Amritsar Massacre, Memory, misguided religious Nationalism, and recent Homicides in India
By Kevin Stoda, just back from a tour of India
This year I finally pilgrimaged to an important place of mourning in India. (Sadly, if one is reading the papers about bombings in Gujarat this week, more mourning is certainly anticipated.)
I had traveled to India in order to stay at a hotel overlooking the grounds where the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, also known as the Amritsar Massacre, had taken place on April 13, 1919.
If anyone has seen Richard Attenborough's classis film, Gandhi, they know the unforgettable depiction of one scene whereby a British brigidier general, named Reginald Dyer had entered a small enclosed park of sorts, whereby thousands of Punjabis were protesting a recent crackdown on civil rights in India under the British Raj. In the Attenborough movie, the Amritsar massacre is revealed in all its criminality. A multicultural group of Indians of many faiths & with no weapons in hand are gunned down in a relentless barrage. In fact, within minutes there were about 400 deaths and more than a thousand others injured. http://www.thecore.nus.edu.sg/post/india/history/colonial/massacre.html The victims had been ordered to disband.
However, the brigidier general Dyer decided not to wait for a reply. He sent bullets flying.
This point needs to be made very clear--apparently all of those victims in that 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre were unarmed!
In the film, Gandhi is seen crying for these people at a well in the ancient garden called Jallianwala Bagh. Dozens died jumping away from fire into a well in Jallianwala Bagh Massacre This martrys' well, where so many died, is still in Jallianwala Bagh where a memorial park and small museum of commemoration are found.
Daily a flame is also lit in the Jallianwala Bagh park. It was at this memorial flame on the first of my three or four visits to Jallianwala Bagh that I experienced the ugly underside of Hindhu nationalism at a fairly personal level.
At the time, two Sikhs were showing me around the Jallianwala Bagh park. Earlier, I had shared with these Sikhs that the main reason for my traveling to Amritsar was to do a pilgrimage to the site of this very memorable event in the history of Indian Independence and the life of my hero, Gandhi.
I told my Sikh friends that I could see the "eternal flame" from my bedroom window. So, for the second time that afternoon, I approached the commemorative flame to point to my bedroom window, beyond a far tree. Suddenly, five turbaned men came up and informed me, "Take off your shoes in this area."-
It isn't unusual in India at temples and at some other venues to be asked to take off one's shoes, but almost always there is a sign posted to that effect. I looked around and observed no sign. I recalled also, "No one had been taking his or her shoes off on the marbled area around that commemorative flame when I had come by earlier."
The two young Sikhs with me also argued with those 5 turbaned Hindhus who had appointed themselves the local (national) memorial police that particular half-hour.
As my Sikh friends argued with the Hindhus who were dressed to look particularly pious that afternoon, I walked back to the marbled area around the flame, and shouted to my Sikh friends--as I pointed to my own bedroom window at the hotel,"That is where I stay!"
Immediately, those very tall Hindhus all turned toward me and pulled me away from that particular part of the memorial and indicated angrily that they didn't want any foreigners--or anyone of any faith--desecrating the hallowed area near the "eternal flame."