The real learning from the tragic Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar is that rightful protest by public cannot be put down state oppression, says a New Zealand based history professor.
When launching the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Photo Exhibition in Wellington last month, Prof Shekhar Bandyopadhyay said General Reginald Dyer’s use of brute force to break the morale of the people resulted in the start of the crumbling of the mighty British Empire.
Prof Bandyopadhyay, director of the New Zealand India Research Institute at the Victoria University of Wellington, was one of the speakers at the launch of the photo exhibition of the 1999 massacre.
The one-week exhibition, organised by the charitable organisation Ekta New Zealand Inc, was curated by the Partition Museum of Amritsar.
It was officially launched on 21 November 2019 by the New Zealand chief Government whip Michael Wood and the Indian High Commissioner Muktesh K. Pardeshi in the St Peters Church.
The launch was attended by approximately 100 Wellingtonians, including local Members of Parliament, members of the Diplomatic Corp, Race Relations Commissioner, community and faith leaders.
Exactly a century ago, hundreds of people peacefully protesting colonial rule were shot dead on the orders of a British general, resulting in the bloodshed at Jallianwala Bagh, a walled garden in the northern Indian city of Amritsar in Punjab, India.
The launch kicked off with a Karakia in the church garden led by the Rev Canon Donald Rangi. The Jallianwala Bagh story was told through videos of Nanak Singh’s poem ”Khooni Vaisakhi” and a cultural performance. Many in the audience were visibly moved by the presentations and were trying hard to hold back tears.
Wood, in showing how he felt, won the audience heart by producing a photo of the Archbishop of the Anglican church prostrating at the memorial of the Jallianwala Bagh. An Anglican himself, Wood said he identified completely with the regret that the Archbishop expressed.
All guests who were at the event found the exhibition very informative, the launch very moving and the program professionally delivered.
Exhibition curator Ganeev Dhillon, who is based in Amritsar, said it was very encouraging to see the level of interest that the audience was shown in the subject.
“We are glad that the Partition Museum was able to bring the exhibition to Wellington through Ekta” she said.
Ekta’s Sunita Musa and Charanjit Singh, who co-chaired the project, said that the community has the responsibility towards the 400 or so people who were killed that Vaisakhi Day to tell their story.
“We should not forget these Shaheed’s nor their sacrifices. We had a Remembrance ceremony on 12 April and have now brought the photo exhibition. Wellington is the second city in the world to host this exhibition outside India,” said Sunita.
This is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre entry in the Encyclopaedia of Britannica:
“Soon after Dyer’s arrival, on the afternoon of April 13, 1919, some 10,000 or more unarmed men, women, and children gathered in Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh (bagh, “garden”; but before 1919 it had become a public square), despite a ban on public assemblies. It was a Sunday, and many neighbouring village peasants had also come to Amritsar to celebrate the spring Baisakhi festival. Dyer positioned his men at the sole, narrow passageway of the Bagh, which was otherwise entirely enclosed by the backs of abutted brick buildings. Giving no word of warning, he ordered 50 soldiers to fire into the gathering, and for 10 to 15 minutes about 1,650 rounds of ammunition were unloaded into the screaming, terrified crowd, some of whom were trampled by those desperately trying to escape. According to official estimates, nearly 400 civilians were killed, and another 1,200 were left wounded with no medical attention. Dyer, who argued his action was necessary to produce a “moral and widespread effect,” admitted that the firing would have continued had more ammunition been available.”
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