This story is set in the backdrop of an actual historical event [Link to Wikipedia entry], but the same has been embellished with fiction. Subsequently, any resemblance to any persons dead or living is purely unintentional and co-incidental
March 1919 had not been a good month for Sukhwinder (Suki). He had not only fared badly in his 4th Grade exams at The Victoria Memorial Matriculation School, Amritsar, he had also miserably failed in his Indian History oral exams informally conducted by his paternal uncle, Balwinder Chacha.
While his bad performance at school exams would not be taken too seriously by anybody at home or at school for entirely different reasons, his Chacha ensured that he was punished for his bad performance at Indian History. After all, Balwinder Chacha was not called the “Sardar Sher” at his college, Amritsar Khalsa College, where he was studying BA Final Year, for nothing. He was well noted for his intense patriotism, fiery demeanor when it came to anything dealing with the colonial British and extreme passion towards his country, India.
As a punishment Chacha made Suki run two additional rounds of the Amritsar Parade Grounds in addition to the five mandatory rounds that he had to complete every day. Chacha clearly believed that a healthy mind resided only in a healthy body and determined to ensure that his nephew was both physically and mentally ready to face the challenges that would be inevitable once he actively joined the Indian Independence struggle.
Now Suki, just like any other 9 yr old boy of his age, didn’t quite understand what the fuss with the British ruling India was all about. He was more concerned about whether or not he would get enough money from his grandparents for Baisakhi so that he could buy himself some sweetmeats to savor. Chief among his daily worries was the fact that his Bebe (mother) didn’t always pack 3 nice, hot Tandoori rotis for him without fail. And she also forgot to pack his favorite Sarson Da Saag on more than one occasion. Today Suki was all the more irritated and angry as Chacha had made him run those additional two rounds of the ground. He was aching, both physically as well as mentally. He wanted nothing more than to get back at Balwinder Chacha for making him so tired and the laughing stock of all his friends.
In early March 1919, The Rowlatt Act had been passed which authorized the British Govt in India to imprison for up to two years, without trial, any person suspected of terrorism living in the Raj. The Act also gave the authorities almost infinite and unquestionable power to deal with activities termed as revolutionary. In April 1919, the Govt arrested Saifuddin Kitchlew and Satya Pal, popular Punjabi freedom fighters when they led protests against the passage of The Rowlatt Act.
These arrests enraged young Indians all over the country, more so in Amritsar which was the home town of both these popular leaders of the freedom struggle. Balwinder Chacha gathered around some of his friends from college and met up with a few other local leaders in Amritsar. It was decided that on 13 April, on Baisakhi Day, a public meeting would be held at Jallianwala Bagh, a large public garden near the Harmandir Sahib gurudwara to decide the further course of action, as a result of the arrests.
Given that Suki used to tag along with his Chacha all the time, he couldn’t but help overhear the plans for the public meeting on 13 April. He made up his mind, he would have his revenge on Balwinder Chacha on that day. He would publicly humiliate him the way his Chacha humiliated him in front of all his friends today. He would teach him a lesson.
Sometime around 2 PM on 13 April, General Dyer, the British Raj’s local commander in Amritsar was sitting in his office sipping on his mid afternoon tea. Suddenly a small piece of paper was thrust into his room through the window adjoining the street next to his office. The paper contained in broken handwriting the following text –
Dear sir, please note that a lot of people are gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh today to discuss how to protest actions of Britain. Their leader is Balwinder Chacha.
As Suki was running away after throwing the paper into the office, he was already dreaming about how the British police would scold Balwinder Chacha in the grounds in front of all his friends. How Chacha would be humiliated and shamed in front of all the people who thought he was a big leader. Suki decided that he would go to the very top of the adjoining gurudwara and enjoy the scene. He ran straight to the gurudwara and found his vantage position.
The prayer meeting at Jallianwala Bagh began at around 3.30 PM and the fact that Baisakhi was the harvest festival, it meant that the prayers on this particular day transcended religious beliefs and everybody at the ground, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh included participated in the prayers, thanking the Gods for a bountiful harvest this year.
After the prayers were offered, one by one, local leaders started addressing the crowd about The Rowlatt Act and expressed their indignation at how their heroes had been arrested for leading peaceful protests against the Act.
What they didn’t notice was that General Dyer, on the basis of the information he had received, had slowly managed to bring a contingent of almost 85 armed soldiers into the park through its narrow entrance. He had also locked all other gates to the park. He ordered the soldiers to get into firing positions and without any warning thereof ordered them to fire.
For the next ten minutes, Suki couldn’t quite believe what he saw from the adjoining building. As the bullets continued to rain on the people in the park, many people died in the stampedes that occurred near the various locked exits of the park. Countless number of people jumped into the well in the park to avoid the bullets, and consequently fell to their deaths. Almost 1650 rounds of ammunition later, when Dyer finally ordered his troops to stop firing, approximately 1000 people had died.
All their blood was on Suki’s hands. Little did he know that the red ink he had used to write that note would end up being colored by the blood of 1000 innocent Indians.
Never again would Suki be able to write again, never again would he be able to put pen to paper again, as he was terrified what consequences his words would have.
Image courtesy : Google images search for ‘jallianwala bagh massacre’
This post had originally been guest posted at For the love of words.
This post was selected as one of Blogadda’s Spicy Saturday picks on 24-August-2013.