Some events shake the conscience of thinking men and women the world over, set off tremors across a nation, unspool unforeseen events, and echo in the hearts and minds of generations to come. The cold-blooded massacre at Jallianwala Bagh on 13 April, 1919, is among these.
It marked a defining moment in the history of modern India and made the British presence morally untenable. If the name of any physical spot has become a symbol of something that changed history, it is Jallianwala. Golgotha, Auschwitz, Sharpeville, South Africa, Tiananmen Square, China are others in the same league of history-changers.
The decision of REH Dyer, a British army officer to fire ~ 1,650 rounds in a matter of 10 minutes ~ at an unarmed gathering in the public park, leading to the death of hundreds, and the blocking of the exits, which prevented help reaching the wounded, were acts of unmitigated brutality. One hundred years is a long time in history.
Long enough for any event to be plastered over by subsequent happenings, later occurrences. Long enough for the event to turn from the vivid colours of experience into the sepia of fading memory. But not so, Jallianwala, Amritsar. An India outraged, bloodied, but made amazingly and unprecedentedly resolute. Jallianwala Bagh was no site of an event or occurrence but of a trauma.
A trauma so deep as to have altered the very composition of India’s political psyche, the chemistry of Indians as a people.”Shatabarshe Jalianwala Bagh” by Rabindranath Mukherjee harks back to the incident which shook the Indians out of the stupor nay the comfort zone in which they had imagined themselves to be.
If some typos of this 40-page booklet brought out Paschimbanga Ganasanskriti Parishad can be overlooked, it is a good read with references and analyses which provoke the thought about how could an alien nation rule over India under the pretence that its reign was based on the “rule of law”.