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.

IX. Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, April 1919

            Thirteenth April, 1919 was the Baisakhi Day-the Hindu New Year’s Day – when thousands of people visit Amritsar from far and wide to have a view of the Hari Mandir (Golden Temple) and take a dip into the sacred tank. The practice of holding a horse fair on the eve of Baisakhi had come to stay. This year, Amritsar was in the throes of an unusual political turmoil. Announcement, regarding the meeting at the Jallianwala Bagh on 13th April, 1919, had already been made on the previous day. The venue of the meeting being quite close to the Golden Temple, people in large numbers were expected to attend it.53

            On 13the morning, General Dyer again marched through the streets of Amritsar, exhibiting his arms and strength. It was arranged like some sort of ceremonial parade. Starting from the Ram Bagh headquarters, the procession crossed the railway line at the Hall Bridge, passed through the Hall Gate and came down to the Hall Bazaar. Five times it stopped between the Hall Gate and the Post Office (Town Hall). A drum was beaten and people were given time to flock. A proclamation was read two or three times in Urdu and then again in Punjabi at every stoppage. Handbills carrying the text of the Proclamation in Urdu were also distributed at some places. The proclamation declared that every assembly of the people would be dispersed by force of arms. The procession passed through various streets and Chowks (crossings), and at 19 places the proclamation was read in the manner indicated above, the handbills were also distributed at these places.54

            50Report of the Commissioners appointed by the Punjab Sub-Committee of the Indian National Congress, Vol. II (Lahore, 1920), pp. 53-55 : Statement No. 19               51Ibid.                                                                                                                     52The arrested included Chaudhary Bugga Mal, Mahasha Vaishnava Das and Dina Nath.                                                                                                                                      53Raja Ram, The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, pp. 109-110     

            Shortly thereafter, a counter proclamation was made by a group of boys, beating an empty kerosene container that a meeting would be held at the Jallianwala Bagh at 4.30 p.m. over which Lala Kanhya Lal (a senior lawyer, aged 75) would preside and give valuable advice to the people.55

            Dyer was informed of that meeting at 12.40 p.m. while he was still in the city with his procession, and from the intelligence reports he came to know that, even in defiance of his proclamation, the meeting would be held in the Bagh, as already decided. Feeling very hot in the city, he returned to his headquarters at the Ram Bagh at 1 p.m.60

            Thereafter, Dyer was receiving news about the meetint at regular intervals. At 4 p.m., he was informed that a large number of people had assembled in the Jallianwala Bagh. He at once gave orders to his striking force to fall in.57

            General Dyer set out, leaving behind a strong contingent to guard his headquarters and taking the rest with him. He had his favourite Captain Briggs beside him in the car. Behind him came the two armoured cars, followed by the police care with Rehill, Superintendent of Police, and Plomer, Deputy Superintendent of Police. As the column marched along, five pickets, each of forty soldiers, were dropped on the way to take positions at strategic points. The contingent which accompanied the General right up to the Bagh was wholly Indian and comprised fifty soldiers armed with rifles58 and forty Gorkhas armed only with Khukris.59

            In 1919, the Jallianwala ‘Bagh’ was no ‘garden’ but a desolate piece of land – a rectangle of irregular shape, about 229 metres long and 183 metres wide. This area had once belonged to one Bhai Hamit Singh jallawala, a courtier of Raja Jaswant Singh of Nabha, who had been a vakil in the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. ‘Jalla’ or ‘Jalle’ is the got name of the owner, wala the genitive case and bagh ‘garden’. It was used as a dumping-ground and not even the oldest living citizen of Amritsar has any recollection now whether it had ever really been a garden. The Bagh, sunk below the level of the city, was situated in its center and was surrounded by narrow lanes. Long before 1919, houses had been built all around the Bagh with their back walls towards it. It had three or four openings through which people could pass without much inconvenience and, between the houses, parts of the boundary wall were low enough to lean over. Opposite the main entrance (a narrow passage just broad enough for two men to walk abreast), there were no houses for about a hundred feet and a low brick and mud wall, about five feet high marked off this portion. To the right, there was another low wall made of mud. The Bagh contained on small smadh60 (a Hindu tomb) towards the southern side, with four small trees growing near it, and an open wall of quite big dimensions towards it eastern boundary, with three trees growing nearby. It is also a noteworthy point about the Bagh of those days that its level was not even. A small strip of land near the entrance from the Jallianwala Bazaar side was on a higher level, whereas the rest of the land was lower by 4-5 feet.61

