Jallianwala Centenary: The British journalist who exposed ‘Dyerarchy’ in Amritsar
Very few respond to the call of duty when it is the most dangerous. Benjamin Guy Horniman (1873-1948), the British journalist who was the editor of The Bombay Chronicle, did in 1919.
General Michael O’Dwyer, as lieutenant governor of Punjab, followed a policy of concealment by way of press censorship in the Punjab province. But duty came first to Horniman when he published an article on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in defiance of censorship, in The Bombay Chronicle which had become the voice of the freedom movement under him.
The reporter who wrote the article was tried and sentenced to two years’ rigorous imprisonment. The paper had to suspend its publication and Horniman was deported to Britain.
It did not end here. Horniman successfully smuggled photographs of the massacre and its aftermath and broke stories in the Daily Herald in Britain to tell the truth of the massacre to the British people, to implore them to question the justification given by Gen Reginald Dyer.
In his book ‘Amritsar and Our Duty to India,’ which was published in 1920, he called out the ‘Dyerarchy’ of General Dyer in Punjab, a word that he used for the atrocities committed under Gen Dyer.
Comparing the massacre to Congo atrocities and those perpetrated by Germany in France and Belgium, he calls it an ‘indelible blot on British rule in India.’
“It is impossible to believe that the people of England could ever be persuaded that a British General was justified in, or could be excused for, marching up to a great crowd of unarmed and wholly defenceless people and, without a word of warning or order to disperse, shooting them down until his ammunition was exhausted and then leaving them without medical aid.” he wrote.
Quoting General Dyer’s statements, Horniman points out the hypocrisy, “He felt his orders had not been obeyed. Martial law — which did not then exist — had been flouted, and he considered it his duty to disperse the crowd by rapid fire.”
Through his reports and writings, he indicates towards the responsibility and duty of the British people. The ‘Dyerarchy’ did not end with the Jallianwala massacre, the disgrace was brought to further depths by what followed during the six weeks of administration of the martial law under Gen Dyer.
Public floggings and ‘crawling order’ were the rule of the day to be followed by arrests, bombing and firing at Gujranwala. “Floggings took place in public, and photographic records of these disgusting incidents are in existence, showing that the victims were stripped naked to the knees, tied to telegraph poles or triangles,” Horniman records in his book.
He notes that in Punjab, the oppression reached such a pitch that nowhere else than in Punjab, “the Defence of India Act, with its host of liberty-destroying regulations” was applied with such great intensity.
Calling for investigations of officials in power and of the clean chit given to Dyer, Horniman wrote, “After the revelations of the Hunter Committee, Great Britain cannot, if she is to maintain her honour before the world, remain quiescent…she will have to see whether the intention to terrorise the people of the Punjab was deliberate and prearranged.”
“If the general character of our officials, civil and military, who are entrusted with dangerous powers in such countries as India, were such that outbreaks of terrorism of the kind we have seen in the Punjab are liable to occur at any time, we should be compelled to frankly abandon our claim to be a justice and humanity-loving people. However ugly the facts we must investigate and face them,” wrote Horniman.
Horniman has been called a ‘Friend of India’ and rightly so. Professor of economics Jagmohan Singh, nephew of Bhagat Singh, says, “BG Horniman is an example for journalism in India. Though he was a British, he defied British censorship to bring out the truth of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. We must pay tribute to him when we remember Jallianwala Bagh massacre.”