It is about those days in 1919, Brother, when agitations against the Rowlatt Act had sprung up all across the Punjab. I am talking about Amritsar. Sir Michael O’Dwyer had forbidden Mahatma Gandhi from entering the Punjab under the Defence of India Rules. Gandhi ji was on his way when he was stopped near Palwal, arrested and sent back to Bombay. As far as I can understand, Brother, had the English not committed this grave mistake, the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, which is the bloodiest chapter in the history of British rule in India, would never have occurred.
Hindus, Muslims, or Sikhs – all held Gandhi ji in veneration. Everyone considered him to be a “mahatma”, a great man, a truly evolved spirit. When the news of his arrest reached Lahore, all business came to a standstill. When people in Amritsar heard of this, complete and total strikes paralysed the city within the snap of a finger.
It is said that by the evening of April 9, orders banishing Dr Satya Pal and Dr Kitchlew from the district had already reached the deputy commissioner. However, he wasn’t ready to carry out the orders because he was convinced there was no danger of riots or disturbances in Amritsar.
People had been staging peaceful demonstrations to express their discontent, but there was no question of any sort of violence. I am telling you what I saw with my own eyes.
It was the festival of Ramnavmi on April 9. As always, a procession was carried out but nowhere did anyone take one objectionable step against the wishes of the administration. But, Brother, Sir Michael was a mad man. He refused to listen to the deputy commissioner. He was convinced that the political leaders of the day were hell bent upon overturning the imperial rule at the Mahatma’s behest. And these same leaders were part of a grand conspiracy behind all the strikes and processions.
The news of Dr Satya Pal and Dr Kitchlew’s banishment spread like wild fire. People were sore and heartsick. They were gripped by the fear that something terrible could happen anytime. But, brother, there was no stopping their commitment to the cause. Shops were shut down and the city looked like a graveyard. But in the stillness of this graveyard lay a clamour. When news of Dr Satya Pal and Dr Kitchlew’s arrest reached them, thousands of people gathered so that together they could go to meet the deputy commissioner and petition him to revoke the orders banishing their beloved leaders. But the time, brother, was not right for receiving petitions. A tyrant like Sir Michael was the ruler. Forget accepting the petition, he decreed that the crowd that had assembled was unconstitutional and illegal!
Amritsar – the Amritsar that had once been the greatest hub of the Independence struggle, the city that had proudly borne the wound of Jallianwala Bagh on its chest like a medal – take a look at the state of that city today! Anyhow, let that pass. It pains my heart. People say that the English are responsible for what happened here in this Sacred City five years ago. Maybe so, brother, but if you ask me the truth, I will say that it is our own hands that are sullied in the blood that was spilt here. Anyhow, let that pass...
Excerpted with permission from ‘An Incident from 1919’, translated by Rakhshanda Jalil, from Jallianwala Bagh: Literary Responses in Prose and Poetry, introduced and edited by Rakhshanda Jalil.
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