            54Ibid., pp. 110-11                                                                                                    55Ibid., p. 111                                                                                                           56Ibid., pp. 112-113                                                                                                   57Ibid., pp. 113-14                                                                                                    5825 Gorkha soldiers of 1/9th Gurkhas and 25 soldiers of 54th Sikh Frontier Force and 59th Frontier Force. The soldiers of these Frontier Force Units were Pathans and Baluchis                                                                                                                      59Ibid., p. 114

            Dyer and his party proceeded to the Bagh from the Jallianwala Bazaar side. After entering this bazaar, they found that a very narrow passage led from there into the Bagh. It was not possible to drive the armoured cars into this passage ; therefore these had to be left behind. Dyer entered the Bagh at about 5.15 p.m., along with his soldiers. He saw a vast crowd collected there. The meeting was, at that time, being addressed by a person standing on a platform. As already pointed out, the strip of land near the entrance was on a higher level. Dyer and his troops stood on this strip, so that they could have a better view of the crowd. The meeting was going on in a perfectly peaceful and orderly manner. People from the horse fair had also come to the meeting on hearing that a Jalsa was being held there. About 20-25 thousand persons were present there at that time.

            The picture of Dr. Kitchlew had been put up and it was said that his portrait would preside. Gopinath read a poem about the faryad (the agonizing prayer) of the people not being heard. The C.I.D. people were also on the spot. Hans Raj, whom C.F. Andrews described as an informer63 and who arranged meetings, addressed the crowd, assuring them that they need not have any fears and that the meeting had been called to pass two resolutions. The first resolution called for the repeal of the Rowlatt Act, and the second condemning the firing on 10th of April, extended sympathy to the relatives of the dead. An aeroplane with a flag was seen hovering over the Jallianwala Bagh at about 4 p.m. It was believed to be a signal for the C.I.D. people to disperse. The people got panicky and began to move, but the speaker assured them that there was no cause for fear or panic. When they had begun to sit down again, they saw soldiers standing with guns on the raised platform, not far from the meeting. At that time, Durga Dass was moving the third resolution and Gurbakhsh Rai intervened, whilst exhorting the people to sit down and not be panicky.64

            60The smadh of the mother of Shri Sant Parkash Singh, Retired Inspector-General of Police, Punjab

            61Raja Ram, The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, pp. 114-15

            V.N. Datta, Jallianwala Bagh (Ludhiana, 1969), p. 96

            62Raja Ram, The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, pp. 115-16


            Dyer at once deployed his troops – twenty-five riflemen on the right and twenty-five on the left. All this happened within thirty seconds. The General then instantly ordered them to open fire.65

            Bullets rained on a panic-stricken crowd. People realized at once that they were caught in a death-trap. Within no time, the vast crowd rose in a wave, and rushed madly on all sides to escape from the hail of bullets. There were also present in themidst of the crowd some retired soldiers who shouted at the running people to lie flat on the ground instead of exposing themselves to bullets by running, but only a few fortunate persons paid heed to their valuable advice. Others continued a run helter-skelter, only to be hit by bullets at the next step. On all sides, however, the tide of rushing crowds was dammed up by the barriers of house walls. People who knew about the small exits rushed in hundreds towards them. Seeing this onrush towards the exits, Dyer directed his soldiers to fire at those points. Many people died at the mouths of these exits as a result of firing, while many other were trampled down by the on rushing crowds. Many people attempted to jump over the five-foot high boundary wall on the opposite side to escape, but only a few could do so, whereas many were hit by the bullets and fell back, dead or wounded. Many children and elderly people lost their lives by being crushed under the feet of the running crowds. Many people also ran in the direction in which a well was situated in the Bagh, and, blinded by terror and unable to arrest their momentum, fell into it, as unfortunately, it had no protection wall around it in those days.66

            The firing continued for ten to fifteen minutes and ceased only after the ammunition ran out ; 1650 rounds were fired, i.e. 33 rounds per rifleman. Dyer admitted later that if more ammunition had been available, that, too, would have been spent on the people.67

