Thursday, November 21, 2013

A visit to the Punjab (part 1)

Last week, I went up to the Punjab to its capital, Amritsar.

There are two Punjabs: Indian and Pakistani Punjab. The state was divided during the Partition of 1947. It saw some of the worst rioting during the partition as large numbers of Hindus and Muslims moved between India and Pakistan.

The city was the centre of unrest prior to partition with Sikh separatists demanding a Sikh-only state.

The unrest saw one of the worst excesses of British military happen on 13 April 1919 with an event known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Warning: history facts follow:

Basically, in March 1919, the British passed the Rowlett Act, extending emergency powers implemented during World War One as a means of dealing with unrest in India. The act gave the Raj the authority to arrest and imprison anyone suspected of conspiring to perform terrorist acts against the Raj. It allowed arrests without warrants, indefinite detention without trial, and jury-less, secret trials.

Now...the Indians didn’t take too kindly to this and protests began in the Punjab.

To set a context, you have to remember that since the Mutiny of 1857, or First War of Independence depending on your stance, the British were paranoid of another uprising.

On 13 April 1919, a large crowd of crowd of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims gathered in Jallianwala Bagh. The park was, and still is, surrounded on all sides by houses and buildings. At the time of the massacre, there were few narrow entrances (most of them locked). Today, there is only one entrance.

What the crowd didn’t know was that on that very same day, the Raj declared Martial Law in the Punjab.

BRIG-GEN Edward Dyer led a group of troops into the square, blocking off escape to the crowd.

Without warning, BRIG-GEN Dyer ordered his troops to open fire on the crowd. His soldiers (Gurkhas and Baluchi) obeyed the order and the resulting chaos saw between 400 and 1,500 people killed.

This is what happened at Jallianwala Bagh.

In the aftermath BRIG-GEN Dyer died in 1927. The Governor of the Punjab at the time, Michael O’Dwyer, was assassinated in 1940 by a survivor of the massacre and independence activist, Udham Singh.

So where is all this history going you may ask ??

The first place we were taken to in Amritsar was the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

It’s now a park and a memorial to all those who have died in the struggle for Indian independence.

It’s quite a beautiful place and quite a contrast from what it must have been like at the time of the massacre.

You can sense the sadness in the soil (well...I could).

There are still walls where the bullet holes are visible and the park contains bushes shaped in the form of soldiers in the firing position.

Here are photos from the site:

Jallianwala Bagh just after massacre
The one entry point into the park
The park now
Some of the bullet holes
Some more of the bullet holes
An example of the soldier-shaped bushes
The well where 120 people died

More bullet holes

The eternal flame

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