Socialist Worker – Amritsar – A very British massacre

Hundreds killed, thousands injured and bodies piled on top of each other. Socialist Worker tells the story of one of the bloodiest crimes committed by the British Empire in India

UK, 09 April 2019. If the tide of British rule in India can be said to have turned on one day it would undoubtedly be Sunday 13 April 1919.

In the Punjabi city of Amritsar, a British officer ordered his troops to fire without warning into a peaceful gathering of unarmed Indians. Hundreds were killed in cold blood.

Britain had committed a crime so heinous that anger spread to millions of Indians who now backed calls for independence. And, as the details became clear, even much of the Westminster establishment recoiled.

General Reginald Dyer had arrived in the city in the wake of a day of protests, killing and rioting.

On 10 April soldiers shot marchers demanding an end to repression and for their leaders to be brought back from British-imposed exile.

In return buildings associated with the Empire were burned, and their staff hunted down.

Thousands filled the streets chanting, “It’s ok to loot because it’s government property,” and, “Victory to Gandhi.”

Vicious and occasionally deadly assaults on a small number of white people sent the British incandescent with rage. Hundreds of troops began arriving in the city preparing for revenge.

Their officers thought the riots were a clear signal to the rest of the Punjab to rise up.

In their minds, this rebellion was an echo of the 1857 uprising, when Indian soldiers had turned their guns on their British officers. That launched a war that swept the occupiers out of much of the north, including Delhi. British control of India had hung by a thread.


India was too big a prize to be lost. It was an enormous source of raw materials for British factories. It produced valuable commodities such as tea and spices which were sold all over the world.

And, as the British ran down India’s own industries, it also became a huge market for British-made goods.

India’s strategic location also made it vital for control of world trade routes, and British domination in Asia and beyond.

The lesson for today was clear. To save the Empire, Amritsar must be made to pay a heavy price for its defiance.

Some officers talked of bombing the centre of the city.

But Dyer, who now took command, had other ideas.

He announced a curfew and a ban on any gathering of Indians. When independence activists defied his orders by calling for a protest rally in the centre of the city the following day, the general sprang into action.

On 13 April he had fifty armed troops and two vehicle-mounted heavy machine guns prepared. On hearing the planned gathering was happening, he led his patrol into the heart of the city.

There thousands of pilgrims and families were celebrating the Sikh New Year festival of Baisakhi*, visiting the Golden Temple.

By late afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-thirties, groups of worshippers retreated to a nearby park called Jallianwala Bagh. The park was surrounded by high walls and entry was by a small number of narrow passages.

Having squeezed their way in, visitors would have seen a raised platform surrounded by a crowd and heard campaigners denouncing British rule.

The park was full with an estimated 15,000 people, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, some of who were from outside the city and knew nothing of Dyer’s ban.

The general ordered his troops to seal all the entrances to the Bagh so that no one could escape, and then instructed the rest of his force to take up position on the edge of the grounds.

Without warning, and at a range of just a few dozen meters, Dyer ordered the soldiers to open fire, directing their shots to where the crowd was most dense.

The firing lasted for more than ten minutes, with 1,650 rounds spent. Some bullets passed through their initial target only to hit others as they continued.

People ran in all directions and towards the exits where bodies simply piled onto each other as the bullets ricocheted around them.

Moulvi Gholam Jilani, a cattle inspector, described how he ran towards a wall, “and fell on a mass of dead and wounded persons. Many others fell on me.

“There was a heap of the dead and wounded over, under and all around me. I felt suffocated. I thought I was going to die. I cannot remember how I managed to extricate myself when the firing ceased. I crept out and then fled.”

At one point, Dyer turned to one of his officers and said, “Do you think they’ve had enough?” Before continuing, saying, “No, we’ll give them 4 rounds more.” So the fifty soldiers fired another 200 rounds.

One man who had been shot recalled, “After the soldiers had left, I looked around. There must have been more than a thousand corpses there. The whole place was strewn with them.

“In addition to the dead, there must have been about a thousand wounded persons lying there. Close by where I was lying, I saw a young boy, aged about 12 years, lying dead with a child of about 3 years clasped in his arms, also dead.”

Dyer was clear that the firing was not simply about enforcing his ban on meetings.