            General Dyer left the Bagh, along with his force, at about 5.30 p.m., leaving behind a scene which was like a hell on the earth. The exact number of people who were killed will never be known. However, it was officially estimated much later that 381 persons were killed and at least 1200 were wounded.68 But this is a gross underestimate.69 According to V. N. Datta, about 700 killed, even if not exact, is the nearest possible estimate. The wounded were at least twice as many as the number killed. It is conceivable that only a small number of wounded reported the fact for fear of being arrested as participants in the unlawful assembly.70

            64V.N. Datta, Amritsar Past and Present, pp. 74-75

            65Raja Ram, The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, p. 116

            66Ibid., pp. 117-18

            67Ibid., p. 119

            68File : Punjab Government Home-Military-B, 1921-No. 139 (Punjab Government Civil Secretariat, Chandigarh)

            (Quoted by Raja Ram, The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (Chandigarh, 1969), pp. 134, 152-74)

Piteous and heart rending cries were rising from the lips of hundreds of wounded people simultaneously and each was crying for water. But there was nobody to give them water or any kind of relief or assistance. Hundreds of people were in the throes of death, and, here and there, every minute, people were giving up the ghost. No doctor entered the Bagh to render medical assistance to the people. Even those residents of Amritsar, whose kith and kin had come to attend the meeting, did not dare to enter the Bagh for quite some time to search for their dear ones and take them away in case they died or had been wounded.71

            At 10 p.m., accompanied by a small force, Dyer visited his pickets and marched through the city in order to make sure that curfew orders were being obeyed. He found the city absolutely quiet and not a soul was to be seen on the roads. At the Bagh, the panic stricken people remained to turn over the dead bodies in a desperate search for friends and relations. Many had to leave the dead and the wounded, because they were afraid of being fired upon again after 8 p.m.72

            Martial Law in Amritsar.-On 14th April, 1919, a meeting was convened in the Public Library Hall near the City Kotwali. about 100 to 150 persons, including local raeesis, magistrates, merchants and municipal commissioners attended. Speeches made by the Commissioner (A.J.W Kitchin), General Dyer and the Deputy Commissioner, were mainly threats, warnings and expostulations.73

            Martial law was proclaimed in Amritsar and subsequently extended to other districts. General Dyer was appointed the Administrator of Amritsar on 15th April. The same day all shops were opened. Thus, the hartal came to an end. The courts opened for the first time on 22nd April, 1919. Lawyers were punished for their real or alleged interest in politics and, on 23rd April, they were enrolled as special constables, a step which had been taken as a vindictive measure. They were insulted and made to witness public flogging and to carry furniture like ordinary coolies. Their roll-call was held twice a day. They were relieved of their irksome duties on 12th May.74

            69Raja Ram, The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, p. 84

            70V.N. Datta, Amritsar Past and present, pp. 76-77

            71Raja Ram, The Jallianwala Bagh and Massacre, p. 119

            72V.N. Datta, Amritsar Past and Present, p. 76

            73Ibid., p. 84

            Kutcha Kaurianwala Khu, where Miss Sherwood had to hide, was chosen for punishing the offenders and all men, who passed that way, had to crawl. This order was issued on 19th April and remained in force until 25th April, when it was withdrawn under the instructions of the Punjab Government, not approving of it.75

            All citizens were called upon to salaam bow down to) every Englishman they came across and those who refused to do so were brought to this lane for crawling with their bellies touching the ground. Disobedience resulted in arrest and detention in the lock-up. Some were ordered to stand up in the sun. The handcuffing of respectable persons was the order of the day. Special tribunals were set up for trying offences, and witnesses appearing for the accused were threatened, harassed and asked to tear up their statements. Lashing, after tying the hands above the head, was common. Abusing, slapping, the pulling of moustaches and beards were a daily occurrence. No one was allowed to leave Amritsar without a special pass which could be obtained only with great difficulty.76

            Martial law remained in force up to 9th June. The specially constituted courts tried nearly 300 men and summarily sentenced 51 to death and the others to various terms of imprisonment.77 People were arrested without charges being preferred. They were asked not to give evidence or to give such evidence as suited the authorities. Persons, like Muhammad Akram, were transported for life on the basis of fabricated evidence. Mahasha Rattan Chand, a cloth broker ; Maulvi Muhammad Sadiq, a mazdoor in the cloth market ; Mir Mohamdi, a nanbai; Mian Sindhi, a jeweler ; Mian Jalal-ud-Din, a proprietor, Iron Factory; Sardar Jairam Singh; and Chaudhary Bugga Mal, a glass-seller, were transported for life in the first instance.

