The Indian community of Wellington is coming together on Friday, April 12, at St Peter’s Church, to observe the centenary of the historic Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
The incident of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre is deeply entrenched in the annals of history of India’s struggle from freedom from British colonial rule in the early twentieth century and continues to remain alive in the minds and hearts of the wider Indian community all around the world and inspiring generations after generations to appreciate the cost of their forefathers have paid for the nation’s independence.
On April 13, 1919, the day of the traditional festival of Baisakhi, more 10,000 people had gathered in a local mela ground to peacefully protest against an oppressive Rowlatt Act, brought by the British government to curb civil liberties during the First World War.
In a shocking, and an extremely cowardly and atrocious move, General Dyer, the military commander responsible for security ordered indiscriminate firing on an unarmed crowd of peaceful protestors, killing thousands of innocent men, women and children, and leaving a permanent scar in the minds and hearts of the communities.
Since then Indian communities all around the world celebrate Jallianwalbagh anniversary to inspire generations of people about the extremely high price paid by their forefathers and freedom fighters in securing the freedom for the nation.
Speaking to The Indian Weekender, Manjit Grewal, a leading member of the Wellingtonian Indian community and one of the main organisers of the event said, “Communities will be coming together to observe the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre with an Interfaith ceremony on Friday, April 12, at St Peter’s Church on Willis Street, Wellington.”
“The Centenary is being observed here in Wellington to remember part of our history and to honour all those who died on that fateful day.”
“It is also an opportunity to educate the public, who may not be aware of the sacrifices that have been made by our forefathers. This could serve as a lesson as not to commit such atrocities and to speak- up against such atrocities that we abhor.
“This is an unfortunate and sad part of our history but one which, albeit retrospectively, allows us the opportunity to come to terms with through atonement and acceptance by shedding the grudge and bad feelings
“By taking lessons from this aspect of our history, we can further contribute to an inclusive society and coexist peacefully in New Zealand,” Mr Grewal said.
In addition to the interfaith prayer, there will be a short movie video clip depicting the event and potentially stories from Wellington Indians whose family members experienced the tragedy
The Indian and the British High Commissioners and the Wellington City Mayor will be among the people who will be speaking at the service.
This is a free event, and all are welcome. There will be a short reception after the event.
The event is being organised by Wellington Indian Community, with the support and blessing of the High Commission of India on behalf of the India, Pakistan and Bangladesh communities of Wellington. The tragedy occurred before India was partitioned into three nations.
The Wellington Indian Community is working to have a photo exhibition on the Massacre in mid-August. Discussion with the Partition Museum of Amritsar to bring its exhibition:” Punjab Under Siege: The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre” to Wellington are currently in progress.
The community is looking forward to having the generous support of the funders and donors to meet the cost of the exhibition
On the morning of 13 April, a huge crowd began gathering at the Jallianwala Bagh (Garden) both to celebrate the Sikh festival of Baisakhi and to attend a protest planned for the late afternoon of that day. Many had come from outside Amritsar the night before to celebrate Baisakhi at the Golden Temple on the morning of April 13. In addition to the pilgrims, many had come to Amritsar to attend the Horse and Cattle Fair which coincides with Baisakhi. After the morning prayers at the Golden Temple, many of the pilgrims began moving towards the Jallianwala Bagh which is within a few hundred meters of the Golden Temple.
Fearing insurrection, the British Administration of Punjab imposed martial law in Amritsar on the morning of April 13. Anyone entering or leaving Amritsar was required to have a pass and gatherings of 4 or more people and all processions were banned. However, many of the people who were already at the Golden Temple were not aware of the new requirements and continued to proceed to Jallianwala Bagh and the Horse and Cattle Fair which continued till about 2 p.m. Once the Fair was closed many proceeded to the Park to attend the scheduled protest meeting.
Around 4.30 the Acting Military Commander of Amritsar, Brigadier General Reginald Dyer arrived with a troop of 50 soldiers, 2 armoured vehicles and without warning to disperse, opened fire on the crowd. Initially, the troops fired into the air, but General Dyer ordered them to fire into the densest part of the crowd. The firing went on for about 10 minutes until all the rounds of ammunition were exhausted. As the park was (and still is) walled in all sides, and the only open entrances were occupied by the troops, the protestors had no place to flee. Many jumped into a well with the hope to escape the bullets.
It is estimated more than a thousand people were killed and about 1500 injured from the 1650 rounds that were fired. About 120 bodies were pulled out from the well. The dead and injured included the elderly, women and children and babies. It also included men who had served loyally for the British in the World War.