The Jallianwala Bagh massacre marked a turning point in India’s struggle for Independence. A memorial was set up by the Government of India in 1951 at Jallianwala Bagh to commemorate the spirit of Indian revolutionaries and the people who lost their lives in the brutal massacre.

Jallianwala Bagh close to the Golden Temple in Amritsar is a site of one of the most barbaric massacres in world history.



The main reason behind the massacre was that the British government has passed the Rowlatt Act of 1919. The British government introduced the Rowlatt Act to tighten its control over the populace. The Imperial Legislative Council approved this law in March 1919, giving them the authority to detain anybody without a trial. This law gave the British government the power to detain anybody accused of terrorist activity.

What was the Rowlatt Act?

  • This Act was officially known as the ‘Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919’.
  • It empowered the British government to detain or arrest anybody suspected of terrorist activities and detain such persons for up to 2 years without trial
  • It also allowed the police to search for a place without a warrant & placed serious restrictions on the freedom of the press.
  • The act was passed according to the Rowlatt Committee’s recommendations chaired by a judge, Sir Sidney Rowlatt, thus, the act was named after him.
  • Indian leaders and the public highly criticized the act. And the bills were called as ‘black bills’.
  • However, the act was passed despite unanimous opposition from the Council’s Indian members, who resigned in protest, like Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Madan Mohan Malviya etc.
  • Gandhiji protested via nationwide ‘Hartal’ on 6th April, known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
  • Gandhiji then cancelled the movement when it was ruined by rioting in some provinces, especially in Punjab.
  • The British were also scared of a Ghadarite revolution in Punjab & the rest of the country.
  • Two popular Congress leaders, Satya Pal & Saifuddin Kitchlew, were arrested.
  • As soon as the act came to effect and after the arrest of two popular Congress leaders, the situation led to the at the gathering Jallianwala Bagh site and then the massacre.

APRIL 13, 1919

After passing the Rowlatt Act, the Punjab Government set out to suppress all opposition.

On April 13, 1919, the public had gathered to celebrate Baisakhi. However, the British point of view, as seen from the documents present in the National Archives of India, indicates that it was a political gathering. Inspite of General Dyer’s orders prohibiting unlawful assembly, people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh, where two resolutions were to be discussed, one condemning the firing on April 10 and the other requesting the authorities to release their leaders.

On the afternoon of April 13, a crowd of around 10,000 men, women, and children gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, which was enclosed by walls and had only one exit. It is uncertain how many people present there were protesting against the public gathering and how many celebrate Baisakhi, a spring festival.

When the news reached him Brigadier-General Dyer, headed to the Bagh with his troops.

He entered the Bagh, deployed his troops and ordered them to open fire without giving any warning. People rushed to the exits but Dyer directed his soldiers to fire at the exit. The firing continued for 10-15 minutes. 1650 rounds were fired. The firing ceased only after the ammunition had ran out. The total estimated figure of the dead as given by General Dyer and Mr Irving was 291. However, other reports including that of a committee headed by Madan Mohan Malviya put the figure of dead at over 500.


On October 14, 1919, the Disorders Inquiry Committee was formed to inquire about the massacre. It later came to be known as the Hunter Commission.

The Hunter Commission was directed to announce their verdict on the justifiability, or otherwise, of the steps taken by the government. All the British officials involved in the administration during the disturbances in Amritsar were interrogated including General Dyer and Mr Irving.

The aftermath of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

Many moderate Indians were turned into nationalists as a result of this incident, abandoning their earlier loyalty to the British. Major General William Beynon responded to Colonel Dyer’s report to his superiors that he had been “confronted by a revolutionary army” by saying, “Your action was proper and Lieutenant Governor agrees.”

Viceroy Lord Chelmsford agreed to O’Dwyer’s plea to impose martial law in Amritsar and other locations. In various north Indian cities, the public went to the streets.

Government buildings were burned down, and there were strikes and chases against the police. In retaliation, the authorities terrorized and humiliated the people. Villages around Gujranwala in Punjab (now in Pakistan) were blasted in addition to people being skinned alive. Satyagrahis were forced to bow before all the senior officials by touching their noses to the ground. 

Did anyone survive the Jallianwala Bagh massacre? 

Nanak Singh survived the massacre. Nanak Singh was a literary giant and ‘Father of the Punjabi Novel’ who was present at the garden on 13 April 1919 at the young age of 22. He collapsed in a stampede caused by the firing and was left behind unconscious under a pile of corpses. Two of his friends attending the protest with him died.

Hours after he suffered hearing damage in his left ear, he walked out of Jallianwala Bagh after arising from the pile of corpses when he regained consciousness. Nanak Singh’s long Punjabi poem, ‘Khooni Vaisakhi’, which runs for more than four thousand words, elaborates on the events in detail.





Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *