Current Affairs

Jallianwala Bagh: Turning point in Indian Nationalism

  • Posted By
  • Categories
    History & Culture
  • Published
    11th Sep, 2021
Jallianwala Bagh: Turning point in Indian Nationalism


  • The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which took place on 13th April 1919 in auspicious day of Baisakhi a century ago, dramatically altered the tempo and direction of India's independence war
  • Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was criticized by Lenin,Secretary of state Montagu Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi, Madan Mohan Malviya and many nationalist leaders
  • Jallianwala Bagh Massacre not as an isolated episode but as a clash between nationalist aspirations and imperial policies
  • It was sequential to many historical events likethe First World War, the Ghadar movement, the inadequacy of moderate Congress methods, Gandhi’s emergence, international trends towards self-determination, theMontagu–Chelmsford Reforms towards eventual self-government in India and Rowlatt Act

Historical Event Prior to Jallianwala Bagh

Impact of World War 1

  • First World War marked a definite change in the political condition of India. In his speech in the House of Lords, Charles Hardinge, a former viceroy, said that India had allowed herself to be ‘bled white’ in the larger interests of the Empire.
  • High price of necessities, Coercive demand of Income Tax and forceful recruit to war and many more policies of British were resented by Indians
  • In Fact, the Ghadar movement, which was secular in nature but militant in outlook, occurred during the early years of World War 1.

Home Rule League and Montagu Declaration

  • The tenseness of the political situation in form of home rule league and economic condition in India compelled the British government to enunciate a definite programme of reform.
  • S. Montagu, secretary of state for India, made a historic declaration on 20 August 1917, with promise of creation of self-governing institution which Mr Lloyd George’s War Cabinet, with such ‘elder statesmen’ as Lord Curzon, Lord Milner and Mr Balfour in its ranks, had approved.

Rowlatt Act

  • Acts of subversion, such as the terrorist agitation in Bengal, the Ghadar movement, the Silk Letter Conspiracy, and dacoities in the south-west Punjab, have increased since Bengal's partition, and the government of India decided to replace the Defence of India Act with more appropriate legislation because police forces were insufficient to deal with the problem.
  • As a result of Sir Sidney Rowlatt's recommendation, the British government passed the 'Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, 1919' on March 21, 1919.

Provision of Rowlatt Act

  • Part III of the first Bill empowered the executive authority to arrest or search without warrant, to confine persons without trial in any part of a prison, and to prolong such confinement from time to time for periods of up to two years
  • According to the second of the Rowlatt Bills, the possession of a seditious document with intent to publish or circulate the same was to be punishable with imprisonment. Furthermore, persons convicted of an offence against the state might be ordered by the court to be bound over on good behaviour for a term of up to two years after the expiry of their sentence. The government, however, eventually decided tacitly to drop the second Bill altogether. Bills were denounced by the educated classes as ‘iron fetter upon her future progress’

Reaction of Indian in the Imperial Legislative Council

  • The Indian non-official members in the Imperial Legislative Council, united in opposition
  • J. Patel regretted that ‘a Bill of this kind should have been brought forward at a time when people really expected the introduction and discussion in this Council of measures which would conduce to the greater well-being of the people’.
  • Surendranath Banerjee regarded the Bill as a ‘great menace to public liberty’.
  • A. Jinnah warned that by passing the Bill ‘you will create in this country, from one end to the other, a discontent and agitation, the like of which you have not witnessed’.
  • Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya branded it a legislative measure of a ‘retrograde and repressive character’.
  • Mr B.D. Shukul characterized the Bill as a ‘path to the bomb’.
  • Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru described it as ‘wrong in principle, unsound in its conception, dangerous in its operation and too sweeping and too comprehensive, indeed far more comprehensive than many of us are prepared to admit’.

Rise of Gandhi

  • In 1915, Pherozeshah Mehta and G.K. Gokhale died, Dadabhai Naoroji died in 1917, and Annie Besant faded into the background. Tilak's extremism had decline its lustre, and he had returned to England at the end of 1918 to prosecute his libel case against Sir Valentine Chirol.
  • It resulted in a leadership vacuum, giving Mahatma Gandhi the opportunity to lead the cause of Indian nationalism.

