Amritsar Massacre




House of Lords Debates 19 July 1920 vol 41 cc222-307


NPG x120567; Satyendra Prasanna Sinha, 1st Baron Sinha of Raipur by Bassano
Satyendra Prasanno Sinha, 1st Baron Sinha of Raipur, Under-Secretary of State for India (1919-20)

These details are—I shall not have to repeat them when I am dealing with the Jallianwallah Bagh incident—(1) That the crowd was within an enclosed space almost like “sheep in a pen”—to use the words of Mr. Bonar Law—with the main entrance guarded by troops, and the entrance to the passage leading to the square guarded by two armoured cars, with an aeroplane reporting now and then, though not under General Dyer’s command; (2) that this crowd included boys and thousands of villagers from outside Amritsar who were there, as stated in the case of the Punjab Government themselves, as mere spectators—that this crowd was unarmed. My noble friend is in error in saying that the evidence was that they were armed with bludgeons or anything else. That crowd was not merely unarmed with lethal weapons or firearms, but unarmed. They were attacking nothing and no one; they were seated on the ground, squatting, listening to a speech, when they were fired upon. The firing began without any notice; it was continued and directed in the manner now admitted, and the wounded—whose number is still unascertained—were left unattended either by the military or by the civil authorities. These details were then, and for months afterwards, unknown to me. I have every reason to believe that they were unknown to the Viceroy and his then colleagues—I speak in the presence of one of them, the noble Lord, Lord Meston—until the examination of General Dyer before the Hunter Committee…

Assume, even on the basis of the reasoning that Lord Finlay has urged, that it was necessary, or desirable, or justifiable to fire without previous notice, was it necessary to continue the firing, to the extent and in the manner that was done Assume it was an army of rebels. Supposing they wanted to surrender, would a military commander on the field of battle give them quarter or not in those circumstances? The circumstances in this case were such that General Dyer himself said, “if I had more troops, and if my armoured cars could have come through the lane—which they could not because it was too narrow—I would have done everyone of those men to death until the whole assembly heel dispersed.” Therefore, admittedly, we are on common ground that more force was used than was necessary to disperse the crowd, and if more force was used, it was used for what purpose? For the purpose of creating a moral effect; that is to say, of intimidation, terrorism, frightfulness, or whatever else you choose to call it. And that, my Lords, is the doctrine, which I am profoundly thankful to think His Majesty’s Government has emphatically repudiated. I hope when your Lordships have heard, front abler advocates than I am, all the arguments in favour of the position which has been adopted by the Government of India, your Lordships will also emphatically endorse that judgment.

The Secretary of State for War the other day described this incident as a monstrous event, standing in singular and sinister isolation in the history of the British Empire. A former Prime Minister of England described it as a monstrous outrage. Do your Lordships, then, wonder that this has created, throughout the length and breadth of India, the deepest anger and the deepest resentment? It is said that the action of General Dyer saved the Punjab. I hope, my Lords, that even if that were so, there will be no one in this House who will endorse the doctrine that the end justifies the means. But is it certain, my Lords, that it did save the Punjab? The Hunter Committee, after a patient, and protracted inquiry, have held that it is impossible to come to that conclusion, notwithstanding the statements of Sir Michael O’Dwyer and of those officials whose evidence Lord Finlay quoted. Are you to reject that finding?—a finding by a body of competent and experienced persons who heard the evidence on the spot, and against whose competence, I submit, there is no reason whatsoever that can fairly be urged. But, even if it could be said. contrary to that finding, that General Dyer’s action did save the Punjab and did prevent another Mutiny, are you certain—can anybody ask your Lordships to hold—that nothing but this frightful massacre would have accomplished that end? Is there any evidence, is there any justification, for asking your Lordships to hold that this massacre of the 500, or the 1,000, or the 20,000 persons who were there was the only thing that could have saved the Punjab from rebellion or mutiny?

I submit that it would be in the highest degree dangerous to assent to any doctrine of that kind. And I know that whatever may be the decision that is conic to in this House or in the other House of Parliament, there is not a single Indian who believes that the situation was in any way similar to that existing in 1857, or that General Dyer’s action saved British rule in India. The Secretary of State for War said that he did not believe it. The Hunter Committee did not believe it. Nor is there, so far as I know, arty person in authority in India at that time who will advance that proposition.

House of Commons Debates 08 July 1920 vol 131 cc1705-819

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Winston Churchill)

However we may dwell upon the difficulties of General Dyer during the Amritsar riots, upon the anxious and critical situation in the Punjab, upon the danger to Europeans throughout that province, upon the long delays which have taken place in reaching a decision about this officer, upon the procedure that was at this point or at that point adopted, however we may dwell upon all this, one tremendous fact stands out—I mean the slaughter of nearly 400 persons and the wounding of probably three or four times as many, at the Jallian Wallah Bagh on 13th April. That is an episode which appears to me to be without precedent or parallel in the modern history of the British Empire. It is an event of an entirely different order from any of those tragical occurrences which take place when troops are brought into collision with the civil population. It is an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation…

These observations are mainly of a general character, but their relevance to the case under discussion can be well understood, and they lead me to the specific circumstances of the fusillade at the Jallianwallah Bagh. Let me marshal the facts. The crowd was unarmed, except with bludgeons. It was not attacking anybody or anything. It was holding a seditious meeting. When fire had been opened upon it to disperse it, it tried to run away. Pinned up in a narrow place considerably smaller than Trafalgar Square, with hardly any exits, and packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies, the people ran madly this way and the other. When the fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed upon the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, and the fire was then directed on the ground. This was continued for 8 or 10 minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion.

t stopped only when it was on the point of exhaustion, enough ammunition being retained to provide for the safety of the force on its return journey. If more troops had been available, says this officer, the casualties would have been greater in proportion…

If the road had not been so narrow, the machine guns and the armoured cars would have joined in. Finally, when the ammunition had reached the point that only enough remained to allow for the safe return of the troops, and after 379 persons, which is about the number gathered together in this Chamber to-day, had been killed, and when most certainly 1,200 or more had been wounded, the troops, at whom not even a stone had been thrown, swung round and marched away. I deeply regret to find myself in a difference of opinion from many of those with whom, on the general drift of the world’s affairs at the present time, I feel myself in the strongest sympathy; but I do not think it is in the interests of the British Empire or of the British Army, for us to take a load of that sort for all time upon our backs. We have to make it absolutely clear, some way or other, that this is not the British way of doing business.