghadar Party, though composed of overwhelming numbers of Sikhs, had no pretentions of religious revival and sought to achieve a strictly political goal. For this reason, both Hindus and Muslims were drawn towards it and, later, several other revolutionary groups were greatly influenced by the new ideology which had shed all religious bias. Thus the Amritsar District, as evidenced by the activities of some of the most prominent members of the Ghadar Party who hailed from there, occupied an honourable place in this phase of freedom struggle.


            33Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Vol. II, 1839-1964 (London, 1966), pp. 182-85.


            V.N.Datta, Amritsar Past and Present (Amritsar, 1967), p. 59


            V.N.Datta, Jallianwala Bagh (Ludhiana, 1969), pp. 58-59


            Michael O’Dwyer, India as I Knew it (London, 1925), pp. 200-201


            34On 19th March, 1915, the Defence of India Act (Act IV of 1915) was passed ; it was brought into force in sixteen districts of the Punjab three days later. (M.S. Leigh, The Punjab and the War, p. 21)


            Randhir Singh, The Ghadar Heroes, p. 19


            For a list of revolutionaries belonging to the Amritsar District, tried and convicted by Special Tribunals, see Appendix on pages 68-70


VI. The Home Rule Movement


            About the middle of the second decade of the twentieth century, the Moderates and the Extremists groups in the Indian National Congress composed their differences and two associations were formed for intensifying the national movement. These were the two Home Rule Leagues founded in 1916, one by Mrs. Annie Besant, and the other by B. G. Tilak at Poona, with home rule or self-government for India as their object. Extensive lecture tours were undertaken for instructing masses on home rule and largely attended meetings were addressed, exhorting the people to become members of the Home Rule Leagues. The Home Rule Movement, thus, spread like wild fire and its branches were opened all over the country. In Amritsar, the movement was led by Dr. Saif-ud-Din Kitchlew, Bar-at-Law, who was a Home Ruler of pronounced anti-British views.36


            Mrs. Annie Besant and Tilak carried on intensive propaganda in favour of the Lucknow Pact signed between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League in 1916. The most important feature of the Lucknow Pact was that the Congress had agreed to separate electorates for the Muslims, and the Muslim League had accepted the Congress creed of Swaraj and agreed to press the joint scheme on the then British Government as a united national demand.


            The British Government, then in the throes of war efforts, realized the necessity of a new handling of the situation. When Mr. E.S. Montague became the Secretary of State for India, he announced a change of policy in his famous declaration of August 20, 1917. This announcement promised responsible Government to the people of India by stages. To commemorate the announcement on reforms, a meeting was held at Amritsar wherein Dr. Kitchlew made a strong speech advocating home rule. As a result of the announcement, the Home Rule Movement died out by slow degrees.


            36V.N. Datta, Jallianwala Bagh (Ludhiana, 1969), p.61


VII. Formation of a Branch of the Indian National Congress at Amritsar, and the Subsequent Political Activity


            A Branch of the Indian National Congress was formed at Amritsar towards the end of 1917. The most effective and decisive role in all political matters was played by two prominent local leaders, Dr. Saif-ud-Din Kitchlew, Bat-ar-Law, and Dr. Satya Pal, a medical practitioner. The former had returned to India in 1915. During the educational career in England, Dr. Kitchlew had imbibed the creed of Western Liberalism. Those revolutionary ideas set people thinking. Kitchlew knew Madan Lal Dhingra, another resident of Amritsar, who had shot Sir William Curzon Wyllie, Aide-de-Camp to the Secretary of State for India. On July 1, 1909, Sir William was assassinated, while attending an entertainment given to Indians by the National Indian Association at the Imperial Institute, London. Curiously enough, Dr. Kithclew was also present in the same building where the incident took place. On return to India, he decided to organize the youth, foster the Hindu-Muslim unity and take such steps as would ultimately result in the liberation of India from the British control. Agitation against the Rowaltt Act provided him with a suitable opportunity for winning the confidence of the people and organizing them politically. There came forth a band of followers, admirers and volunteers, who welcomed the ideology and gave him tumultuous support. 37


