By Shamsul Islam
Today India has turned into a grazing field for all kinds of religious bigots led by the Hindutva gang. Even the Prime Minister of the country, who took oath to uphold democratic-secular polity, is identifying himself as a Hindu nationalist as if he is in office to serve the cause of Hindutva.
The RSS/BJP rulers are openly declaring their commitment to turn India into a Hindu state where Brahmanical Codes of Manu, which reduce women and Dalits to sub-human status, would be the law of the land. For them India is Fatherland and Holyland for Hindus only.
It is to be noted that as per the Hindutva definition only those can be considered as Hindus who have Aryan blood, believe in casteism, are of fair colour and treat Sanskrit as a holy language. These are not Muslims and Christians only who are out of Hindu nation, even faiths as Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism can survive only as sects of Hinduism.
However, it was not the scenario 100 years back when the British rulers perpetrated one of the worst massacres in the modern history; the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. People of India shackled by the most powerful imperialist power of the world, Britain, presented a heroic united resistance.
It is not hearsay but proved by contemporary official, mostly British documents. These amazing documents were part of British archives which became National Archives of India after Independence. As a pleasant surprise these documents were made public to mark the 75th commemoration of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre as part of an exhibition titled, ‘Archives and Jallianwala Bagh: A Saga of Independence’.
Most documents, concerning the most volatile period of the Indian freedom struggle, not only showed the Britishers brazenly flouting democratic norms, indulging in barbarism while suppressing the mass discontent but also brought to light hitherto hidden aspects of Indian people’s united heroic fight-back.
The documents exhibited were both saddening and amazing. It was immensely saddening to watch the ‘civilized’ British indulging in acts of unprecedented violence against Indians and amazing way the people of India, collectively and individually, belonging to different faiths and castes, rose in revolt.
The saddest part has been that this treasure of visual and written narratives was put back in dark rooms of the National Archives, never exhibited again. It was not taken out even at the centenary commemoration underway currently. It seems the rulers and managers do not want that coming generations should know about the barbarism of the colonial masters as well as the united great heroic resistance of the people of India.
Photographs in the show recorded heart-wrenching scenes of the barbarity of the British rulers in coping with the unrest in Punjab during 1914-1919. Punjabis, specially, Sikhs, tied on the wooden/metal frames being flogged or forced to crawl on their bellies on public roads, their naked body in full view of the public, filling all with shame and anger.
Punjab had become a military camp. The rulers aiming at crushing the self-esteem of patriotic Indians forced Indians to salute every Englishman/woman, not to ride cycles and forcibly pulling moustaches and beards. There is no doubt that such repression produced revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and his comrades.
The records narrated the story of newly-married Rattan Devi had spent the night of April 13-14, 1919 by the side of her husband. Only, he was dead, lying amid the hundreds strewn all over the Bagh. The place was overflowing with blood, as she narrates in the chilling statement on display, and after removing the body of her husband to a comparatively dry place:
“I sat by his side… I found a bamboo stick which I kept in my hand to keep off dogs. I saw three men writhing in great pain and an injured boy, about 12-years-old, entreated me not to leave the place, I told him that I would not go anywhere leaving the dead body of my husband. I asked him if he was feeling cold, if he wanted a wrapper I could spread it over him. He asked for water, but that could not be produced at that place…”
In this exhibition a stunning story from a Hindi daily, ‘Abhiuday’ (October 4, 1919), was included which narrated the story and photographs of two friends, 18-year-old Abdul Karim and 17-year-old Ramchander, who came together from Lahore to attend meeting at the Bagh against Rowlatt Act. Both were martyred here. After the martyrdom of Abdul Karim, when results of Punjab University [Lahore] came out it was found that he had passed the matriculate examination in the first class.
But what really startles viewers is the hitherto unknown fact that the British government had, during the disturbances in 1919, used Royal Air Force planes to bombard the interiors of Punjab. A top secret document — again, made public for the first time — was a Task 14.4.1919. It reads thus:
“Aero plane No. 4491 Type BO E-2.E. Squadron No. 31. Pilot captain Carbery. Hour at which flight started from Lahore: 14.20. Hour at which flight concluded: 16.45. [The details] 15.20: village two miles north west of Gujranwala (now in Pakistan)-dropped three bombs on party of natives 150 strong…50 rounds machine gun fired into village. 15.30 Village one mile south of above-party of 50 natives outside village. Two bombs dropped…25 rounds machine gun fired into village. About 200 natives in fields near a building. One bomb dropped, 30 rounds MG fired into party who took over in house. 15.40: Gujranwala-Bombs dropped on large crowd of natives in south of town. 100 rounds MG fired into parties of natives in the streets. At 15.50 when machine left for Lahore no natives could be seen on the streets…”
Another highlight of the exhibition was the hand-written original of Rabindra Nath Tagore’s letter to the viceroy renouncing his Knighthood to protest the repression in Punjab. He wrote:
“The time has come when badges of honors make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and I for me part wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.”
