Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Kashmir connection

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By Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani

13 April 1919 marked the centenary of Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It was ordered by Colonel Reginald Dyer who was commanding the British army. Michael O’Dwyer Lieutenant Governor of Punjab had endorsed Dyer’s action, in which five hundred men, women and children were killed. Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester and the Partition Museum (set up by The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust), Amritsar, India, have co-curated an exhibition titled ‘Jallianwala Bagh 1919: Punjab under Siege’11 April 2019 – 2 October 2019.

Winston Churchill as Secretary of State for War called the Amritsar massacre monstrous, former Prime Minister David Cameron during his visit to India has called it “deeply shameful event in British history” and Prime Minister Theresa May has called it “a shameful scar on British Indian history.”

Dyer was born in Murree, in the Punjab province of British India, which is now in Pakistan. He was the son of Edward Abraham Dyer, a brewer who managed the Murree Brewery, and Mary Passmore. He spent his childhood in Murree and Shimla and received his early education at the Lawrence College Ghora Gali, Murree and Bishop Cotton School in Shimla. He attended Middleton College in County Cork, Ireland between 1875 and 1881.Dyer suffered a series of strokes during the last years of his life and he became increasingly isolated due to the paralysis and speechlessness inflicted by his strokes. He died of cerebral haemorrhage and arteriosclerosis in 1927.

In retaliation for Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar Michael O’Dwyer who as the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab had endorsed the massacre, was shot dead by an Indian revolutionary Udham Singh at a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Central Asian Society (now Royal Society for Asian Affairs) in Caxton Hall, London on 13 March 1940.

Udham Singh made no attempt to escape and was quickly apprehended. He was convicted and hanged four months later. At his trial, Singh told the court:

“I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. He was the real culprit. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I have crushed him. For full 21 years, I have been trying to wreak vengeance. I am happy that I have done the job. I am not scared of death. I am dying for my country. I have seen my people starving in India under the British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty. What a greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?”

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, has a Kashmiri connection, which has remained untold. In 1951 under an Act Government of India established Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust. The Act made Saifuddin Kitchlew, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the life trustees of the Trust. Kitchlew was born on 15 January 1888 to the Kashmiri Muslim family of Azizuddin Kitchlew and Dan Bibi in Amritsar, Punjab. His father owned a pashmina and saffron trading business and originally belonged to a Brahmin family of Baramulla. His ancestor, Prakash Ram Kitchlew, had converted to Islam and his grandfather, Ahmed Jo migrated from Kashmir in the mid-19th century after the Kashmir famine of 1871.

Saifuddin Kitchlew was an Indian freedom fighter, barrister, politician and a Nationalist Muslim leader. A member of Indian National Congress, he first became Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (Punjab PCC) head and later the General Secretary of the AICC in 1924. He is most remembered for the protests in Punjab after the implementation of Rowlatt Act in March 1919, after which on 10 April, he and another leader Satya Pal, were secretly sent to Dharamsala. A public protest rally against their arrest and that of Gandhi, on 13 April 1919 at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, led to the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize (now known as Lenin Peace Prize) in 1952.

The co-curated exhibition titled ‘Jallianwala Bagh 1919: Punjab under Siege’from 11April 2019 – 2 October 2019 in Manchester and Amritsar is a ‘people’s narrative’ to tell the story of the massacre and pay homage to all and the unknown martyrs. It is important that the people of Kashmiri origin in the State and all over the world, in particular Indian Punjab, flag the role of Saifuddin Kitchlew.

There is a need that Kashmiris should seek to connect with the descendants of Jallianwala Bagh massacre martyrs and the Sikh community in particular. Nomination as life trustee of Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust, of a person of Kashmiri descent has a historical significance. It bonds the struggling people of Kashmir with the Sikh Community of Punjab in particular.

Saiffudin Kitchlew went to Islamia High School in Amritsar. He obtained a B.A. from Cambridge University, and a Ph.D. from a German university, before practising law in India. On his return from Germany he established his legal practice in Amritsar, and soon came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi. In 1919, he was elected the Municipal Commissioner of the city of Amritsar. He took part in the Satyagraha (Non-cooperation) movement and soon left his practice to join the freedom movement, as well as the All India Khilafat Committee.

The descendants of Satya Pal, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Mahatma Gandhi could be traced and a Kashmir support constituency could be enlarged in reference to Saifuddin Kitchlew. A strong constituency in support of Kashmiris right to self-determination could be further explored among Catholic Christians of Ireland, who came to Baramulla and Srinagar as missionaries. This effort could take the voice of the people of Kashmir to Holy See in Rome.

The recently constituted Special Committee of National Assembly on Kashmir, headed by former Speaker National Assembly Syed Fakhar Imam and serviced over the years by an experienced hand – Nasim Khalid as its Director General needs to revisit the Government and Popular narrative and manner of approach on Kashmir. Indian Government is not invincible. Under the jurisprudence of UN Resolutions, Kashmiris have a prevailing argument to succeed.

(The author is President of London based Jammu and Kashmir Council for Human Rights – NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.)