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The Butcher Of Amritsar- Book By Nigel Collet
Table Of Contents For 'The Butcher Of Amritsar' Book By Nigel Collet
I. A SOLDIER'S LIFE
|Cork and Sandhurst||17|
|Ireland and Burma||31|
|The Black Mountain||45|
|The Relief of Chitral||61|
|Staff College and the Mashud||75|
|Chakrata and Chungla Gully||91|
|The Zakka Khel||103|
|The First World War||135|
II. THE AMRITSAR MASSACRE
|Abbottabad and Jullundur||209|
|The Jallianwala Bagh||251|
|The Crawling Order||269|
|Dalhousie and Jamrud||321|
|The Hunter Committee||335|
|The Army Council||351|
On the evening of 13 April 1919, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered the shooting of an unarmed and peaceful crowd, estimated to number over twenty thousand men, Women and children, at Amritsar in the Punjab. His troops Fired continuously at the panic-stricken and fleeing crowd for between ten and fifteen minutes. The Jallianwala Bagh, where this massacre took place, was a walled enclosure, a trap with no easy exit, and the crowd could not escape. By the time Dyer ordered a ceasefire his men had killed many hundreds of Indians and wounded perhaps a thousand more. He then marched his troops back to base, leaving the dead and wounded where they lay. Most of these were not rescued until the following morning, due to the curfew that Dyer had imposed. Many died where they lay overnight. In the weeks that followed, under the martial law which he administered in the city, Dyer proclaimed what became notorious as the 'crawling order', which closed the street where a british woman missionary had been assaulted and made those who wished to proceed down it crawl its whole length on their bellies.
It is difficult to exaggerate the effects of what Dyer did. His deeds, and other similar, if less drastic, acts carried out by British officers elsewhere in the Punjab, alienated all shades of Indian opinion. The failure of the British Government to punish the perpetrators, and the huge support given them by much of the British public, was a critical factor in the metamorphosis of key leaders of the Indian National Congress, in particular of Gandhi, from loyal subjects of the King Emperor into implacable nationalists who came to reject every facet of the British connection. The massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh led directly to the bitterness and bloodshed of Indian independence and partition nearly thirty years later.
The man who perpetrated this disaster was made a hero by his British supporters, who idiolised him as the 'Saviour of India'. To almost all Indians, then and now. Dyer was a monster. Yet this was a man, born in India, who was more of a stranger to the English than he ever was to the Indians amongst whom he lived almost all his life. He was a man upon whom was conferred the unheard of honour of being made a Sikh in the Golden Temple at Amritsar. He was an officer revered, even loved, by his Indian troops, and a man whose name retained such a hold on the Indian soldiers with whom he served that decades after he died they would come to pay their respects to his son and to shake his hand.
Dyer stands alone in modern British history. Nowhere in the world since the Indian mutiny of 1857 have the British turned such violence upon a civilian population. Not since 1999 have anything approaching what he did been repeated. In his deeds, as in the circumstances of his life. Dyer was unique. Attempts to explain what he did at Amritsar by recourse to generalisations about imperialism, racism, gender or class founder upon the fact, frequently remarked by his contemporaries, that he was not just not like everybody else. It is therefore to his life that we must turn for an understanding of one of the most infamous events in Indian and British history, and for an explanation of what it was that persuaded Dyer to act as he did, and to maintain for the remainder of his life that he had been right.
Discovering the real Dyer, however, is not easily done. His last years were lived in a glare of publicity, and his career included some of the best-documented events in the history of the time, but he remains elusive. He himself wrote little of a personal nature and , after his death, his wife, Annie, was careful to ensure that even less survived to reveal her husband to posterity. We possess no diaries, very few letters and only a handful of mementos to give an insight into his character and mind. Words of his we have in plenty, but they are official ones, in the dispatches from his compaigns and in his many statements of his case. These by their nature, give an unbalanced and partial view. Now are we helped in this by Dyer's official biography, written in 1929 by the right wing journalist and writer lan Colvin, which remains almost our source for many episodes in his life. Colvin's book was the principal means through which Annie Dyer built and perpetuated her husband's legend. Its contents were those she chose to include and it is not an impartial source. The evidence that it presents has been sifted and arranged to present the public of the day with a picture that many wished to see. Colvin paints a portrait of a hero. Where his facts can be checked, Colvins is indeed almost always accurate, but his omissions warn us to take care both in relying on him as a source and in believing the portrait he drew.
Even Colvin could not alter the facts of what his subject had done. The records of Dyer's deeds remain the main guide to his character. His own words reveal what it was that drove him to a conception of his duty held by no other man then or since. It is to both that we must turn to understand the man.It is well then we are able to do so, for in some ways we are unable to get close to him at this distance. Yet in other ways we know him very well indeed, more than we can most of his contemporaries. We know in enormous detail what he did. His deeds are inscribed in the official records. We also have his own published account of his major compaign. From these, form his own many pronouncements about what he had done, and from his background, we can come close to his mindset, work out what it was he was trying to achieve, and draw out the imperatives that were urging him on. To understand what he did at Amritsar, this is enough.
Dyer lived at a time when one era was giving way to another. The settles, privileged, hierarchical world of the British Empire was imperceptibly ebbing away and being replaced by a world that valued self-determination, democracy and dynamic change. The First World War quickened this process as much in India as it did in Europe, setting in motion forces which those who were subject to them could barely comprehend, and against which many, including Dyer, set their faces. He was not alone in this, but it was his misfortune that, on that April evening in Amritsar, he unleashed the forces that were to destroy the India he had spent his life trying to preserve.