            Dr. Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal, were helped by a host of other local leaders like Babu Kanhaya Lal Bhatia, a prominent Advocate who had been associated with the Congress since its very inception, Khawaja Yaseen, Badar-ul-Islam Khan, Bar-at-Law, Pandit Kotu Mal, Girdhari Lal, Mahasha Rattan Chand and Chaudhary Bugga Mal, who had attended the Indian National Congress session held at Delhi in 1918. They had invited the Congress to hold the next annual session at Amritsar in 1919. Brisk preparations were taken in hand in anticipation of the big political gathering. Amritsar had, thus, come to assume quite an important place in the political life of the province and the Indian National Congress had become fairly popular among the people. 39


            37V.N. Datta, Amritsar Past and Present (Amritsar, 1967), pp. 59-61




            The acceptance of the invitation by the All-India Congress Committee greatly enhanced the prestige of Amritsar and gave the local Congress Committee, founded barely two years ago, in 1917, added importance in the political life of the country. As a prelude to the session of the Indian National Congress at Amritsar, the Punjab Provincial Congress held its meeting at the place on the 27-28th July, 1918. 40


            Dr. Kitchlew became the President of the Satyagraha Sabha and Dr. Hafiz Muhammad Bashir its Secretary. The other local political leaders were Pandit Kotu Mal, a cotton-ginning mill-owner; Lala Narain Das and Roop Lal Puri, merchants ; Lala Dewan Chand, a wholesale piece-goods merchant; mahasha Rattan Chand, a broker ; and Chaudhary Bugga Mal. they held secret meetings and drew up plans for a political campaign. The C.I.D. officials meanwhile kept a strict watch over their activities.41


            Railway-Platform Tickets Agitation, February 1919.-The railway-platform at Amritsar was used as a promenade by the local residents. The congestion, thus caused, proved a great source of inconvenience to the railway travelers. To avoid unnecessary crowds at the platform, the railway authorities refused to issue platform tickets. The withdrawal of the facility, even in genuine cases, was greatly resented by the local residents. To seek redress of the grievance, an agitation was successfully launched under the leadership of Dr. Satya Pal and Dr. Kitchlew. This gained them much popularity. To celebrate the triumph of the public demand, a meeting was held on February 11, 1919.42


VIII. Anti-Rowaltt Act Agitation, 1918-19


            Certain economic factors seriously affected almost all classes of people in the urban areas.With a population of 160000 in 1919, Amritsar formed the chief distributing center for piece-goods in northern India and a major center for speculative dealings in grain. As a result of the Government appropriation of railway traffic to carry troops in war time, the piece-goods trade in the city was adversely affected. This embittered the traders, especially the Marwaris (a trading class migrated from Rajasthan), who started taking an active part in politics. The hide merchants also complained that they had been left with little business. The Punjab Government’s action in restraining the export from the Punjab and purchasing in on public account in November-December 1918 caused great resentment among the grain merchants. The people, in general, suffered most. Towards the end of 1918, the prices of wheat rose high. In January-February 1919, a rupee would purchase less than six seers of wheat in place of ten seers in 1917. A great deal of wheat had been purchased and stored by the Government with the intention of releasing it and bringing down prices when these rose above a certain level. However, the people believed that wheat was being exported to England while they were starving. Besides, the more affluent classes also began to feel the effects of the new income tax.43 The general discontent was sure to find some outlet sooner or later.


            40V.N. Datta, Jallianwala Bagh (Ludhiana, 1969), pp. 59-60

            41V.N. Datta, Jallianwala Bagh (Ludhiana, 1969), p. 63

            V.N. Datta, Amritsar Past and Present (Amritsar, 1967), p.62



            The liberal contribution in men and money by the Punjab to the war effort during 1914-18 was greatly appreciated by the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Michael O’Dwyer. The city of Amritsar had done better than any other town in the province and had thereby earned the special gratitude of the Lieutenant-Governor, who had, at a public durbar held on February 17, 1919, admired the loyal tradition, for which Amritsar was famous. But, the Rowlatt Committee Report of 1918 had greatly disappointed the people of the province and had filled them with intense frustration. The new political consciousness among the people as a result of many other developments received further acceleration. Political meetings became more and more frequent and Amritsar became the center of political activities in the province.