“I fired and continued to fire until the crowd dispersed and I consider this is the least amount of firing which would produce the necessary moral and widespread effect it was my duty to produce,” he said.

“It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect.”

His “moral lesson” continued after the massacre.

The army set up martial law courts for those accused of wrongdoing. Not only was there widespread torture, but there were all manner of collective punishments.

Teenage “rioters” were tied to poles in the street, and whipped until they lost consciousness, revived by water, and then whipped again. Their parents were forced to watch the spectacle.

At the place where a white woman was badly assaulted, a “crawling order” was declared.

Any Indian who wanted to pass, had to get on down on their hands and knees and crawl the length of the street while being assaulted by British soldiers’ rifle butts.

But as news of the atrocity filtered out and anger spread across India, sections of the British ruling class became fearful. They worried that, rather than drive back a ­rebellion, Dyer’s actions had encouraged one.

They commissioned an inquiry that whitewashed the establishment but lambasted Dyer alone for the shooting policy. The general was eventually ordered to resign after the British House of Commons agreed the censure.


But others in the establishment were livid at what they saw as retreat. They believed Dyer had been following the long-held military policy of using exemplary violence when dealing with “semi-civilised” peoples.

They organised a campaign in the right wing press to clear Dyer’s name and to raise funds for him, eventually collecting some £25,000, approximately £725,000 today.

It dubbed him, “The man who saved India.”

Within a year, whatever the splits among the ruling class, it was clear to all that the massacre had sparked a new wave of resistance.

Gandhi and other leaders of the Indian National Congress announced a new mass campaign of “non-cooperation” to bring independence within a year.

British goods were burned by crowds in the streets, and businesses were shut down.

Children withdrew from British schools and colleges, and all official institutions of state were boycotted.

Within the first month of the campaign about 9,000 pupils left British schools to join new “national institutions”. Trade in foreign cloth collapsed, its value reduced by around half.

In some parts of the country, class struggles fused with the movement for national liberation. It became impossible to distinguish between a meeting of peasants and that of the Non-Cooperation Movement.

It took another 27 years for India to obtain its independence. The British clung on with a deliberate policy of violence combined with divide and rule, which separated Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs into competing groups.

Today the British political class admits that Amritsar was a terrible mistake, albeit one committed by a single “rogue officer”. It offers ­mealy-mouthed apologies.

Our demand should be not for a more sincere apology for one massacre.

We need an apology for the whole British Empire, which destroyed the lives of millions of Indians and continues to blight the South Asian sub-continent today.

The real reckoning will be when we sweep away the system of imperialism upon which this horror was based.

The Independent – Muslim and Sikh volunteers help spread Christmas cheer to some of Britain’s most vulnerable people

‘People may wonder why we take time out to help when we don’t celebrate Christmas, but we enjoy doing the voluntary work we do because it is our religious obligation’

Shehab Khan

UK, 24 December 2018. As Christmas Day approaches, many people across the country will find themselves in a difficult situation and unable to celebrate with friends or family.

Several non-Christian faith-based charities from across the country will be spending their Christmas doing what they can to help those who are most vulnerable during the festive period.

Members from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA) UK will be spending Christmas Day at several residential homes across the country offering free taxi services, serving Christmas dinners and presenting festive gifts.

Nadeem Ahmed, regional youth leader for Yorkshire, explained: “It was such an honour to extend a helping hand and to bring a smile to the faces of so many people.

“We felt like a family with the people we helped and that is how they felt too. People may wonder why we take time out to help when we don’t celebrate Christmas, but we enjoy doing the voluntary work we do because it is our religious obligation.

“Islam encourages us to help alleviate hardships and respect and honour our elders.”

The Almanaar Muslim cultural heritage centre in Kensington will be opening their doors at 9 am on Christmas Day and will be offering breakfast, lunch and dinner to anyone who attends.

They have said there will be a “bakery and cereals selection” and “vegetarian and meat” options, to ensure everyone is catered for.

Randeep Singh, the global operations director from Nishkam Sikh welfare and awareness team (SWAT), a charity based in West London, will be handing out food and clothing on Christmas day.

