A searing memory of horror lingers for Jallianwalla Bagh massacre victims’ families

Updated on Apr 13, 2019 09:45 AM IST

A hundred years later, the massacre still remains a searing memory for families of the victims who heard about it from survivors and relayed the narrative to subsequent generations.

The death toll in the massacre is still disputed.(HT ARCHIVE)
The death toll in the massacre is still disputed.(HT ARCHIVE)
Hindustan Times, Amritsar | ByAnil Sharma

It took place 100 years ago to the day. On April 13, 1919, soldiers of the British Indian Army, under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer, fired bullets into a crowd of civilians who gathered peacefully in Jallianwalla Bagh, near the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to celebrate the harvest festival of Baisakhi and protest against the arrest and deportation of two national leaders, Satya Pal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew.

A hundred years later, the massacre still remains a searing memory for families of the victims who heard about it from survivors and relayed the narrative to subsequent generations.

Satpal Sharma, an 82-year-old retired head teacher, says his father’s brother Lal Chand, who was a survivor, narrated to him the story.

“My grandfather, Amin Chand Sharma, a hakim by profession, was getting ready for taking part in the Jallianwala Bagh protest. In the meantime, my uncle Lal Chand, who was only 12 years old then, started imploring my grandfather to take him along,” said Satpal .

His grandfather and uncle both left for the venue and joined the crowd, which was listening to the speeches of protest leaders when Dyer arrived at the scene accompanied by soldiers. “They took up positions and opened fire on the gathering without any warning. During the firing, among others, my grandfather was killed. My uncle somehow survived; he was taken out a day later from beneath a heap of bodies,” Sharma recalled.

“It was a brutal killing of innocent people and we can’t forget this. Even today, whenever I go to the Jallianwala Bagh, tears roll out of my eyes,” said Sharma, whose grandfather was recognized as a freedom fighter in 2010.

Mahesh Behal, 73, president of the Jallianwala Bagh Shaheed Parivar Samiti, heard the story of his own grandfather, lawyer Hari Ram Behal, from survivors. He was in Jallianwalla Bagh to address the crowd, but he was gunned down by Dyer’s troops before it was his turn to speak . Behal calls Dyer a “butcher”. “Before going to Jallianwala Bagh, my grandfather had told my grandmother, Rattan Kaur, to prepare kheer (rice pudding). My grandmother kept waiting with a bowl of kheer in her hand. Since then, we have not been cooking kheer in April,” Behal said.

The death toll in the massacre is still disputed. The colonial government put the number of deaths at 376, far fewer than the Indian National Congress’s claim that more than 1,000 perished.

Mahesh Behal says the families of some of the victims are in Pakistan. “We have contacts of only half-a-dozen families. No contacts of other families have been traced by the government even after the passage of 100 years,” he said.

Member of Parliament, Shwait Malik, who is one of the members of the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust, said, “The list of identification of the victims is being finalised by Amritsar administration. Till now, the administration has prepared a list of 501 victims. As soon as the list is completed, I will ask the Centre to announce the status of martyrs to those killed during the massacre.”

Ratan Devi, widow of Chhaju Bhagat, spent the night of Baisakhi in 1919 in Jallianwala Bagh by her husband’s body.

“After passing through that heap (of bodies), I found the body of my husband. The way towards it was full of blood and bodies…By this time, it was 8 o’clock and no one could stir out of her house because of a curfew order. I stood waiting. I could not go anywhere leaving the body of my husband... Amid hundreds of corpses, I passed my night...A number of them were poor, innocent children... What I experienced is known only to me and to God,” read her account preserved in the records of Jallianwala Bagh.

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