            In a determined effort to put down the new political movement and to halt the growing agitation against the British rule, the Rowlatt Act was passed, despite strong opposition from all quarters, in 1918 and was enforced on March 21, 1919. As a protest against the Rowlatt Act, Mahatma Gandhi had given a clarion call for a general hartal (suspension of work) on 30th March, 1919. The notice was considered to be very short and the date of the hartal was changed to 6th April, 1919. The information about the change of date, however, reached Punjab very late and the hartal in question was observed at Amritsar on 30th March, 1919, as scheduled. To make the suspension of work as complete as possible, a meeting was held on 29th March, 1919, under the presidentship of Girdhari Lal. Both Dr. Satya Pal and Dr. Kitchlew addressed the meeting to explain the plans of Mahatma Gandhi. On the same day, however, Dr. Satya Pal was served with a notice prohibiting him from making any speech in the public.44


            The proposed hartal was a complete success and presented a remarkable scene of Hindu-Muslim Unity. All the shops were voluntarily closed and all business came to a standstill. People observed fast as a means of purification. In the afternoon, a grand public meeting attended by over 40000 people was held in the Jallianwala Bagh,45with Dr. Kitchlew in the chair. Both the Hindu and Muslim public leaders addressed the audience.46


            43V.N. Datta, Jallianwala Bagh (Ludhiana, 1969), pp. 57-58

            Report on Punjab Disturbances, April 1919

            Disorders Inquiry Committee, Vol. III-Evidence (Calcutta, 1920), pp. 138, 193

            Disorders Inquiry Committee, Vol. VI-Report (Calcutta, 1920), pp. 116-17


            44Evidence taken before Disorders Enquiry Committee, Volume VI, p. 117


            In the face of the mounting political agitation, necessary measures were adopted by the Government to prevent another hartal from being observed on 6th April, 1919. The Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar made a request for extra troops to cope with the situation. Dr. Kitchlew, Pandit Dina Nath, Pandit Kotu Mal and Swami Anubhavanand were served with notices, prohibiting them from addressing the public meetings. Encouraged by the successful hartal on 30th March, 1919, the organizers of the Satyagraha Movement made special efforts for the success of the hartal to be observed on 6th April, 1919. The Government, in the meantime, tried to undermine the solidarity of the new political movement through their loyal agents, who had become members of the Reception Committee in connection with the Congress session to be held at Amritsar in 1919. A resolution was passed by the Reception Committee that the hartal scheduled to be held on 6th April, be cancelled.48 In pursuance of the policy of the Government not to allow the hartal to succeed, the Deputy Commissioner invited the Honorary Magistrates and a number of leading citizens at his residence on 5th April, and urged them that the proposed hartal should either not be observed or it should not be allowed to succeed. All these loyal elements gave the Deputy Commissioner fullest assurance in this regard, and again adopted a resolution that there would be no hartal on 6th April, 1919. This decision obviously taken under official pressure and according to the wishes of the agents of the Government, disappointed the younger elements in the nationalist leadership of Amritsar. It was, therefore, taken as a challenge to the new national consciousness which had swept Amritsar. The leaders of the general public took necessary steps to counteract the official propaganda against the hartal. Dr. Satya Pal and Dr. Kitchlew went round the city and announced with the beat of drum that the hartal would be observed on 6th April, 1919, as scheduled. Notices to that effect were pasted on places all over the city.


            45Originally, the area known as the Jallianwala Bagh belonged to Bhai Hamit Singh Jallawalia, a courtier of Raja Jaswant Singh of Nabha, who had also served as a vakil under Maharaja Ranjit Singh


            ‘Jalle’ is the got name of the owner; wala is the genitive termination ; and ‘bagh’ means garden. It was an open uneven area, a kind of irregular quadrangle, indifferently walled and in most parts the back walls of the houses enclosed it. At that time, it was used as dumping-ground and not even the oldest citizen of Amritsar today has any idea whether it was ever a garden. About 50 years ago, there could be seen a few mounds of broken earthenware. It was at that time a private property owned by several people, and had three trees, a dilapidated smadh and a wall. (V.N. Datta, Amritsar Past and Present, p. 74


            46Amritsar Police Diary and C.I.D. Reports (1st February, 12th April, 1919, Punjab Civil Secretariat, Chandigarh), pp. 18, 27, 29, 30, 58 and 69


