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British Empire And Africa Report No. 137- Week ending September 17 1919 | by Archives New Zealand
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British Empire And Africa Report No. 137- Week ending September 17 1919

On April 13 1919 British Indian troops under the orders of Colonel Reginald Dyer killed at least 379 civilians in the Indian city of Amritsar. A large crowd had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh as the Sikh festival of Baisakhi happened to fall on the day. Apart from pilgrims, Amritsar had filled up over the preceding days with farmers, traders and merchants attending the annual Baisakhi horse and cattle fair. The city police closed the fair at 14:00 that afternoon, resulting in a large number of people drifting into Jallianwala Bagh.


The Defence of India Act of 1915 was still in operation and continued the wartime restrictions the Indian population faced. The act granted very wide powers of preventive detention, internment without trial, restriction of writing, speech, and of movement. There was also a ban on public meetings with the intention of curtailing the nationalist and revolutionary activities during and in the aftermath of the First World War. The gathering in Amritsar was thought by the British to be a political gathering in defiance of orders restricting public gatherings which warranted a heavy response.


Dyer went with Sikh, Gurkha, Baluchi, Rajput troops from 2-9th Gurkhas, the 54th Sikhs and the 59th Sind Rifles. They entered the garden, blocking the main entrance after them, took up position on a raised bank, and on Dyer's orders fired on the crowd for about ten minutes, directing their bullets largely towards the few open gates through which people were trying to flee, until the ammunition supply was almost exhausted. Dyer stated that approximately 1,650 rounds had been fired, a number apparently derived by counting empty cartridge cases picked up by the troops. No official figures were given for the number of people in the crowd. The Hunter Commission (set up in October 1919 to investigate the massacre) claimed there were 6,000 in the park and 379 killed with 3 times as many wounded. Indian sources claimed the casualty numbers were much higher. The figure of 379 deaths was given by Colonel Dyer himself.


The British Government tried to suppress information of the massacre, but news spread in India and widespread outrage ensued; details of the massacre did not become known in Britain until late 1919. This report from the week ending September 17 1919 was sent to the Governor-General Of New Zealand, The Earl of Liverpool. It makes reference to 301 deaths in Amritsar and outrage from Indian leaders such as Pundit Mahan Malaviya.


Archives New Zealand Reference: ACHK 16597 G42 Box 4


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