            The Jallianwala Bagh tragedy had left behind a trail of bitterness against the British Government. The nationalist movement had received an unprecedented boost and fostered the spirit of Hindu-Muslim unity. Jallianwala Bagh came to signify a nationalist shrine and marked a turning point in the Indo-British relations. The city of Amritsar earned an enviable position in the political annals of the country. The British on their part were also eager to teach a lesson to the people of Amritsar on the sudden outburst of their anger against the British rulers. Apart from the heavy toll of life as a result of the massacre in the Bagh and subsequent indiscriminate arrests and heavy sentences inflicted on the prominent political leaders, the people, in general, were also called upon to pay heavy indemnity. The total loss of property at Amritsar was estimated at about Rs 1697511 and a collective fine to the tune of Rs 2056000 was proposed to be collected from the residents of the city through the Municipality by increased rates of terminal taxes and sale of immovable property. The sum imposed on the residents of Amritsar was, however, remitted by the Punjab Legislative Council by a majority vote when the matter was discussed there in 1921, at the instance of Raja Narendra Nath.

            74Ibid., p. 85


            76Ibid., p. 86

            77Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Vol. II, 1839-1964 (London, 1966), p. 165

X. Historic Session of the Indian National Congress at Amritsar, December 1919

            In the wake of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy, the historic session of the Indian National Congress was held in the Gol Bagh at Amritsar during the Christmas of 1919 and was presided over by Pandit Moti Lal Nehru. The city had the honour of the visit of outstanding national leaders, like B.G. Tilak, Annie Besant, B.C. Pal, C.R. Das, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, M.K. Gandhi, Srinivas Shastri and M.A. Jinnah. No less than 36 thousand persons attended the Session and among them some 6 thousand persons were ordinary and 1200 tenant delegates. The Ali Brothers – Maulanas Muhammad Ali and shaukat Ali – also visited the city and were given a rousing reception. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, who was one of the dignitaries of the session, aptly described the Amritsar session as the first “Gandhi Congress”, because it ushered the Gandhian Era in the Indian political history. At this session, highly important resolutions about the future policy and the plan of work of the Congress were passed.

            The great national upsurge, the outcome of the happenings at Amritsar, was responsible for the setting up of a number of political organizations in the city. The National Industrial High School was established in 1921. The Swaraj Ashram was built outside the Chatiwind Gate in order to train Indian youth in the new national ideology. Some of the prominent revolutionaries stayed there to impart training to the youth. Sardar Bhagat Singh, the great national martyr from the Punjab, was also one of the early trainees.

XI. Struggle for Sikh Shrines

            Ever since the annexation of the Punjab in 1849, the management of the Golden Temple, the central and most sacred of the Sikh shrines, was carried on under Government supervision. In 1859, the management was entrusted to a non-official Committee of Sikh Sardars and Chiefs. The Committee was abolished in 1881 and a Manager was appointed to look after the Golden Temple under the supervision of the Deputy Commissioner. The new arrangement, however, proved to be unsatisfactory and led to a number of irregularities. The influential sections among the Sikhs clamoured for the control of religious and educational institutions without any interference from the government. A non-official Committee of 175 members, named as the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, was formed to manage, reform and control important Sikh shrines or gurdwaras. It was subsequently legally constituted and Baba Kharak Singh was elected its first President. The newly organized body had already taken over the management of the Golden Temple and the Akal Takht. It took up the case regarding the control of other notable gurdwaras, like Nankana Sahib, the birth-place of Guru Nanak Dev. The activities of the Committee brought it into open clash with the Government. On 7th November, 1921, the District Magistrate of Amritsar took away the keys of the toshakhana. The action of the authorities led to the agitation known as the “Keys Affiar”. The movement took a political turn and many Sikh leaders, including Baba Kharak Singh, Master Tara Singh and Sardar Mehtab Singh, were imprisoned under the Seditious Meetings Act. About the same time, the Nankana Sahib and Guru Ka Bagh morchas were launched. In the face of the mounting agitation among the Sikhs, the Gurdwaras Act of 1925 placed all the important gurdwaras in the Punjab under the control of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee.