Rowlatt satyagraha agitation

  • While inaugurating the Rowlatt satyagraha in Bombay on 1 March 1919, Gandhi warned that the fight against the Rowlatt Bills.
  • Mahatma Gandhi condemned the Rowlatt Committee for having ‘utterly ignored the historical fact that millions in India were by nature the gentlest on earth’.
  • He strongly urged that the ‘passing of the Bill designed to arming the Government with powers out of all proportion to the situation sought to be dealt with was a greater danger’.

Spread of Rowlatt Satyagraha

  • Mahatma Gandhi toured some parts of the country, was received with respect and established branches of Satyagraha Sabha with the help of local leaders.
  • Mrs Sarojini Naidu, B.C. Pal and Rajagopalachari organized protest meetings in Madras
  • The agitation was led by C.R. Das in Calcutta
  • Gandhi had stayed with the Nehru’s in Allahabad and he enlisted their support too.
  • In the United Provinces, Gandhi held consultations with the Muslim leaders, the famous Ali Brothers, Mohammed and Shaukat, and Abdul Bari and Syed Hussain, all of whom subscribed to the satyagraha vow.
  • Moreover, Gandhi was also closely in touch with Swami Shraddhananda in Delhi, with Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal in Amritsar and with Lala Duni Chand, Chowdhry Ram Bhaj Dutt and Lala Harkishan Lal in Lahore.
  • The anti-government movement had been drawing various disgruntled elements closer and closer since the end of the War and the Rowlatt Act finally consolidated the alliance.
  • In Bihar, Orissa, Madras, the Central Provinces and Burma, there were no riots. Calcutta was almost quiet. In Delhi and Ahmedabad, violent outbreaks did take place

Reaction to Rowlatt Act in Punjab

  • Political activity in the Punjab was more widespread and intense than elsewhere in India
  • It was estimated that between 30 March and 6 April, of the total hartals staged all over India against the Rowlatt Act, one-third occurred in the Punjab.
  • In the Punjab, riots extended over one-tenth of the area, involving one-third of the population and covering half a dozen ‘guilty districts’—Amritsar, Lahore, Jullundur, Lyallpur, Multan and Ferozepur.

Causes for Jallianwala Bagh

Long term Causes for Jallianwala Bagh

  • Acute shortages and soaring prices of essential commodity during the WorldWar one
  • Coercive methods of recruitment in Punjab, the irritants of the war loans and high-income tax demands by a ruthless bureaucracy
  • Introduction of 2 Rowlatt acts based on the recommendation of Sedition Committee headed by Sir Sidney Rowlatt
  • Mahatma Gandhi threw the entire responsibility for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on Michael O’Dwyer claiming that “Had he (O’Dwyer) not made inflammatory and irritating speeches, had he not belittled leaders, had he not flouted opinion, had he not arrested Dr. Kitchlew and Satyapal, the history of the last two months would have been differently written”

Immediate Cause of Jallianwala Bagh

  • Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew, Dr Satyapal, Chowdhry Bugga Mal, and Mahasha Rattan Chand were imprisoned at Amritsar on 10 April following the introduction of the Rowlatt Act by British.
  • It resulted in to violence in the city on 10th Five Europeans were killed, banks were looted and post offices burnt. Above all, the attack on Miss Marcella Sherwood (a woman missionary) added fuel to the fire and ignited the white man’s rage, and heightened his wounded pride and honour
  • According to some historians, the events of 10 April 1919 at Amritsar influenced Reginald Dyer's violent attack on the innocent crowd in Jallianwala Bagh on 13 April.
  • Reginald Dyer’s fury was not just directed against the Punjab and its political leadership. Dyer wanted to teach the people of Amritsar a lesson
  • Assault on Miss Sherwood provided the principal context for Jallianwala Bagh to happen. The ‘violation’ of an English woman becomes the event around which imperial and racial violence came to be justified