“It will be business as usual serving humanity as we do all year round, providing a hot meal, along with non-perishables such as crisps, biscuits, chocolates, nuts and fruit,” Mr Singh said.

“We will also be giving out warm clothing, sleeping bags, gloves, hats, socks, blankets and thermals. We will also be giving out specially made hampers which have been specially made and consist of essential items you made need if you have been forced to live on the street.”

The group also held a Christmas street party for those who are homeless in London.

Clothes and food was handed out while an LED screen, a DJ, lighting, a smoke machine, a choir and a steel band entertained the guests.

But it’s not just faith-based charities doing their bit, Shasi and Pallu Patel, a devout Hindu couple who own Meet and Deep Newsagents in Twickenham, will be dressing up in festive outfits and handing out free mince pies and sweets to anyone who drops by on Christmas day.

They’ve been being opening their doors during the Christmas period for 30 years and have also promised to give anyone who wants one, a festive hug.

“If you are alone, pop in for a hug and a mince pie! You don’t have to buy anything, we are family,” they said.

542. The Man in Blue – The Sikh Manifesto

During this year’s National Sikh Convention in Wolverhampton it was decided to launch a Sikh Manifesto, just like the political parties are putting together manifestos for the 2015 General Election.

But the Sikh Manifesto is not like the manifestos that political parties publish. Our Sikh Manifesto is not a document that the Sikh Community or UK politicians have to accept in full or reject.

If you are a Sikh or a politician you can decide that you agree with one of the points of the manifesto, and campaign on that. Others might feel happy to join on two, three, four or on all the points raised.

We have been told that some of the points in the draft manifesto are controversial, like campaigning for the right of self-determination. But ‘self-determination’ is a human right. Countries that lock up people because they campaign peacefully for more autonomy or independence of their state, have no right to call themselves democratic.

The people involved in the Sikh Manifesto are ‘Sant Sipahi’ who want to fight for their rights and those of others peacefully and through working with politicians, governments and international bodies.

We have been consulting Sikhs in areas with substantial Sikh populations, asking for suggested changes in the draft manifesto, and whether we should leave out some issues or include new ones.

We also encouraged Sikhs from England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland to react via the internet (Facebook, email) in order to get opinions from all over the UK.

This Manifesto is written with the 2005 general election in mind, but some ssues can also be raised with members of the assemblies or parliaments of London, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and with members of the House of Lords and the European Parliament.

It looks likely that in 2015, just like five years ago, neither Labour nor the Conservatives will have an overall majority, and both these big parties and smaller ones like the SNP, UKIP, Lib Dems and Greens will compete strongly for every vote.

With the manifesto we can test the commitment of politicians to the Sikh community and we can advise the Sangat to vote for certain parties or for specific MPs, if they have a good track record in looking after the interests of the Sikhs or if they committed to work with Sikhs on points raised in the Sikh Manifesto.

More of us vote than people of other communities, but to make this vote count we should not blindly give our vote to one party or one candidate, but go by their record and by their commitment to the Sikh community.

If you want an ‘electronic’ copy of the Sikh Manifesto, please email me at

523. The Man in Blue – Lieutenant General (retired) Kuldip Singh Brar

As I am now in the Amsterdam Guru Nanak Gurdwara and am not rushing from one meeting to the other, I have time to write a Man in Blue Column about the ‘assault’ on Lieutenant General (retired) Kuldip Singh Brar.

In writing this I have put myself in the position of one of the accused and assumed that this person was both guilty and intelligent.

“I stand here accused of assaulting lieutenant general (retired) Kuldip Singh Brar and I admit that I am guilty and should undergo the appropriate punishment.

This statement explains why I assaulted an old man on holiday in the UK. It is not a plea for clemency, which would be unworthy for a Sikh.

In June 1984 the general was ordered by the Indira Gandhi government to attack the Harmandr Sahib complex. I do not know the specifics of his order but the explanation given at the time was that there were about 50 terrorists in the complex. Whether his orders were to eliminate these terrorists, or whether he had to try and arrest them and bring them to justice I do not know.

The known fact is that the Harmandr Sahib complex was attacked on the day when many Sikhs went there from the early morning to commemorate the martyrdom of Guru Arjan on the 30th of May 1606. The result was that at least 1000 people were killed and not just the 50 alleged terrorists.