            As soon as the first flush of the Hindu-Muslim unity was over and the people of Amritsar has settled down to normal life, the authorities tried to create a cleavage between the principal communities by overt and covert actions. The age-long differences between the Hindus and the Muslims were emphasized and occasions were encouraged for communal agitation on petty matters. Serious communal trouble broke out between the Hindus and the Muslims in 1923. The occasion was particularly chosen to be the annual Baisakhi fair when vast crowds had collected at the place from all parts of the Punjab. The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee played a very important role in bringing the explosive situation under control. Akali jathas were organized to patrol the streets and a large number of students of the local Khalsa College volunteered their services for the restoration of peace and order in the city. The injured persons were admitted to the Golden Temple Hospital. As soon as the trouble had subsided, a conference of leading Hindus and Muslims was called to take effective steps against false rumours and the recurrence of trouble among the principal communities.

            Dr. Satya Pal was responsible for the formation of Naujawan Bharat Sabha in 1926. Hassam-ud-Din, Sikandar Khizar, Ahmed Hassan, Rattan Chand and Gurdit Singh were some of the prominent members of the Sabha at Amritsar. The organization assumed greater importance and widened its nationalistic activities to infuse the spirit of patriotism into the youth and organize labourers and peasants on a common platform in pursuance of the Punjab Political Conference, held at Amritsar in April 1928. Under the joint auspices of the City Congress Committee and the local Naujawan Bharat Sabha, a public meeting was held in the Jallianwala Bagh on 30th June, 1929. The meeting was organized in support of the hunger strike observed by Sardar Bhagat Singh and his comrades as protest against the ill-treatment meted out to political prisoners in jails.

            In 1935, the All-India Trade Union Congress set up a branch at Amritsar. A branch of the Servants of People Society was also formed at the place. The Ahrar Movement, under the leadership of Atta-Ullah Shah Bukhari, was organized at Amritsar to fight Hindu and Muslim communalism.

            During the “Quit India” Movement of 1942, nationalistic activities at Amritsar were accelerated. During the period, Mahasha Parma Nand and Pandit Amar Nath Vidyalankar were the President and the Secretary respectively of the District Congress Committee, Amritsar. The activities of the Congress manifested themselves in numerous meetings and processions. A good number of persons, including some prominent leaders, suffered imprisonment.

            During the period immediately preceding the independence, the Hindu-Muslim relations got strained on account of the prevailing communal tension. The highly explosive situation, which thus developed, resulted in rioting, bloodshed and arson. The situation was only relieved by the announcement of the Boundary Commission Award on August, 17, 1947. The large-scale migration of the population, which followed the partition of the country, created complicated problems for Amritsar on account of its situation on the border.

(e) Independence and After

I. Exodus and Its Aftermath

            The partition of the Punjab, which had been accepted as a solution of the political problem, gave rise to the exodus of the non-Muslims from the West Punjab and the Muslims from the East Punjab. Amritsar occupied the key position and was used as a base for the incoming and the outgoing refugees, who numbered millions. Soon after the announcement of the boundary award in mid August 1947, the trickle of unsettled persons developed into a spate and people started pouring in and going out in an unending stream. Amritsar presented a picture of a refugee camp on a vast scale. The unfortunate victims of religious frenzy all wore scars of violence. The local people collaborated with the Government to render them all possible succour. The Government organized relief measures on a very large scale and made necessary arrangements for the clearance of the refugees in order to reduce the congestion in the city.

            As soon as the rioting had subsided at Amritsar, threads of life were taken up once more. Municipal administration was strengthened to face the heavy responsibility for sanitation and public health. Steps were taken to remove debris from the localities which had suffered from arson. It was planned to rebuild them on modern lines. The calamity of a communal troubles thus proved to be a blessing in disguise. Measures were adopted to rehabilitate as many refugees as possible in the accommodation vacated by the Muslims in case it was found in a serviceable condition. Special arrangements were made for the provision of amenities in the new abadis which had sprung up around the city on account of the arrival of newcomers. Municipal limits were extended. Despite a heavy loss in the revenues of the Committee as a result of disturbed conditions and reduction in the commercial importance of the city after the partition, the Amritsar Municipal Committee tried to cope with the new problems as best as possible under the circumstances. On the restoration of normal conditions, the income of the municipality showed an upward trend and the city can once again boast to be the largest municipality with the largest population in the State.


