Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jallian Wala Bagh (Site of the Amritsar Massacre)

There is a stark contrast between the Golden Temple experience and that of visiting the site of the Amritsar Massacre.  It lies only 400 meters north of the Golden Temple.  Most Americans, if they know anything at all about this tragic massacre, know it only from Richard Attenborough's film... "Gandhi"....

In case you have is how it looked in the movie:

Jallain Wala Bagh

In a nutshell....the story goes like this:

In Amritsar, India's holy city of the Sikh religion, British and Gurkha troops massacre at least 379 unarmed demonstrators meeting at the Jallianwala Bagh, a city park. Most of those killed were Indian nationalists meeting to protest the British government's forced conscription of Indian soldiers and the heavy war tax imposed against the Indian people.

A few days earlier, in reaction to a recent escalation in protests, Amritsar was placed under martial law and handed over to British Brigadier General Reginald Dyer (a seriously bad man if there ever was one!!) who banned all meetings and gatherings in the city. On April 13, 1919... the day of the Sikh Baisakhi festival, tens of thousands of people came to Amritsar from surrounding villages to attend the city's traditional fairs.

Thousands of these people, many unaware of Dyer's recent ban on public assemblies, convened at Jallianwala Bagh, where a nationalist demonstration was being held. Dyer's troops surrounded the park and without warning opened fire on the crowd, killing several hundred and wounding more than a thousand. Dyer, who in a subsequent investigation admitted to ordering the attack for its "moral effect" on the people of the region, had his troops continue the murderous barrage until all their artillery was exhausted. British authorities later removed him from his post.

The massacre stirred nationalist feelings across India and had a profound effect on one of the movement's leaders, Mohandas Gandhi. During World War I, Gandhi had actively supported the British in the hope of winning partial autonomy for India, but after the Amritsar Massacre he became convinced that India should accept nothing less than full independence. To achieve this end, Gandhi began organizing his first campaign of mass civil disobedience against Britain's oppressive rule.

There is a beautiful mural of the incident inside the museum portion of the memorial.  General Dyer's face has been gouged off of the painting on the wall: (Photo credit:  Me!!)

It was here that we had our first run-in withe the local "paparazzi".  There were many children visiting the memorial the day we were there...and most of them had cameras or mobile phones with built-in cameras.  If ever we felt like we were visiting from the moon...this was it!!  We were literally surrounded by school kids (see photo upper left)...  Everybody wanted a photo with the "strange white couple from the moon"...and we kindly obliged, of course...  It was pretty wild.

After the kids left us alone...we had some time to reflect on the horror of the place.  There are places in the walls where they have left the bullet holes - and have highlighted them.  Original and huge holes in the mud-bricks made by the Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifles carried by Dyers' goon squads.  The place where the people died in the well is preserved, untouched....  It is a monument to man's inhumanity...and lies just a stone's throw from one of the holiest sites on the planet...a place dedicated to peace and tranquility and charity and the love of God manifest amongst His people. An amazing contrast.

We were pretty emotionally spent by the mid-afternoon...and we opted to pass on some of the other sites on our tour.  Instead, we went back to the Ista Hotel in Amritsar for a shower and a nap before our sundown visit to the Wagah Border Ceremony...  Stay tuned for that....we have video (coming soon!)

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