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Millennium Post

A historical trauma

A historical trauma

It was a bright and breezy Baisakhi (Punjabi New Year) evening of April 13, 1919 at the heart of Amritsar when at least 10,000 villagers, including women and children, gathered at a public garden to peacefully protest against the arrest and deportation of two national leaders — Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, in light of the draconian Rowlatt Act. Brigadier General Reginald Dyer opened fire on them, unprovoked and arbitrary, leading to the bloodbath which came to be known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and drew worldwide criticism. According to official British Raj sources, the frenzied firing led to 379 fatalities with around 1,100 wounded. As we approach its centenary, it is important for us to remember that the incident evoked unprecedented shock and resentment not only among Indians but within Britons as well. It also proved to be a watershed moment in the history of India's freedom struggle as it gave a huge impetus to the entire movement as a whole to bring about the end of the British rule in India. The red sandstone walls of Jallianwala Bagh bear testimony to the brutality of the British Raj, the bullet marks remind us of history's ceaseless remorse and the nearby infamous well speaks of insurmountable pain of embracing death that was so sudden and abrupt.

First Asian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore refusing his knighthood, stated: "such mass murderers aren't worthy of giving any title to anyone". The government of India ordered an investigation of the incident (the Hunter Commission), which, in 1920, censured General Dyer for his actions and ordered him to resign from the military. In Britain, many condemned the massacre including Sir Winston Churchill, the then secretary of war. However, the fear of catharsis lingers. A hundred years on; the trauma, horror, fear, plight and the speeding bullets remain as just abstract figures and statistics. British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed "deep regret" for the massacre and in her statement in the House of Commons, however, she fell short of a full apology for the events of April 13, 1919. "The tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh of 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history. As Queen (Elizabeth II) said… in 1997, it is a distressing example of our past history with India," May said. But hopes of an apology hold no ground, especially when a minister of the UK foreign office points out the "financial implications of making an apology." In today's context, the importance of Jallianwala Bagh is quite relevant as there is a broad disconnect between a race and their history, in particular. There is a void of a certain pastness in our present, a gnawing detachment from the pain and sacrifice of those who helped earn our Independence.

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