Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

APRIL 13th  

On this day in history in 1919, took place The Amritsa Massacre.

Amritsar, a town in the Punjab, was the scene of an incident in which the British Indian Army opened fire on a group of unarmed protesters, resulting in substantial deaths and injuries. The episode tarnished Indo-British relations and was a precursor to Gandhi’s Non-co-operation Movement.  

In 1919, tension was high in India. The First World War had necessitated emergency powers to combat insurrection amongst the Indian population. The British government, fearing a rebellion, continued these powers after the war with legislation known as the Rowlatt Acts. This legislation gave powers for imprisonment without trial for suspected subversives.  

Indian leaders were enraged by Rowlatt Acts and organised a ‘hartel’, a suspension of all work and business. The Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab, Sir Michael O’Dwer, reacted by ordering a number of arrests. The Indian leaders responded by a protest demonstration, which turned violent. Indian police fired on the crowd and killed ten Indians. This event was followed by other uprisings and shootings. O’Dwer handed over charge of the district of Amritsa to the army, telling the generals to deal forcibly with insurrection. The military commander, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, issued orders banning public meetings. On 13th April 1919, thousands of Punjabis gathered to celebrate a Sikh festival. A platoon of Pathan, Baluch and Ghurkha soldiers of the British Indian Army confronted them. In a panic, Dyer ordered his men to open fire on the crowd. The firing lasted for ten or fifteen minutes. The crowd were in an enclosed space and could not escape. It is not clear how many were killed. Estimates vary from 379 to 2000.  

Dyer reported back that he had been ‘confronted by a revolutionary army’ and had been obliged to ‘teach a moral lesson to the Punjab’. O’Dwer sent a telegram to Dyer saying: ‘your action is correct. Lieutenant-Governor approves.’  

Dyer faced a commission of enquiry and was censured by the government. He retired in 1920 and died in 1927. The massacre became a motivator for Ghandi’s Non-co-operation Movement and became a catalyst for the Indian Independence Movement.  

In 1940, a Sikh revolutionary, Udham Singh, assassinated O’Dwer at his home in London. Singh was hanged for murder on 31st July 1940.

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