Another heartening document was the original facsimile of the resignation letter dated March 28, 1919 of MA Jinnah from the Imperial Legislative Assembly in protest against Jallianwala Bagh massacre and repression in Punjab. His letter openly blamed the British rulers for atrocities and passing Rowlatt Act. He wrote:
“A government that passes or sanctions such a law [Rowlatt Act] in times of peace forfeits its claim to be called a civilized government.”
It is sad that Jinnah later joined the bandwagon of two-nation protagonists.
How much anger the Rowlatt Act generated in every part of India could be gauged by the violent resistance of in the Gujarat area generally considered to be compliant. The displayed documents showed that in Gujarat within two days (April 11-12, 1919) protesting mobs burnt only in Ahmedabad and its vicinity the offices of the collector, the city judge, the flag staff, the jail, the main telegraph centre and 26 police stations.
Resistance literature banned
On display were copies of voluminous literature, poetry, prose and plays which were written and circulated against the British barbarism but banned. This treasure again depicted the united and all-pervasive character of the resistance. It is not possible to discuss even a fraction of it while also noting that the exhibition must have displayed a fraction of the banned literature available in the Archives.
Some of the important banned books were: “Bagh-e-Jallian”, a lyrical play in Hindi authored by Ram Saroop Gupta; “Jallianwala Bagh”, a long poem in Gurmukhi penned by Firoziddin Sharf; “Punjab kaa Hatyakand”, a full-fledged play in Urdu; and “Jallianwala Bagh”, a long Gujarati play. The last two were by unknown authors in order to avoid identification by the repressive regime.
Some of the representative lyrics read:
जुल्म डायर ने किया था रंग जमाने के लिए
हिंद वालों को मुसीबत में फंसाने के लिए।
[Zulm Dyer ne kiya thaa rang jamane ke liye/Hind walon ko museebat maen phansane ke liye.]
खून से पंजाब के डायर की लिखी डायरी
रुबरु रख दी मेरी तबियत जलाने के लिए।
[Khoon se Punjab ke Dyer kee likhee diary/Roo-baroo rakh dee mere tabiyat jalane ke liye.]
बाग़े जलियां में शहीदों की बने गर यादगार
जायेंगे अशिके-वतन आंसू बहाने के लिए।
[Bagh-e-Jallian maen shahidon kee baney gar yaadgaar/Jayenge aashiq-e-watan aansoo bahane ke liye.]
हम उजड़ते हैं तो उजड़ें, वतन आबाद रहे,
मर मिटे हैं हम के अब वतन आजाद रहे।
वतन की खातिर जो अपनी जान दिया करते हैं,
मरते नहीं हैं वो हमेशा के लिए जिया करते हैं।
[Hum ujadte haen tau ujdaen, watan aabaad rahe/Murr mitey haen hum ke aab watan azad rahe/Watan kee khatir jo apnee jaan diya karte haen/marte naheen haen who hamesha ke liye jiya karte haen.]
The British rulers overlooked martyrs, Independent India too remained/remains indifferent.
These documents make shocking revelations about the reprehensible attitude of the foreign rules towards victims of its perpetrated massacre at Jallianwala Bagh.
In June 1919 the home department came out with the statement which described British causalities but kept mum on the count of Indian deaths raising an idiotic argument that whatever number would be made public by the British government would not be acceptable to Indians!
However, when government repression in Punjab drew world-wide condemnation, the British government appointed a commission of enquiry for investigating violence in Punjab on October 14, 1919, headed by a jurist from Scotland, Hunter. This commission came to be known as Hunter Commission.
It came to the conclusion that at Jallianwala Bagh 381 Indians, including males, females and even a 6 month old baby were killed by General Dyer’s force. This count was highly disputable as the unidentified bodies (of the people who were not Punjabis but were in Amritsar as it was a famous business/religious centre where also people from other states constantly came in search of livelihood) were disposed of.
Shockingly, even after Independence of the country nothing changed for the surviving members of the martyrs and grievously injured. They remained discarded. In India, where persons who were behind bars during Emergency (1975-77) for less than a month, receives INR 10,000 and less than two months as INR 20,000 as family pension, the demand of the families of the martyrs that at least they should be entitled for pension and railway concession have not been accepted.
Disgusted, the Jallianwala Bagh Shaheed Parivar Samiti wrote a letter to the British Prime Minister that England should compensate their loss! It only shows the helplessness and hopelessness of the families of the martyrs but surely shamelessness and spinelessness of the Indian rulers.