A Criminal Act of Genocide Against the Indian People
One hundred years ago, on April 13, 1919, one of the worst atrocities inflicted by the British colonial rulers on our people took place. On that day, thousands of unarmed people protesting in a confined space against the anti-people actions of the British were brutally shot at in cold blood by a military force commanded by the British officer Dyer. This was the infamous Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, which marked a new level of brutality of British colonial rule after 1857. It exposed the hypocrisy of the colonial rulers’ announcement just a short time earlier that they would consider eventually allowing the Indian people to have ‘responsible government’. Above all, the anger and resentment that this unspeakable massacre aroused in Indian people around the country and abroad led to the broadening and deepening of the anti-colonial movement of the Indian people.
On this solemn day of remembrance, MEL salutes the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh and all those who sacrificed in the struggle to end the barbaric colonial rule of British imperialism over India.
The massacre at Jallianwala Bagh was not an isolated incident carried out by one man, Dyer, alone. It was part and parcel of the systematic policy followed by the British rulers to never again let the Indian people raise the flag of revolt after the First War of Independence in 1857.
During the period of World War I, the rising discontent among Indian people gave the British every reason to believe that their rule over India again faced a fundamental threat as in 1857. The activities of the Hindustan Ghadar Party to overthrow British rule by force gave the British nightmares. Particularly significant was the extent of the Ghadar Party’s support among soldiers of the British Indian army and the peasantry and revolutionary intelligentsia.
The big capitalists and big landlords of India enthusiastically participated on the side of British imperialism during the First World War They made huge profits from the war industry, and recruited soldiers for the British Army, while the workers and peasants of India were pushed into starvation. In return for their support to the colonial war effort, they tried to negotiate a new arrangement of power sharing with the colonial power through their party, the Congress party, in which they hoped to have a greater share of political power.
The colonialists followed a two pronged approach to the struggle of the Indian people. On the one side, they tried to win over the big capitalists and big landlords and their political representatives by offering a greater share of power. On the other side, they unleashed state terrorism on the masses of people who wanted complete freedom from colonial yoke.
As World War I drew to a close, the British colonialists announced the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms which were later codified into the Government of India Act, 1919. These reforms offered extremely limited powers to representatives of the Indian bourgeoisie in provincial assemblies. They fell short of what the bourgeoisie was demanding through its party, the Congress Party. Simultaneously, the colonial rulers passed the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act (known as the Rowlatt Act) in March 1919 to crush all resistance to its rule. The Rowlatt Act allowed for arrests without warrants, indefinite detention without trial, in camera trials for political offences, and numerous other powers to stamp out political opposition of any kind.
Before and during the War, the Hindustan Ghadar Party had clearly explained to the people the futility of expecting to realize freedom by pleading with the colonialists and sitting in the colonial councils. The reforms enacted by the British colonialists confirmed the teachings of the Ghadaris in the minds of patriotic people. The passing of the Rowlatt Act further enraged the people. They came out in mass protests.
In Punjab, popular opposition to the British and to the Rowlatt Act was particularly strong. The colonial government under O’Dwyer there took several repressive measures, including deporting two well-known leaders of the anti-colonial struggle, Dr Satyapal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew. On 10 April in Amritsar, a protest march of more than 50,000 people protesting this were fired upon by troops. Dozens of people were killed and wounded. This further incensed the people. The commanding officer of the colonial troops at Jalandhar, Dyer, was summoned to Amritsar. On 12 April, he imposed curfew and prohibited all meetings and gatherings.
Nevertheless on the next day, which was Baisakhi Day, 15,000-20,000 people gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh. They passed two resolutions, condemning the Rowlatt Act and the firing on 10 April. Just as they were considering another resolution to protest against the repressive policies of the government, Dyer arrived with his troops and blocked the only exit to the park.
For twenty minutes continuously, till their ammunition ran out, the barbarous force fired directly into the heart of the gathering. They fired on people clambering up the walls trying to escape. More than a hundred people lost their lives jumping into a well to escape the hail of bullets. Dozens of others who were injured died because they were not allowed to be removed to hospitals. Altogether, more than 1000 people died and over 1500 were wounded.
The horror of the events was such that its memory could never be erased from those who had witnessed it. More than 20 years later, the martyr Udham Singh, who had witnessed the events as a youth, decided to deliver justice by executing O’Dwyer at a public meeting in London, for which he was hanged. The great martyr Bhagat Singh was deeply moved by the massacre. Only a young boy at the time, he gathered some of the blood-soaked soil from the site and kept it with him for a long time.
There was a huge outcry all over India against the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. Two days later, a protest in Gujranwala was attacked with machine guns and aircraft, killing dozens of people. Martial law was imposed in Punjab.
To try and salvage some of its reputation and whitewash the incident, the government appointed the Hunter Commission of enquiry. During the proceedings of this Commission however, it came through clearly, from the mouth of the unrepentant Dyer himself that his aim was not just to disperse the meeting. It was nothing other than to unleash terror on the broadest scale and to teach the people a lesson.
No one was punished for this blatant act of genocide. O’Dwyer, the lieutenant governor of Punjab, who applauded Dyer’s action saying “your action is correct”, was allowed to finish out his career in India and then go home until justice caught up with him with Udham Singh’s courageous act. The butcher Dyer was also allowed to retire and return to England, even though he was mildly censured for taking some ‘unnecessary’ decisions. Even this was considered too harsh by his supporters in Britain who raised a big fund for him.
The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and its aftermath showed that British rule in India was a completely illegitimate rule whose foundation was nothing other than brute force and barbaric denial of the life and liberty of our people. It exposed the lie of the so-called ‘civilising mission’ of the British whereby they claimed that they were in India for the good of the Indian people. The British colonial state was in its essence a highly developed instrument for repression and plunder. Its various organs, including the police, army, bureaucracy, judicial system and ‘representative’ councils, all worked together to loot and crush the Indian people.
The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre strengthened the conviction of our people that the only way to end this intolerable state of affairs was to overthrow colonial rule, take political power into their own hands, and establish a new state which would be a complete break with colonialism and imperialism. Inspired by this aim, our patriots and revolutionaries created many organisations and movements in the following years, such as the Hindustan Republican Association, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association and the Communist Party of India. These organisations drew their inspiration from the theory and practice of the Hindustan Ghadar Party, and from the Great October Revolution in Russia which had resulted in the overthrow of imperialism and the establishment of the first state of workers and peasants in the whole world.
The big capitalists and big landlords of India and their political representatives in the Congress and the Muslim League rejected this path. They bargained with the colonialists for a greater share of power, under colonial rule. They collaborated with the colonialists to keep the struggle of the broad masses of people against colonial rule under check. They collaborated with the colonialists in the communal partition of India.
In August 1947, political power came into the hands of the big capitalists and big landlords of India. The exploiting classes deliberately chose to retain the entire colonial legacy including the repressive state machinery which had served the colonial rule of plunder.
The Indian ruling class has followed the path of the colonial rulers. It offers the crumbs of office to those willing to betray the peoples struggles. It unleashes state terrorism to crush the struggle of masses of people fighting for their rights. The history of independent India is a history of numerous fascist acts modelled along the Rowlatt Act. In today’s India too, thousands of people get killed in violence unleashed by the rulers, either directly using the army and police, or indirectly, using criminals and goons who act with impunity. The aim of this violence is to terrorise those who protest. No one is punished for these large scale, criminal state-sponsored acts of terror even now. Those who fight for their rights, including masses of youth and other people in Kashmir, the North East and other regions, are themselves labelled ‘terrorists’.
People of India need to take power into their own hands and establish a new state in place of the present Indian state. We need to establish a state which will end the plunder of India by native and foreign exploiters, and ensure prosperity and security for all. This is the lesson of Jallianwala Bagh and the hundred years that have elapsed since then.