I am willing to concede that there were not 50 but maybe up to 100 alleged terrorists in the Harmandr Sahib complex. I also understand that during an operation on this scale some civilians are bound to find themselves in the line of fire, and become what are sometimes called collateral victims.

But the general and his men killed at least one thousand people during the operation, and he was never held responsible for killing 900 innocent visitors to Harmandr Sahib on the 6th of June 1984.

The general said that he acted on orders, but if you carry out criminal orders you are a criminal yourself, as the post World War II Nurnberg trials made clear.

The general is guilty of ‘war crimes’, but he never appeared in court. The Indira Gandhi government ordered the general to commit ‘war crimes’ and did not appear in court either.

Those that were responsible for the mass killings of Sikhs at the end of October and beginning of November 1984 are still walking free, and some of these are even part of the present Indian government, which has a Sikh prime minister.

But I will be tried and receive my due punishment, as I should.

A statement like this would make headlines. But will these assaulters of the retired lieutenant general be mice or men ? Will they be ruled by anger or by wisdom ?

522.The Man in Blue – Violence in Southall

This is not a discussion about whether we should follow this ‘professor’ or that ‘kathakar, baba, pardhan, jathedar’. My subject is the fact that many Sikhs seem to be unable to discus differences in a respectful way ! Why do we have to fight over agreeing or not agreeing with Professor Sarbjit Singh Dhunda ? Why can’t there be a peaceful demonstration ?

I am inclined to the Singh Sabha way of thinking and I also try to develop my love for God and to open myself to the Love that The One keeps giving us. The Singh Sabha types usually have the right basic, more or less intellectual understanding, but are often not receptive to the ‘mystic’ side of Sikhí, which we share with the bhagats of the Bhaktí movement and with Sufi pírs like Sheikh Faríd.

There are different ways of looking at Sikhí. This can be annoying, but it is allowed. As long as people do not claim that Sikhs should believe in caste or that another Granth/Holy Book should be put at the same level as the Guru Granth, Guru leaves us a lot of freedom.

Mind you, many Sikhs ignore ‘One God – One Humanity’ or ‘Guru Granth – Guru Panth’. For reasons that I cannot understand many Sikhs value the writings of Bhai Gurdas more than the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Even in discussions on the internet we cannot agree to disagree with respect. Very soon participants in discussions get personal instead of trying to convince others using arguments.

I have in the past repeatedly written about the thugs who broke the legs of Jasvir Singh Hayes Wala and I publicly challenged those who threw stones through the windows of the Miri Piri Gurdwara because Professor Darshan Singh was inside.

Now we have similar or the same misguided ‘Sikhs’ who created mayhem and behaved in the worst possible way outside Southall Singh Sabha Gurdwara.

Everybody has the right to disagree strongly with others, be they Babé, Jathedars, Professors or whatever. They have the right to demonstrate and shout slogans to make their opinions clear to all.

But Guru taught us to use violence only as a last resort and not to act in anger or because we want to take what is not ours. Tenth Guru made peace with Rám Rai, earlier Guru’s came to an understanding with Sri Chand.

We are not only allowed, no we have to resort to violence if other means are not available to fight against injustice, against oppression. But nowhere did Guru use violence because individuals or groups had different opinions.

The breakers of legs, the throwers of stones and creators of general mayhem ignore Guru’s teachings. They deny freedom, they oppress and they commit injustice. Let us join the fight against this kind of anti-Sikh behaviour, let us try to liberate their minds from un-Sikh notions.

509.The Man in Blue – Big decisions !

Life ain’t easy ! Those that know me and those of you who read column 503 and 504, know that I want to go back to Southall.

Although Belgian Limburg is not a bad part of the world, and although I love the walking and cycling, I do miss the big sangat and the many Gurdwaré of London. I miss the big city atmosphere and all the buses, trams, undergrounds and trains. I miss meeting with people of many cultures and religions, I miss working together with people of all different backgrounds.

And in this first generation community you do not have the diversity of sangat that you have amongst the well-established Sikhs in the UK.

Two weeks ago in the Gurdwara, after the Sunday divan, I was called into the room where committee members and some others active in the community sat together. They promised me to support me financially if that was needed to keep me one more year in Sint-Truiden. This came not just from committee members but also from ordinary members of the sangat.

