What is the 1919 Amritsar Massacre and why did it happen in India?

It has been 102 years since the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, killed more than 1,500 people. What you need to know about the terrible tragedy in India

102 years have passed since the brutal Amritsar massacre, in which over 1,000 people were killed (

Image: Getty Images / iStockphoto)

On April 13, 1919, a peaceful rally to protest the arrest of pro-Indian independence leaders in Amritsar, India turned into a violent shooting that killed thousands of Indians.

The terrible event took place in the enclosed gardens of Jallianwala Bagh in the Indian state of Punjab.

The official figures for the Amritsar massacre released by the British state that just over 350 people were killed in the massacre, but the Congress party claimed the figure was 1,000.

In 2019, more than 100 years after the massacre, British High Commissioner for India Dominic Asquith visited the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial and paid tribute to those killed.

Here is what happened in Amritsar on that fateful day and why.

What is the 1919 Amritsar massacre?

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre killed over a thousand unarmed Indians
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Image:

AFP via Getty Images)

In 1919 the British banned public gatherings. However, on April 13, several thousand unarmed Indians, unaware of the ban, gathered in Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate the Indian harvest festival of Baisakhi.

In order to punish what was considered “disobedience”, Brigadier General Reginald Dyer ordered that the crowd be shot without warning or invitation to disperse.

Jallianwala Bagh could only be left on one side as its other three sides were surrounded by buildings. After blocking the exit, Dyer ordered his troops to shoot the crowd even though they tried to flee.

That day, firing continued for 10 to 15 minutes until the ammunition ran out, killing over 1,000 people.

Why did the Amritsar massacre in Jallianwala Bagh happen?

In the brutal incident, British troops opened fire on a large peaceful crowd without warning

Many of those killed in the brutal incident were Indian nationalists who gathered to protest the British government’s forced conscription of Indian soldiers, along with the high war tax against the Indian people.

Just days before the massacre, Amritsar was placed under martial law in response to recent protests. On that day, several thousand people from neighboring villages gathered in Jallianwala Bagh without being aware of the ban on public gatherings.

A nationwide demonstration also took place in the garden, and Dyer’s troops surrounded the park, shooting and killing many innocent people.

During the investigation into the incident, Dyer admitted that he ordered the attack because of its “moral impact” on the people of Amritsar. He was later removed from his post and excluded from further assignments in India.

A century later, amid growing demand for an apology for the massacre, former UK Prime Minister Theresa May expressed “regret” at the incident, calling the “shameful scar” in British-Indian history.

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