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

Course of Event

  • Reginald Dyer, who commanded the training brigade in Jullundur, arrived in Amritsar on 11 April 1919
  • On the 13th of April, around 1 p.m., Dyer received word that the people planned to have a meeting at 4.30 p.m., despite his proclamation not to gather.
  • He received confirmation from J.F. Rehill at 4 p.m. that a mob of 1000 had gathered near Jallianwala Bagh.
  • He gathered a force of ninety men and marched them to the meeting site around 4.15 p.m., taking two armoured cars with machine guns, 50 armed Sepoys, and 40 Gurkhas with him.
  • An aeroplane displaying a flag circled low over the Bagh at about 4 p.m. The people panicked and began to move away, but one British Indian spy Hans Raj assured them that there was no cause for alarm
  • The meeting at Jallianwala Bagh had passed two resolutions,
  • First calling for the repeal of the Rowlatt Act and
  • Second condemning the firing on 10 April and extending sympathy to the relatives of the dead.
  • Durga Das Vaid, the editor of Waqt and a political worker, was moving a third resolution on the repressive policy of the government when the crowd saw armed soldiers standing behind them.
  • Within thirty seconds of his arrival, Dyer deployed his troops, the Gurkhas to the left and the Baluchi’s to the right of the entrance to the square. The ground on which the soldiers stood was at a higher level than the rest of the area—an advantageous position from which to fire on the crowd.
  • Each soldier was loading and firing. ‘The men did not hesitate to fire low and I saw no man firing high,’ said Captain Briggs who accompanied General Dyer

Massacre in Number

  • Dyer’s estimate of the killed (between 200 and 300), which he sent to the lieutenant governor, was based on his wartime experience in France where it was calculated that one man was killed for every six shots fired.
  • Without waiting for the military report, the lieutenant governor informed the British government that 200 persons had been killed.
  • Sewa Samiti’s figures, based on a house-to-house survey, show that about 530 lost their lives.
  • The official figures of British were 379 killed and over 1200 wounded.
  • Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya stated at a meeting of the Imperial Legislative Council on September 12, 1919, that the figure of 1000 killed, noting that there were forty-two boys among the deceased, the youngest of whom was just seven months old.

Why Dyer committed such a monstrous act?

  • Some scholars: Dyer had arteriosclerosis and that this affected his mental condition.
  • However, many historians believe that Dyer had already made up his mind to shoot down the unarmed crowd, probably as a revenge of assault on Miss Sherwood and the murder of five Europeans on 10th April 1919

Violation by General Dyer

  • Dyer violated two principles—first, he fired without warning (even when the crowd was still dispersing) and second, he infringed the principle of minimum force.
  • After the firing, there was no provision for the relief of the wounded. Dyer said, ‘It was not my job.’ The permission for the cremation or burial of the dead was not given till 16 and 17 April.
  • Dyer made no distinction between the innocent (who gathered in Jallianwala Bagh) and the guilty (who did violence on 10th April)
  • As brigadier general, he was not empowered to take charge of the city. But he assumed full control of the situation and ignored the civilian officers.

The Hunter Committee

  • Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, was the driving force behind launching an investigation into the recent Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. Montagu was eager for constitutional reforms in India, and he believed that in order for them to be implemented, he needed to unite nationalist public opinion behind him.
  • Montagu first thought of appointing Lord Cave as chairman but decided later in favour of Lord Hunter and Disorders Inquiry Committee was appointed on 14 October 1919.
  • Dyer’s brigade major, Briggs, who was present at the Jallianwala Bagh shooting, died in Bannu before the Hunter Committee started its proceedings and hence his evidence was not taken. Thus, of the British officials, only Dyer was able to give the Hunter Committee a full account of the episode.
  • The Indian National Congress boycotted the Hunter Committee as their demand was not accepted by Secretary of state

Reginald Dyer and Hunter Commission

  • During his trial in front of Hunter Commission, Dyer gave three versions of his action to the Hunter Committee (Source: confidential report from Helsingfors, dated 5 April 1919)
    1. ‘I had made up my mind and I was determined to shoot.’
    2. ‘There was no question of warning. It was a rebellious crowd that had assaulted a woman and it had to be curbed.’
    3. Third, in response to the eminent jurist, Sir Chimanlal Setalvad’s provocative question: ‘When you arrived you were not able to take the armoured cars in because the passage was too narrow?’, Dyer replied: ‘Yes.’ Setalvad continued: ‘Supposing the passage was sufficient to allow these armoured cars to go in, would you have opened fire with the machine guns?’ Dyer answered, ‘I think probably yes’, and repeated ‘with the machine guns’
  • Not surprisingly, while under cross-examination by the European members, Dyer was courteous and co-operative and he addressed them with respect. But his attitude towards the Indian members was suggestive of discourtesy and disdain

