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Pointless Colonial Massacres and Postcolonial War Killings on the Indian Subcontinent

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Two colonial mass killings from the twentieth century are always remembered: The Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre on April 23, 1930, in Peshawar (then India, now in Pakistan) was the result of peaceful demonstrations protesting the arrest of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who had called for a nonviolent movement of 'patience and righteousness.' Authorities nervous at the size of the crowds called in the military. The local Garhwal Rifles refused an order to fire. A special city disturbance column and four armored cars were sent for; they did not. The number of dead vary with the source ranging from 20 to 400. Whatever the figures, the incident legitimized the protest movement and creating a new Gandhi of the northwest in Ghaffar Khan.


Pakistan since independence has had insurgencies -- in the Northwest where Peshawar is located, in Baluchistan (ongoing) and, the worst of all in its eastern half in 1971 that led to the birth of Bangladesh. Estimates of casualties range from 300,000 to 3 million.


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This year is the centenary of the notorious Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in Amritsar. April 13, 1919, was the day of Baisakhi, a major Sikh festival, so people had come to the holy city from surrounding Punjab villages and gathered to listen to speakers. They were also unhappy with the deportation of independence leaders Dr. Saifuddinn Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal out of state to Dharamsala. The protesters were mostly Sikh, the leaders being deported a Muslim and a Hindu, and India then secular in the minds of the people.


Brig-General Reginald Dyer the local commander had banned all meetings. To him the crowd gathering in the Bagh was a challenge to authority. He took a contingent of Gurkha troops and proceeded forthwith to disperse what to him was an illegal assembly. It is worth noting that Nepali Gurkhas are alien to the area, speak a different language, and look more like Tibetans. The force took up positions on a raised bank at the main entrance and were ordered to fire on the unarmed crowd. People tried to flee toward the other exits and in the stampede some were trampled. Yet the firing continued for an incomprehensible ten whole minutes using up 1650 rounds and leaving hundreds dead and over a thousand wounded.

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No respite for the Sikhs despite their anti-Muslim stance during the 1947 partition. In 1984 following Indira Gandhi's assassination by a Sikh bodyguard -- itself a result of her military response killing Sikh religious zealots occupying the Amritsar Golden Temple -- riots broke out. An estimated 8000-17,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi and Haryana. The connivance of the Delhi police and the Congress party has long been suspected, and Human Rights Watch has complained of no prosecution for the killings. Ditto for the perpetrators of the Muslim pogrom in Gujarat during Narendra Modi's rule.


While the callousness of the Qissa Khwani Bazaar and Jallianwalla Bagh incidents horrifies, the number killed pales in comparison to what has happened since independence. Within months of freedom, India invaded the independent principality of Hyderabad, allied to the British since the 18th century. An estimated 200,000 people were killed and many fled to Pakistan.


It also invaded, occupied (1973) and then annexed Sikkim in 1975, a Himalayan foothill monarchy since 1642. The suppressed independence movement in neighboring Assam and the Northeast and other ongoing insurgencies across at least a quarter of India continue.

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In Kashmir, a decades-long struggle for some kind of autonomy has cost tens of thousands of lives. Estimates vary from 40 to 80 thousand. Some Indians have a conscience: Long critical of India's stance, the Booker Prize-winning novelist and peace activist Arundhati Roy has called the Modi government 'reckless' in its policy there.


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Arshad M Khan is a former Professor. Educated at King's College London, Oklahoma State University and the University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. He was elected a Fellow of the (more...)
 
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