            47Evidence taken before Disorders Enquiry Committee, Vol. VI, p. 375


            48Raja Ram, Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, p. 77


            On the following day, Amritsar observed another complete hartal. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims responded to the call in an unqualified manner. All shops, even those of the confectioners and vegetable-sellers, were closed. At the request of young volunteers, even passengers traveling by tongas got down and released the vehicles. Those who objected were let off. At various places, public kitchens (langars) were started for the benefit of the visitors to the city from outside. This was a thoughtful measure and saved a large number of people the unnecessary hardship because no eatables were available in the bazaar. A public procession was organized under Chaudhary Bugga Mal, of Katra Jaimal Singh, and Mahasha Rattan Chand and Ram Gopal (popularly known as Hindustani Mithaiwalas), and it paraded the streets shouting the slogan “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai”. The big crows proceeded towards the Aitchison Park from Karmon Deorhi. The processionists persuaded the large number of cricket fans, who were watching a cricket match in the park, to call off the play. The players and the onlookers all joined the crowd and made a round of the principal local markets. More and more people joined the procession on the route. At one stage, the crowd had swelled to about 4000 and wished to go to the Railway Station. Chaudhary Bugga Mal, however, managed to lead them to the Jallianwala Bagh, where a public meeting was to be held.

            The public meeting attracted over 50000 people and was presided over by Badar-ul-Islam Ali Khan, Bar-at-Law, and was addressed by a number of young nationalist leaders. The main purpose of the meeting was to voice strong public feelings against the Rowlatt Act. It concluded in a peaceful manner after adopting a number of resolutions. The more significant feature of the political agitation was the new weapon of Satyagrah given by Mahatma Gandhi.

            After the session of the Congress at Delhi in 1918, the political leaders emphasized the role of the Hindu-Muslim unity as a new plank in the liberation struggle. It was realized that much of the British success was due to the policy of “Divide and Rule.” The people felt convinced that freedom could not be achieved without concerted action on the part of all communities. The local leaders zealously tried to make the Hindu-Muslim unity an accomplished fact in Amritsar. Under the inspiring leadership of Dr. Satya Pal and Dr. Kitchlew backed by a band of enthusiastic workers, like Mahasha Rattan Chand, Chaudhary Bugga Mal and others, different sections of the people had been drawn closer to one another and the barriers of race and religion were removed. The most striking examples of national solidarity was witnessed on the Ram Naumi day on 9th April, 1919. On this occasion, a joint Hindu-Muslim procession was taken out and the members of both the communities vied with one another to give proof of complete unity. The Hindus put tilak on the foreheads of Muslims and all of them drank water from the same cups, shedding the age-old prejudice about drinking and eating together among Hindus and Muslims. This unprecedented display of the Hindu-Muslim unity frightened the Government of the day.

            Mahatma Gandhi on his way from Bombay to the Punjab was stopped at the Palwal Railway Station on the evening of 9th April, 1919, and was informed that his entry into the Punjab was banned. He was escorted back to Bombay by a special train. The arrest of Mahatma Gandhi at the time when public enthusiasm had reached a high pitch at Amritsar engendered great disappointment among the people, who were looking forward to his visit to Amritsar. On the same day, almost within an hour of receiving the report about the Ram Naumi procession at Amritsar, Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant-Governor, sent orders to the Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, to arrest Doctors Satya Pal and Kitchlew and send them under escort to Dharmsala. Simultaneously, the Lieutenant-Governor asked General Beynon, G.O.C., 16th Division Lahore, to dispatch an adequate number of troops to control the situation at Amritsar. Mr. Irving, Deputy Commissioner, took necessary measures on receiving the orders at about 7 p.m. Doctors Satya Pal and Kitchlew were required to report at the Deputy Commissioner’s residence in the morning of 10th April, 1919. They presented themselves at the bungalow at about 10 a.m. and were, within half an hour, hustled into a motor-car and taken to Dharmsala.