Hunter Committee Report

  • The Hunter Committee prepared a report which was drafted mainly in Agra.
  • The three Indian members, called the Minority, agreed on few and dissented from the European majority on some of the wider issues and produced a separate report, which was, however, published in the same volume as the combined report.
  • The difference between them lay in their approach and in their conclusions on the nature of the disturbances, although they generally agreed on the causes of the outbreak.
  • Both the European and Indian members reacted unfavourably to Dyer’s handling of the Jallianwala Bagh meeting, though the difference between the two reports on this episode is a question of degree only.
  • In paragraph 39 of the Disorders Inquiry Committee Report, both the European and Indian members discuss Dyer’s action and criticize him in two respects:
    1. ‘Started firing without giving the people who had assembled a chance to disperse’, and
    2. he ‘continued firing for a substantial period of time after the crowd had commenced to disperse’.
  • According to the Hunter committee, Dyer did not suggest the existence of emergency conditions ‘to justify his action’. On the contrary, he had admitted that he had made up his mind to shoot as ‘he came along in his motor car’.
  • The Majority Report did not blame Dyer for not attending to the wounded, but the Minority took a graver view of his responsibility and condemned his neglect as brutal and inhuman.

Parallel Non-Official Inquiry Committee

  • As a consequence of the boycott of Hunter Committee by Congress, it was decided to set up a parallel non-official inquiry committee of which Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das, Abbas S. Tyabji and M.R. Jayakar were the members
  • On the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, the Congress Inquiry Committee says precisely the same as the Minority Report of the Hunter Committee

Jallianwala Bagh massacre: A well-designed conspiracy

  • Differences among the Historian
  • Most of Historian Believe that it was not planned conspiracy
  • However According to Historian V N Datta, a dubious character called Hans Raj was the mastermind behind the entire episode.

Consequences of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

  • The effects of the Jallianwala Bagh episode were far-reaching and the massacre struck at the very roots of the British Empire.
  • Indians would challenge racism wholeheartedly. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer and Michael O Dwyer’s tyranny had to be wiped out

Anglo-Indian relations

  • ‘There was a parting of ways between the British and Indians”
  • Faith in British justice was severely shaken. In a speech delivered outside Delhi Gate in Lahore, Dr Kitchlew asked, ‘In view of the Jallianwala Bagh was the public still prepared to co-operate with men who had shed the blood of their children?’
  • Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said in a conversation with Lord Montgomery that the Jallianwala Bagh incident marked a turning point in Anglo-Indian relations.
  • Rabindranath Tagore protested against the ‘disproportionate severity inflicted upon the unfortunate people’ and renounced his knighthood
  • Gandhi, who had rendered great service to the British cause during the First World War, could not remain a moderate any longer. He returned his Kaiser-i-Hind gold medal and his Zulu War medal

Rise of Gandhi

  • Gandhi, who had rendered great service to the British cause during the First World War, could not remain a moderate any longer. He returned his Kaiser-i-Hind gold medal and his Zulu War medal
  • Jallianwala Bagh massacre that gave M.K. Gandhi the opportunity to come to the centre stage as a major nationalist leader
  • Jallianwala Bagh massacre propelled the Mahatma to launch his non-violent movement in the form Non cooperation movement which was considered as India’s first all India national movement. It established Gandhi as non-disputed national icon of India

Rise of Revolutionary ‘Nationalism’

  • Jallianwala Bagh massacre marked a turning point in the history of the Punjab, which thereafter was witness to different forms of violence and political resistance, a departure from earlier times when Punjab was largely loyal to the British Empire
  • The shrieks of the victims of the massacre hounded the British Empire for a long-time seething rage which ultimately exploded with the emergence of Revolutionary ‘Nationalism’ and leader like Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh


Jallianwala Bagh massacre is rightly considered as an important turning point in History of India. Jallianwala Bagh massacre created irreparable damage to relation between Indians and Britishers.

It led to significant change in attitude of Mahatma Gandhi and created the base for mass movement in the form of Non-cooperation movement which was further carried forward in the form civil disobedience movement and Quit India movement leading to independence of mother India from clutches of British Empire.