On the 13th April 1919, Acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered troops from the British Indian Army to aim their weapons at the croweds of unwieldy Indian civilians at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab and kill 379 individuals and harm more than 1,200 others, the Jallianwala massacre was also known as the Amritsar massacre.
Dyer, who was encouraged to have a major revolt, banned all meetings on Sunday 13 April 1919. The notice wasn’t widely disseminated and many villagers in Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew gathered in Bagh to hold the important Indian Baisakhi Festival and to protest peacefully the arrest and deportation of two national leaders. Dyer and his soldiers entered the garden and locked their main entry, stood on a raised bank and fired at the crowd for about ten minutes without notice, aiming their bullets mostly to the few open doors, through which people tried to escape until the supply of ammunition was nearly depleted. On the next day Dyer proclaimed in a paper “I heard about the killing of between 200 and 300 people”.
In the following year the government of India released the Hunter Committee report condemning both Dyer and the Punjab administration for not having collected an accurate count of casualties and quoted 379 dead and approximately 1,200 wounded, including 192 serious wounded, provided by Sewa Samati. The statistics were reported by the Commission. More than 1,500 casualties, nearly 1,000 of them dead, were estimated by the Indian National Congress.
He was commended by some in Britain for his exploits and became a hero of many people, including Members of the House of Lords, who directly benefited from the British Raj. However, in the House of Commons, which was censured by its investigating committee in July 1920 he was strongly condemned and attacked. He couldn’t be charged for killing because he was a soldier working on orders. The military agreed not to send him to court, and his only penalty was to be suspended from his current appointment, refused the promotion of him, and forbidden further jobs in India. Dyer then withdrew from the army and moved back to England, where he died.
Both British and Indian populations were divided by responses. Rudyard Kipling, the eminent author of the novel, proclaimed that Dyer “went as far as he saw it.” This shocked him so much that he surrendered his knighthood and proclaimed “these mass-murderers do not deserve any title.” This was the first Indian and Asian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Although British intervention in the Mau Mau rebels in Kenya later led historian Huw Bennett to note that the new strategy has not always been carried out, this massacre has resulted in reassessment of its military position against civilians to a minimum. The army was retrained and less aggressive crowd control tactics developed.
The degree of casual violence and lack of responsibility shocked the whole country, causing the general Indian people’s loss of confidence in UK intentions. This unsuccessful investigation, together with Dyer ‘s initial recognition, fostered widespread outrage among the Indian population towards the British, leading to the 1920–22 Non-cooperation Movement. Some historians regard the episode as an significant step towards the end of British Indian rule.
The UK never officially apologised but expressed “regrets” in 2019 for the shooting.