Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more
House of Commons Hansard
The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.
Amritsar Disturbances
22 December 1919
Volume 123

I rose because I wanted to raise a question which is different from the Irish question in locality, but very similar to it in general characteristics.

I want to raise the question of the Amritsar massacre, and the duty of this country towards India in that respect. The, details of that massacre are, unfortunately, too well known to us. The English Press, with few exceptions, has taken the English view of the matter. The whole country has been horrified at what took place. Let me remind the House of what took place, and not from hearsay, but on the evidence given by the principal actor. Here inquiry will result in some trivial action. The thing must be put right. What happened? There was a religious festival and thousands of Punjaubis had gone into Amritsar. The British officials were anxious, and the Deputy Commissioner on 9th April surrounded the notorious Dr. Satyafal and Kitchlew and carried them off. The news got about and their followers sent a massed deputation to the Deputy-Commissioner demanding their release. The deputation was stopped, apparently by troops; it was only armed with sticks and as a result the troops fired and shot some of the demonstrators. Speeches were made over the bodies, and the mob turned and murdered three Englishmen and beat a lady. No one would excuse riots of that sort. On the evening of the 10th, General Dyer arrived at Amritsar, and the Deputy-Commissioner handed over the civil power to him. He issued a proclamation by word of mouth that no meetings should be held. Two days later, after there had been no sort of riot, nor murder, General Dyer heard that a meeting was to be held at the Jallianwala Bagh He proceeded there with about fifty troops, half British, half Indian, and a certain number of Ghurkas, armed with their kukris. The Jallianwala Bagh is an open space, half a mile square which has one entry wide enough for three persons. The troops got in and lined up on a mound of debris. The walls, seven feet high, and the surrounding houses enclosed the people. There were, too, three alleys through which the people might have been able to pass. Within thirty seconds of the troops getting in, General Dyer gave orders to fire, and the crowd of people, estimated at anything from 5,000 to 20,000, who were sitting on the ground peacefully listening to the mob oratory, were fired on. The result of the troops' fire into the mass of people we do not know. But we do know that Dyer's own estimate of the casualties resulting from ten minutes continual individual firing, was 400 to 500 killed and 1,500 wounded. What were the people to do They could not escape. They were people who had not offered any violence and who had not been warned. These people were shot down. After ten minutes the ammunition was exhausted and the troops marched off, and they left 1,500 wounded there. There were men lying there for two days, dying of thirst, eating the ground, bleeding to death and nobody to look after them. Those relations who lived near came and carried away some of the wounded from among the heap of dead and dying, but the unfortunate country people died there miserably of their wounds. This is what is done in 1919 in British India. An English sportsman would take any amount of trouble or time to see that a wounded partridge was put out of its misery, but these wounded people were lying there for two days dying slowly. Think what this means. There has never been anything like it before in English history, and not in the whole of our relations with India has there ever been anything of this magnitude before. If you are to find anything so damning to the British reputation you have to go back centuries. In the ordinary English primer the only thing the ordinary person learns about British rule in India is about the Blackhole of Calcutta and the massacre of Cawnpore, where there was a well choked with corpses. Centuries hence you will find Indian children brought up to this spot. just as they visit now the Cawnpore Well, and you can imagine the feelings of these Indians for generations over this terrible business. [An HON. MEMBER: "What would you have done?"] I should not have committed murder. Think what all this means! You will have a shrine erected there and every year there will be processions of Indians visiting the tombs of the martyrs and Englishmen will go there and stand bareheaded before it. By this incident you have divided for all time races, races that might otherwise have loved one another. The right hon. Gentleman has laid a foundation which might have lead to a real co-operation with the British Empire but that has now been destroyed.

It has not only' destroyed that; but it has destroyed our reputation throughout the world. You know what will happen. All the blackguards in America when they lynch niggers, will say, "Oh, you did the same in India" When butcheries take place in Russia, whether it he by White or Red Guard, they will say. "We never did anything like what you did in India;" and when we tell the Turks, "You massacred the Armenians," they will say, "Yes, we wish we had the chance of getting 5,000 of them together, and then of shooting straight" That is the sort of welcome that this will get, and all the decent people in the world will think that England really likes what happened at Amritsar, and that all this sort of thing is English. Really, we know that this sort of thing is the finest Prussianism that ever took place. The Germans never did anything worse in Belgium. This damns us for all time. Whenever we put forward the humanitarian view. we shall have this tale thrown into our teeth. What is it that differentiates this from all other horrors by Governments in the past? If you have a mob distinctly out to kill and to loot, and the soldiers are called out to meet the mob, they have got to stop it. Firing is justified in such cases. There may be hundreds killed in such a ease, but, when soldiers are being stoned and hammered it is their duty as well as their right to resist.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

The hon. and gallant Member knows that he is dealing with subjects which are sub judice and he is forming his estimate of what happened on one column and a-half report of the evidence of a single man who was in the witness-box for a whole day. He knows that no action of any sort or kind whatever can be taken, affecting whoever it may be, to vindicate— if any action be necessary—the name of England for justice and fairplay, until that report is received. I have never known a case where so many deductions have been drawn in this House from events which at the moment are being inquired into by an impartial tribunal.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I do not think that I have varied from the words used by General Dyer. He is accused out of his own voice. He himself said, "I did not take thirty seconds to decide whether to shoot." He himself said that the mob might have dispersed if he had asked them. He himself said that he fired on them because, if they had dispersed, they might have come back and laughed at him afterwards. He has made that clear. I wanted to point out the difference between suppressing a mob doing violence and shooting down people who are not violent, because by that action terror might be inspired and prevent riots in the future. We have never justified the shooting down of people, not because they were endangering life but because they might do so at some future time unless they were fired on.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.