Having studied mass violence for over twenty five years, I would say that violence is wide spread, brutal and follows a sequence whoever be the perpetrator or the victim. Mass Violence is also highly organized and committed by institutions or groups when the perpetrator’s political power is threatened or challenged. Firing by armies or police is by and large done on the protestors as a last resort after there is a warning and there is an order to disperse for the crowd and followed under a leader who is local.
In Jallianwala Bagh nothing of that kind had happened. The firing was sudden, on mostly women and children who didn’t bother changing or threatening the rule of the British.
Shooting on people when they are not attacking you, your political system or power structure is the sign that there is something else that is the deciding factor. That is what makes Jallianwala Bagh unique and different from other incidents of mass violence that I have studied. That deciding factor was the British mindset of seeing Indians as pure evil, even the children.
I ask that we Indians don’t lose sight of that. It will be pleasing to those who are trying to erase our real history.
Perpetrators of mass violence have tried to minimize, make it seem banal by comparing it to violence at other periods of history or in this case of the people who fired. Nothing could be further from the truth. Violence is contextual, in its ferocity, in the motivation of the perpetrator and the way they define ‘the other’, in this case pure evil and savages.
The violence of a psychopath on a child is different from the violence between two men, one of whom may be slightly stronger than the other. The firing by an army on men protesting against injustice is different from shooting on children and women in cold blood. The violence at Gwangju South Korea, where students were fired upon by military was one where the students had first provoked by barricading and threatening the political system. The mass violence in Tiananmen Square was to crush the spirit that wanted to change the political structure in China. In above mentioned places, without exception there were adult men who had gathered for a political goal, unlike women and children who had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh. They weren’t acting provocative or were armed or even built a barricade. And yes they weren’t warned which even armies of fascist rulers will do before firing in cold blood.
The British have successfully portrayed their rule as benevolent one, as one that civilized the savages of India. They have tried to whitewash their rule in India by innumerable methods. Nothing would please them more than to read that after seventy years of leaving the country, many Indians don’t blame them but are turning the focus away to themselves and even composition of the army that fired on the people.
Reginald Dyer was a psychopath who without warning fired knowing there were large number of women and children in the crowd and they weren’t there to challenge the political system he was defending for his masters. He didn’t blink twice before asking his men to shoot despite seeing the children nor did his so called soldiers. So, let us not make this violence which is a unique one in the annals of mankind for its ferocity, be minimized or made to look banal through comparison. The British Prime Minister has recently called it a scar. I hope we understand the mindset under which it was said.
Many readers have commented about Gorkhas or Nepalis being not of the same nationality as Indians which explains the massacre. After independence the King of Nepal had wanted his country to be part of India seeing the similarities between the two people who shared a common history, a common religion and a culture. Nepalese feel as deeply Indian as any Indian himself. In my numerous visits and workshops in the interiors of Nepal, they tell me their relationship to Indians is that of between two ‘Samdhees’ referring to Devi Sita’s marriage to Shri Ram that binds us together in a special bond.
It wasn’t just a Gorkha army as some people have tried to explain why the violence took place but there was only an Indian army. Would the Chinese army have obeyed a Foreign General who asked them to shoot at their own women and children sitting peacefully?
Minimizing the atrocities and their denial during the colonial rule is an industry in India. It takes various forms and the story of Jallianwala Bagh has been added to that list. I am not sure if we are doing enough to preserve its memory. The behavior of many people who go there today is little different from that of people in amusement park who take ‘selfies’ and crack jokes. It was very similar when we visited the Cellular Jail in Andamans.
The Jewish people have defended the atrocities on them by repeatedly pointing out the unique nature of the Holocaust whose goal was the annihilation of their race. They point out that the existence of the gas chambers or even the number of people killed was secondary. It was the motive of the perpetrator to annihilate the race that was primary and makes it unique and reveals the true nature of the crime.
The argument for Jallianwala Bagh is similar. It was to subjugate us, a race, forever by another race who saw themselves as God`s chosen people to civilize the savages. The identity of the people who killed, the number of those killed was secondary.
A hundred years have passed since that fateful day when the massacre took place. The people assembled there were nothing but embodiment of evil in the eyes of our ruler who needed to be killed to teach us a lesson. This was the guiding principle of the colonialism under which we lived a hundred years ago. Let us preserve this memory for our future generations so that we don’t forget what Jallianwala Bagh stands for.