I am in a difficult position. I badly want to go back to the UK (see above), but here I helped start various projects in education that are not easy to leave.

I recently discovered that the two UK organisations that have been my main sources of income over the ten years that I lived in West London do have work for me, but no money to pay me. Although I think that in the UK I will be able to earn some money to top up my pension (I’ll be 65 on the 6th of May), there is the added problem of currency conversion.

I will receive three bits of pension, and two of these are in Euros. With Spain causing new unrest and the conversion rate between sterling and the Euro already down to about 80 pence this will add to the uncertainty.

Sorry to bore you with my personal financial affairs, but these are important issues. I am sure that there are many people who have lived both in the UK and in the Euro-zone and who face similar problems.

And trusting in God does not mean that one should not look at all sides of a question like the above. To cut a long story short, I have decided to stay here one more year till June 2013.

My Dutch pension will just about cover my expenses here, and if I can earn some more money doing tuition and by charging for some of the things that I have done  for free so far, I might be able to recoup part of the 8000 Euros that I spent here the last two year.

Please UK friends and relatives come and visit us here in Belgian Limburg. Eurostar still offers tickets to any Belgian station, and although the Brussels area is famous for its overcrowded motorways, driving from Calais to Sint-Truiden is not too bad.

And next year is going to be exiting as we might be able to lift the ban on the wearing of patka, turban and híjáb in secondary schools this country !

479.The Man in Blue – Southall, Middlesex, UK

In Southall are nine Gurdwaras. In Ealing, east of Southall, is another Gurdwara, Hayes, west of Southall also has a Gurdwara and south of Southall is Hounslow with two Gurdwaras. For me all in walking distance, but I walk a lot and far. But all these Gurdwaras are within easy cycle, bus or train distance from each other.

I used to live in Portland Road, off Osterley Park Road in old Southall, within ten minutes of the Park Avenue and Havelock Southall Singh Sabha Gurdwaras. Park Avenue must be one of the most popular Gurdwaras in the UK, maybe even in Europe. Havelock Road has one of the most impressive and expensive buildings. The two Gurdwaras and the Southall Sikh school are part of one organisation.

In both Singh Sabhas the end of the afternoon early evening programme is roughly as follows : 16.15 till 17.00 kirtan ending with the So Dar of the Rahras; 17.00 till 17.30 Rahras, Ardas, Vák; 17.30 till 18.30 kirtan; 18.30 till 19.30 katha, which sometimes followed by even more kirtan.

From about 17.00 till 18.30 the texts of the shabads and the vák are almost always projected on a screen in the Park Avenue Gurdwara. This makes a big difference, and not just for people like me. Even if you are a fluent Panjabi speaker projection of the text in Gurmukhí and the English translation is helpful.

Since I moved to Southall in 2008 I almost daily attended at least part of this programme and my ability to read and understand the shabads improved greatly.

We visit the Gurdwara to be in sádh sangat and together enjoy the word of God which comes to us via Gurbaní, the shabads from the Guru Granth Sahib and from other sources that are recognised by the Sikh panth.

By listening to and signing along with the shabads we are the Sikhs, the learners that Guru wants us to be. Drinking in the shabads you will get ‘high’ on God, you will feel real joy, without any hangover the next day.

For those in charge of a Gurdwara, whether it is a democratically elected group that makes collective decision and regularly reports to the sangat, or a patriarchal or dictatorial pardhán or sant-baba, this is the most important job : present the Guru’s message to the sangat in a way that it can be digested.

Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana sat under the village tree and sang the shabads that contained the light of God. In the UK in 2011 it rains too often and it gets too cold for open air kirtan. The size of the sangat makes microphones and speaker-boxes necessary and language drift and non-Panjabi audiences necessitate translations.

But the basic idea remains the same, the love of God, the emotion of God enters us most effectively by doing with Gurbaní what it was written for : sing, sing, sing ! Sing with conviction and emotion and share God’s light with the sádh sangat.

436.The Man in Blue – SRM, Redbridge, UK

The SRM about which I write this week is the Sikh Relay Marathon, which took place 29 September in Redbridge, North East of London. The route of the relay marathon is the training ground of Fauja Singh, the veteran Sikh marathon runner who is now 99 years old.

