The people in the Punjab rose in revolt against the Government as elsewhere.
In return the Government was in readiness to face the challenge.
In this uncongenial atmosphere between the Government and the people, there happened an unprecedented event in the city of Amritsar. The city observed complete hartal in a peaceful manner. But the Government arrested two eminent leaders Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew on 10th April, 1919.
This resulted in an excitement among the people. The news of Gandhi’s arrest further aggravated the situation. The people thereafter tried to attack the Government offices and violence took place. On 11th April the city was handed over to the army under the charge of General R.E.H. Dyer. On 12th April, he issued proclamation and banned all meetings processions and social gatherings.
On the next day, the inhabitants of the city gathered at a place Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate, Baishakhi festival, the Hindu New Year’s Day. These innocent people did not know anything about the proclamation. Thousands of men, women and children rushed to the traditional festival place in a festive mood. The Bagh was an open place but surrounded by high walls and buildings on all sides except the narrow main gate that allows only two men at a time. A large gathering around 15 to 25 thousand gathered there in that afternoon.
Suddenly General Dyer appeared with his troops just few minutes before sunset in front of the narrow gate. He even did not warn the people to disperse and ordered his troop to open fire indiscriminately. The firing continued till the last bullet was exhausted. Unable to escape the crossfire over a thousand were massacred and thousands of other wounded. This was the signal for the imposition of martial law in the province and the application of the punitive measures unparalled in British India.
The public enquiry revealed the number of the dead at 1200 and of the wounded at 3600. This incident became famous as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. The news of this massacre shocked India. The Government expressed no sign of regret but went ahead with more repression. People were beaten, executed or forced to undergo humiliation and indignity.
A reign of terror was let loose. Punjab suffered those agonies but General Dyer felt very proud for his bravery and through Jallianwala Bagh Massacre he had taught an unforgettable lesson to the Indians. He however did not know that by this action he had hammered the first nail on the coffin of the British Empire in India. It has been rightly described by the English historian Valentine as the “black day in the annals of British India”.
Gandhi saw in that tragic event the real picture of British imperialism. His conviction about the British vanished when Dyer was given a grand reception on his arrival in England. His admirers presented a purse of 26,000 pound and a sword as a mark of honour for his heroic deed.
In the meanwhile the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms were made ready. The country was eagerly waiting for the directives of Gandhi. The world was also interested to know Gandhi’s action. The year 1919 thus became a turning point of time by opening door for a new era. The era of Mahatma Gandhi in the history of India.