II. NEFA and Ladakh Campaigns (1962-63) and Indo-Pakistan Conflict (1965)

            NFSA and Ladakh Campaigns (1962-63).-Like those from the rest of the country, the military personnel from the Amritsar District showed conspicuous valour and devotion to duty in the NEFA and Ladakh campaigns against the Chinese aggression in 1962.

            The total number of military personnel, belonging to the Amritsar District, killed was 114. The district won two Vir Chakras, one of which was posthumous.

            Indo-Pakistan Conflict (1965)78.-Owing to its geographical position, Amritsar is exposed to Pakistan’s air and land attacks. It naturally became an embattled city and assumed the position of a front-line post during the Indo-Pak conflict of 1965. The city was subjected to 4 to 10 attacks daily, except on 17th September, during the Pakistani air raids from 5th to 22nd September, 1965. During the period, Amritsar’s favourite heroes were the ack-ack gunners, especially Subedar Raju, who guarded the city against the attacks from the sky and shot down enemy planes.

            However, the worst befell on 22nd September when, immediately after the Pakistan President in a broadcast at 4 p.m. announced his acceptance of the cease-fire resolution of the United Nations, his pilots left for Chheharta, an industrial suburb of Amritsar. As the cease-fire was going to be effective from 3.30 a.m. on 23rd September, nobody in India expected any fresh outburst of violence from the enemy. For the first time during the past 18 days, the Indian ack-ack gunners relaxed their mind, and this proved to be the ruin of Chheharta. It was bombarded at 4.15 p.m. on 22nd September by the Pakistani fighters which dropped eight 1000-pound bombs on this locality and caused terrible loss of life and property. A whole row of houses stood roofless. Seventy-seven houses and shops were razed, and 150 more were heavily damaged. Fifty-five persons were killed. The whole area presented a ghastly look.

            The highest number of casualties in the Punjab on account of the Pakistani air raids during the conflict were 81 killed and 70 injured in Amritsar. There was also extensive damage to property and crops.

            78Hari Ram Gupta, India-Pakistan War, 1965, Vol. I, pp. 283-86

            V.N. Datta, Amritsar Past and Present, p. 108

            The total number of military personnel, belonging to the Amritsar District, killed during the Indo-Pakistan Conflict, was 85. The district won a Maha Vir Chakra (posthumous) and two Vir Chakras.

            Citizen’s Silent Service79.-The Amritsar District displayed remarkable zeal and courage during the Indo-Pakistan conflict. The response to the call of the nation was spontaneous and substantial. Support to the fullest extent was given to the authorities in the war efforts and the public showed a commendable example of solidarity, and displayed a spirit of service to, and sacrifice for, the country.

            In rural areas, in particular, the people maintained their age-long tradition of courage and devotion. The morale of those near the battlefield was exceptionally high. They stuck to their homes and fields even though they were living at a stone’s throw from the burning border between India and Pakistan. The people shared everything with the soldiers. In the midst of heavy shelling, the residents of the neighbouring areas carried food, milk and lassi (buttermilk) right into the trenches where jawans had taken up their positions.

            National Defence Effort80.-Although the economy of Amritsar, depending mainly on the trade and industry, had been considerably disturbed owing to the grim fighting close to the border, frequent air attacks, bombing and shelling, yet liberal contributions were made to the National Defence Fund by men, women and children, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, with great joy and zeal. The city, thus, contributed about Rs 10000 daily to the National Defence Fund which amounted to 8.5 lakhs of rupees till the end of October 1965. Besides, since September 7, Rs 7000 was spent daily on the 50 odd canteens opened at various places on several highways and side roads for the jawans. Most of the money came from the common man, voluntarily.

            79Hari Ram Gupta, India-Pakistan War, 1965, Vol. I, pp. 249-52

            80Ibid., pp. 27-28, 251

            V.N. Datta, Amritsar Past and Present, pp. 108-109



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