Dispelling massacre myths


People pay tribute at the Jallianwala Bagh Martyrs’ Memorial to mark the attack’s centenary.
People pay tribute at the Jallianwala Bagh Martyrs’ Memorial to mark the attack’s centenary.

by AMIT ROY THE “best book I have ever read on the Empire”, was how journalist Sathnam Sanghera described Kim Wagner’s book, Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear & The Making of a Massacre, when they both appeared at the National Army Museum last Saturday (13) on the centenary of Jallianwala Bagh to discuss the atrocity. Wagner, who teaches the history of colonial India and the British Empire at Queen Mary College, University of London, said it was important to dispel some of the many myths about the massacre. Also appearing on the panel, which was chaired by Sanghera, were Amandeep Singh Madra and Parmjit Singh, who said they were helped by Wagner to put together their illustrated book, Eyewitness at Amritsar: A Visual History of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. Wagner began by analysing the makeup of the 379 people killed in the shooting ordered by Brig Gen Reginald Dyer. Unofficially, Indian sources put the toll at between 500 and 1,000. “Sikhs made up 15 per cent of the population of Amritsar in 1919,” he said. “And they made up – as far as we can tell – 30 per cent of those who were killed. More than 50 per cent were Hindus and the rest were Muslims.” Later, he put the proportion of Hindus at 55 per cent. “So, this is a Punjabi event, not a Sikh event,” he emphasised. “There were possibly Sikh soldiers among those who fired. And it forces us to face the hard facts and perhaps reassess some of the assumptions we have.” Another myth is that 120 bodies were recovered from the well in the garden, into which people allegedly jumped to try and dodge the soldiers’ bullets. “There weren’t any bodies recovered from the well,” Wagner said. Pressed by Sanghera to identify…

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