Jallianwala Bagh 100: what does it mean?

Like Bloody Sunday in Ireland, the massacre opened world’s eyes to the true nature of India’s colonial rulers and inspired a generation of freedom fighters.

In this excellent and wide-ranging speech Comrade Ranjeet Brar outlines the history of British rule in India and gives a proper context to the events in Amritsar a century ago.

April 2019 saw the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in British-ruled India.

On 13 April 1919, a British general, Reginald Dyer, led 50 troops of the British Indian army to a meeting of 25,000 Indians (men, women and children; hindus, muslims and sikhs), who were protesting against the repressive Rowlatt Acts and recent violence by the British army towards the civilian population.

Upon entering the enclosed space, just a stone’s throw from the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, Dyer’s men formed ranks, levelled their Lee-Enfield 3.03 rifles and, upon his order, fired 1,650 rounds of live ammunition into the dense crowd. The shooting lasted a full ten minutes and the crowd had nowhere to run. Over 1,200 died.

Their murderous act of terrorism complete – and having sent a message to the whole of British India – Dyer turned on his heel and left, without offering any aid to the wounded and dying. Indeed, curfew – on pain of death – was swiftly imposed, and his victims were left to swelter and bleed to death in the 40 degree celsius heat.

The period of martial law that followed was equally barbarous. The British rulers of India indulged in an orgy of collective punishments: RAF planes strafed and bombed civilians, troop trains machine-gunned villagers, the men of Punjabi towns and villages were rounded up, tortured and publicly flogged, and a plethora of ritualistic and racist punishments were sadistically carried out.

Hundreds were sentenced to death and transportation by rapidly-formed courts martial. All unrest and talk of independence was quelled by the most vicious military means.

Michael O’Dwyer, the lieutenant governor of Punjab, Lord Chelmsford, the viceroy of India and Edwin Montague, the secretary of state for India in Britain all rapidly gave their full support to Dyer’s actions – although the degree of outrage in India and across the world would trigger his eventual retirement.

The Morning Post (now the Daily Telegraph) hailed General Dyer – the Butcher of Amritsar – as the ‘Saviour of the Empire’, and raised a public subscription of £27,000 to pay tribute to his ‘heroism’.

India has long called for an apology from Britain for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. That staunch British imperialist Rudyard Kipling wrote that the leopard couldn’t change his spots. That is certainly true of British imperialism. A sincere apology would demand the cessation of similar atrocities; a change of behaviour; a true admission of guilt – not simply being caught in the act of lying.

The best apology is for the truth to be known – and to put an end to the blood-soaked system of imperialism once and for all.

India took its national independence in 1947, but the legacy of centuries of colonial impoverishment will remain until workers there are able to throw off the twin shackles of imperialist economic domination and capitalist exploitation.

Workers in Britain must understand the nature of British imperialism and stand shoulder to shoulder with all those who struggle against it. Workers of all countries must take power into their own hands, ending for good the exploitation of nation by nation, and man by man.