Who is Jallianwala Bagh

100 years ago in IndiaThe Amritsar massacre

"We must have the courage to take their anger." - An excerpt from the film "Gandhi" by Richard Attenborough. The award-winning work from 1982 tells the life story of the Indian independence fighter Mahatma Gandhi. One scene shows British soldiers shooting peacefully protesting Indians. The 1919 incident went down in history as the "Amritsar Massacre".

Revolts against the British colonial rulers

"Fire!" - During the First World War, the British government declared a state of emergency in India in order to brutally put down riots in the provinces of Bengal and Punjab and to be able to recruit en masse soldiers for the British-Indian army under threat of violence. After the war, the colonial power extended the state of emergency indefinitely and in early 1919 announced further laws that allowed the imprisonment of Indian politicians and arbitrary house searches.

The independence movement responded with protests, and Mahatma Ghandi called for a general strike at the beginning of April. Riots broke out in Amritsar, where the British had arrested prominent local politicians. Dozens of demonstrators were shot and an angry mob killed several foreigners.

10,000 peaceful demonstrators in Amritsar

The governor of the province of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer, then declared martial law on the region in northern India: "No processions or crowds are allowed. All gatherings are to be shot at." A British unit under Brigadier General Reginald Dyer was supposed to restore order to the city.

On April 13, 1919, more than 10,000 Indians gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, an almost entirely walled park. Although the demonstrators were peaceful, Dyer ordered the shooting. His soldiers fired at the unarmed crowd for several minutes, including women and children. This left 379 dead and 1,200 injured.

Beginning of the end of colonial rule

Dyer later justified himself to a committee of inquiry: "I think it is entirely possible that I could have broken up the gathering without shooting. They would probably have come back and laughed at me and I was not ready to do anything I classify as 'ridiculous'. "

Witnesses to the massacre: bullet holes in a wall in Jallianwala Bagh Park (imago / Hindustan Times)

The massacre marked the beginning of the end of British colonial rule in India. After violent protests, Mahatma Gandhi called for civil disobedience: British institutions such as schools, authorities and courts were boycotted as well as British products and elections.

The future Prime Minister Winston Churchill commented on the Amritsar massacre: "The incident in Jallianwala Bagh was an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event that stands for itself in a unique and ominous way."

Late revenge of a survivor

However, it did not stop at non-violent protests against the colonial regime. Udham Singh survived the Amritsar massacre at the age of 19. He shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer, the former governor of Punjab, in London in 1940.

At the trial, Singh stated, "O'Dwyer was actually in charge. He wanted to break the spirit of my people, so I destroyed them. I have tried to retaliate for 21 years. I have seen my people starve in India under the British. I protested against it, that was my duty. "

Singh was sentenced to death and executed. In contrast, no Briton had to answer criminally for the massacre.

No apologies from the UK

In 1997 Queen Elizabeth II visited Amritsar. The visit of the British chief illustrated the difficult handling of Great Britain with its own colonial history. Queen Elisabeth explained:

"It's no secret that there have been difficult moments in our past - Jallianwala Bagh is an unfortunate example. But history cannot be rewritten as much as we sometimes wish."

When Prime Minister David Cameron visited Amritsar in 2013, he called the massacre a "deeply shameful event in British history." Neither he nor the queen found words of apology.