I have visited two very important places this year intimately connected to Indian Independence; the cellular jail in Port Blair and the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. Needless to say both left me with a deep sense of grief laced with immense pride of belonging to a nation that has seen it all from riches to rags; dominance to slavery and yet remains resilient in hope that the wheels of time will turn around in its favour once again
Around Jallianwala Bagh:
On a hot summer afternoon in Amritsar; I walked to Jallianwala Bagh. It was not much of a walk since I was literally put up in a hotel next door. The entrance gates opened into a narrow walkway which had a plaque on the adjoining wall with a brief description of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.
A few metres ahead it opened out in a large lush garden surrounding by residential buildings. Many of these buildings have been earmarked as heritage property and are not in regular use. The garden was teeming with people, sitting under the trees; most of whom were finding some respite from the harsh sun on a sightseeing day around Amritsar.I stood near the Jyot for a while in remembrance of the people who lost their lives nearly a hundred years ago. Later I walked down the path to the memorial and then right towards the old brick wall. There were 36 bullet marks on that wall; highlighted with a white square around it. A plaque nearby explained the points with a map for visitors to identify the spots. The other buildings had similar marks, some identified and some unidentified. 1650 bullets were fired on that fateful day by Gen Dyer and his troops, only a handful remain identified on the buildings.
On the other side of the memorial is the Martyrs Well where innocent people who had gathered for a peaceful protest jumped in to save themselves. No one survived and 120 bodies were recovered later on.
I joined the people in the lawn finding my own little corner after a wee bit of walking in the summer heat. It was just another hot and dusty summer day nearly a century ago, when they gathered to chat after a visit to nearby Golden Temple, to rest just like us but perished for being at the mercy of the Imperial Lords. Their sacrifice did not go in vain and the Independence movement intensified in the subsquent years finally leading to breaking the shackles of Imperialism on 15th August, 1947Rowlatt Act ~ Precursor to Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
Last night I read an Article on India by Justin Rowlatt. Had he not specified with regret that he was the great grand son of Sir Sidney Rowlatt the president of the committee that drafted the draconian Rowlatt Act; I would not have even connected the dots. Alarmed by the increasing nationalist upsurge the Imperial Rule approved the legislation to arrest without warrant, indefinitely detain without trial and not allow appeals in court for political acts. There was nation wide unrest from March 1919 on this act christened as “No Dali, No Vakil, No Appeal”.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre ~ That fateful Baisakhi on 13th April, 1919
There was unrest in and around Amritsar after two revolutionary leaders Satya Pal and Dr Saifudding were taken into custody and transported to an undisclosed location. Notices of curfew imposition were pasted around town and read out through loudspeakers. Everyone was in a festive mood on Baisakhi day including farmers and visitors from nearby villages who had come to pay a visit to Harmandir Sahib next door. While some had gathered to peacefully protest, most were fleeting visitors who were spending a few moments of rest on the way after seeking blessings from Golden Temple.
Gen Dyer trooped in with his soldiers; locked all the exits and poured out bullets indiscriminately on the unsuspecting civilians. The 1650 rounds killed more than a 1000 people though official estimates are woefully low. He did not give notice to the public disperse but actually committed a mass murder for dis-obedience to his curfew call. There is no other parallel of such a brutal act in recent history. After being initially applauded he was punished and forced into retirement by the House of Commons in England. After 70 years, India still waits for an official apology.
Born in post independent India my tryst with Indian Independence is largely from books, movies and a few oral accounts of grand uncles who had passionately joined the ranks of revolutionaries in their youth. Though I took independence for granted as most of my generation and later does, I was filled with a sense of gratitude for the named and the unnamed heroes of India who sacrificed their all to gift us that land to be born free. Jallianwala Bagh is one such place which holds the connection to the past; the link to the Independence movement that led to free India in 1947. Do visit Jallianwala Bagh if time, money and health permit !! a pilgrimage of gratitude.