            The news of the arrest of the leaders spread like wild fire throughout the city and by about 11-30 a.m. the shops were closed as a mark of protest, and the people started gathering in the bazaars. Soon after, the crows moved towards the residence of the Deputy Commissioner. On reaching the Hall Bridge, they saw a small picket of mounted troops on the farther side. The people were informed that they would not be allowed to proceed beyond the point. Meanwhile, the Deputy Commissioner and Captain Massey arrived on the spot. The picket was reinforced by a fresh contingent. Two soldiers dismounted, took positions and fired shots at the crowd, without any provocation whatsoever, with the result that some persons were killed or wounded.

            The police charged the crowd with fixed bayonets and at the ready positions. The crowd retreated and, on the arrival of infantry, the foot bridge and the carriage bridge were cleared and taken over by the military. The police picket occupied the railway level crossing.

            As a result of the aggressive action on the part of the authorities, the crowd became furious and was losing self-control fast. Being unsuccessful in its efforts to get their leaders released, and feeling exasperated at the wounding and the killing of some members of the crowd, their anger had reached the boiling-point. Even then, some lawyers in the crowd persuaded the people to move towards the Hall Bazaar along with the dead and the wounded. The sight of the wounded and the dead further inflamed the citizens. Just then, the news came that more military personnel were on the way to besiege the city. This news exasperated the people. The whole crowd ran back to the top of the carriage bridge, armed with sticks and lathis as a precaution against any possible assault. In the tense situation that prevailed, some members of the crowd tried to restrain the authorities, on the one hand, and reason with the crowd, on the other. But some members of the procession threw stones or pieces of wood at the military, which instantly opened fire, killing 20 and wounding many more. The volley was fired without any warning. An employee of the civil hospital, brought there to render first-aid to the victims, was ordered to go back to the hospital. People were asked to make their own arrangements.

            Public patience was exhausted at this point and people resorted to violence. They began to assault the Englishmen, and set fire to the English-owned banks, a church, the offices of the Christian Religious Text Book Society, the Telegraph Office, and the Town Hall. In this riot, five Englishmen49 were killed and an English woman missionary (Miss Mercella Sherwood) was severely assaulted.

            Meanwhile, the authorities felt anxious about the safety of European women and children. Immediate steps were taken to bring them to the fort. The disturbances, however, subsided by the evening of the same day. In view of the critical situation, the Deputy Commissioner sent an S.O.S. for more troops. Two hundred Gorkha soldiers passing through Amritsar by train were detained and were armed from the fort armoury and posted at different places. Three hundred troops arrived at Amritsar from Lahore under the command of Major Macdonald. At 5 a.m. in the morning of 11th April, 1919, a similar number of troops arrived from Jullundur. The Amritsar news was conveyed to the Lieutenant-Governor in the afternoon of 10th April, 1919. Mr. Kitchin, the Commissioner, was immediately desired by the Lieutenant-Governor to proceed to Amritsar to deal with the situation.

            The Deputy Commissioner sent for Yasin and Maqbool Mahmud to the Railway Station on the morning of 11th April, 1919, and conveyed to them the order that the city was placed under military control and not more than 4 persons would be allowed to accompany a dead body. On the request of the leaders, however, the number of mourners was raised to 8. The crowd was not in a mood to accept the order and wanted to carry their deadin a procession. They sent more representatives to the Deputy Commissioner, but the authorities were adamant. The British officials felt that Europeans had been murdered and “Their blood could not remain unavenged and if there be the least resistance or disobedience or any breach of peace, sufficient amount of force would be used, and, if necessary the city would be bombarded.”50 On persistent request by the leaders of the public, the Deputy Commissioner agreed that the people could take out the dead bodies in procession of not more than 2000 persons through a special route and everything should be completed by 2 p.m. No lathis were to be allowed to be carried by the processionists. The above orders were carried out without any resistance51.

            49Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Vol. II, 1839-1964 (London, 1966), p. 163

            Next day, 12th April, 1919, at about 10 a.m. General Dyer marched through the city with a posse of 125 British and 310 Indian troops. During the day, some prominent persons were arrested with the help of the military personnel.52

            A public meeting was held in the compound of the Hindu Sabha High School at 4 p.m. on 12th April, 1919. In the absence of a President, Hans Raj, a Congress worker, declared in a speech that as they had no leader to guide them, everyone was a leader. He further announced that a meeting would be held the next day, 13th April, 1919, in the Jallianwala Bagh where messages from Drs. Satya Pal and Kitchlew would be read.


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