This year is the third time that I participated in the SRM, which allows both more professional runners and indifferent ones like me to take part. As I was one of the five members of our Interfaith Team I only had to do a bit more than one fifth of 42 km. The other benefit of a relay marathon is that you do not have to run the distance in one go, you do a lap, rest, do another lap and rest again etc.

I will publish pictures of the participants both on my blog and on my Flickr  account, so that everybody can see me and my colleagues and also teams like the Barking Road Runners and the Baba Fateh Singh Gatka Akhara, whose members are fitter and younger than me.

The most amazing participants are the Sikh veteran runners in their eighties and nineties, with Fauja Singh as their best known member. The veterans do not run very fast, but they go at a steady pace and keep going.

Our team of five had an Irish and a Luxemburg female member, two local male members, one of whom was a Hindu, and a tall skinny Dutchman who lives in Belgium and is a Sikh. Even the Gatka Akara has non-Sikh members. Although it is the Sikh Relay Marathon there is plenty of opportunity to talk to and to run together with people of non-Sikh background.

Every year the Mayor of Redbridge has to get up early on a Sunday morning to address the runners. His (or her) motivation to do this is that £ 1000 of the revenue of the event goes to the Mayor’s charity fund. The revenue consists of sponsor money from local businesses and Gurdwaré and the £ 20 registration fee that all but the foreign participants have to pay.

We missed the Scottish team that was present at previous events, but in spite of their absence we had an excellent time on the day, and badly aching leg muscles on the Monday.

Last year I had done a lot of walking and a bit of running as preparation, this year I had been out on my wonderful new bike a lot, walked some but did not run at all before the race. Cycling is an excellent way to keep fit, but you use quite different muscle groups on your bike than when running.

Please come and join us next year, God usually blesses us with reasonable weather and there is always good company, you contribute to community cohesion and to charity. And you’ll get a medal and a T-shirt !

428.Man in Blue – Honour Killings

jaisá bálak bhái subháí lakh aparádh kamávai |
A child, who out of a desire to please makes hundreds of thousands of mistakes,

kar upadés jhirraké bahu bhátí bahurr pithá gal lávai |
its father does teach and scold it in many ways, but will still embrace it.

pichhalé augun bakhas lé prabh ágai márag pávai |2|
Forgive my past misdeeds God, and in future keep me on Your path ||2||
Sorath, M 5, 2nd pauri, pana 624

My British readers will remember the case of Surjit Kaur, who was taken to Panjab and murdered by her in-laws. Recently here in Belgium a young woman wanted to marry somebody her parents did not like. This young man was from a ‘lower’ caste, had no job and allegedly used drugs. She was taken to Panjab and died shortly after arrival in Amritsar.

In the debate in England about Surjit Kaur some kept arguing that she was not a Gursikh and behaved badly. This I suppose made the crime understandable or excusable. In the recent Belgian case the father of the victim has been arrested, but has not yet been tried. We have no proof that he is guilty, but all known facts fit in with it being an honour killing.

Some people in the Belgian sangat argue that because the girl was disobedient to her parents they could understand why she was killed.

Obedience can never be unquestioning and respect has to be earned. If parents do not follow Guru’s teachings what should a child do ? If the parents want to marry you off according to caste, and Guru and the Rahit Maryada tell you that this is wrong, what should a child do ?

And even if your daughter has been wilful and disobedient for no good reason, even if the man she wants to marry is a lazy layabout, a drunk, a druggie or whatever, should you then kill her ?

This is where Gurmat comes in. We are taught that God is Father and Mother to us all. A Father and Mother who in spite of our mistakes or misdeeds, will hug us and receive us in Her/His house of which the doors are always open. Just read the shabad above the column.

Should we not try and follow this Godly example ? Or should we justify premeditated murder as punishment for disobedience ? The girls were taken to Panjab under some pretext and killed there. Surjit Kaur’s killers were finally convicted in the UK, due to a brave and persevering brother.

If the Belgian case is indeed an honour killing, I sincerely hope that the murderer(s) will receive their well deserved punishment. Let it be a warning to all that honour killings are not acceptable in India either !