“Goli khake soye
Jallianbagh mein hum
Sooni padi kabar par
Diya jala ke jaana

[We bit bullets and lost our lives in Jallian Bagh
Do light a lamp at the lonely graves]

Hindu aur muslimon ki
Hoti hai aaj Holi
Behte hain ek rang mein
Daaman bhigo ke jaana

[It was like Holi with the blood of Hindus and Muslims
Blood flowed, in the same colour, dip the edge of your garment in the blood]”

In the centenary year of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the lines of this song appear not only as a tribute to the people who perished in the brutal firing of April 13, 1919, but also reverberate with the issues of contemporary times.

The song, called Din Khoon Ke Hamaare and written by an anonymous poet probably soon after the tragedy, was picked by the Central Squad of the Indian People’s Theatre Association in Bombay in 1943, and developed into a regular part of their musical repertoire. It was sung by Priti Sarkar, a young woman who had moved from Calcutta to Bombay to be part of the squad, along with Benoy Roy, a powerful songwriter, and his sister Reba Roychowdhuri, who was a singer and actress. Sarkar sang it for many years, even after the Central Squad was disbanded and she moved back to Calcutta to work with the Indian People’s Theatre Association there.

In an interview in 2007, when she was in her late 70s, Sarkar recollected the song’s popularity and how the musician Ravi Shankar, who spent a couple of years with the Central Squad soon after its formation, often commented on how powerful her rendition of the song was.

Imagining how the new nation would shape up after independence was achieved, Din Khoon Ke Hamaare evocatively invoked the unity of people from different religions.


Shared sorrow

Another song citing the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was sung as a South African song, among activists of the Transvaal Indian Congress, reportedly since the mid-1940s. Parna Jhanda, as the South Africans called it, had travelled from India and played an important role in mobilising the Indian community in the Transvaal region against colonial rule. It was also popular with South Africans of non-Indian origin fighting apartheid.

The refrain runs thus:

“Baazi e jaan ispe lagaana
Par na jhanda ye neeche jhukaana

[Put your whole being into the struggle
But don’t allow your spirit to be conquered]”

The second verse originally referred to the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy, but a reference to the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa was also added later. The amended verse goes:

“Jab aazaadi ki bhookh lagi thi
Goli Jallian mein yoon chali thi
Jab aazaadi ki bhookh lagi thi
Goliyan Sharpeville mein yoon chali thi

[When the hunger for freedom grew
Bullets were fired in Jallian
When the hunger for freedom grew
Bullets were fired in Sharpeville]”

The parallel being drawn between the Indian freedom movement and the South African struggle against apartheid through a working class song clearly indicates connections that had not been officially recorded anywhere.

In India, the song was discovered in a songbook edited by Amar Sheikh, a worker poet from Maharashtra. It was written by another worker poet, Bhagwan Singh Bagi, and regularly sung as part of the trade union movement in Bombay from the 1940s onwards. It is, however, not known how the song travelled to faraway South Africa.

Also read: ‘An Incident from 1919’: Saadat Hasan Manto’s haunting short story on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre

One hundred years of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre: What Tagore wrote in 1919 resounds today