By Bhupinder Singh Bhasin
Friday Times : 28 Dec 2018
Bhupinder Singh Bhasin on a memorial in the English countryside to the 1919 massacre in Amritsar, British-ruled India
As next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, we decided to commemorate the martyrs in different way. We felt that there should be a memorial to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in the UK.
The 1919 massacre, known alternatively as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre after the Jallianwala Bagh (Garden) in the northern Indian city of Amritsar, was ordered by General R.E.H. Dyer. On Sunday the 13th of April, 1919, which happened to be ‘Baisakhi’, one of Punjab’s largest religious festivals, 50 British Indian Army soldiers, commanded by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, began shooting at an unarmed gathering of men, women, and children – without warning. Dyer marched his 50 riflemen to a raised bank and ordered them to kneel and fire. He ordered the soldiers to reload their rifles several times and they were ordered to shoot to kill. Official British Raj sources estimated the fatalities at 379, and with 1,100 wounded. Civil Surgeon Dr Williams DeeMeddy indicated that there were 1,526 casualties. However, the casualty figure quoted by the Indian National Congress was more than 1,500 – with roughly 1,000 killed.
On April 13, the holiday of Baisakhi, thousands of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh near the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. Baisakhi is a Sikh festival, commemorating the day that Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Panth in 1699, and also known as the “Birth of the Khalsa”. During this time people celebrate by congregating in religious and community fairs. On that tragic day too, there may have been a large number who were unaware of the political meeting. And so the massacre involving the killing of hundreds of unarmed, defenseless Indians by a senior British military officer, took place in the heart of Amritsar, the holiest city of the Sikhs, on a day sacred to them as the birth anniversary of the Khalsa.
Jallianwala Bagh, a garden belonging to the Jalla, derives its name from that of the owners of this piece of land in the era of Sikh rule. It was then the property the family of Sardar Himmat Singh (d. 1829), a noble in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), who originally came from the village of Jalla, now in Fatehgarh Sahib district of the Punjab. The family were collectively known as Jallhevale or simply Jallhe or Jalle, although their principal seat later became Alavarpur in Jalandhar district. The site, once a garden or garden house, was in 1919 an uneven and unoccupied space, an irregular quadrangle, indifferently walled, approximately 225 x 180 meters, which was used more as a dumping ground.
The planting of 1,650 trees will form part of the National Forest in Leicestershire
Today, Jallianwala Bagh in India is home to a memorial to those that lost their lives, but the Pothohar Association in the United Kingdom launched a project to plant a forest in the English countryside as a memorial to mark the massacre 100 years on.The 23rd of November 2018, i.e. the 549th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, marked the start of planting of the Jallianwala Grove of trees in memory of those that lost their lives during the massacre which took place at Jallianwala Bagh on the 13th of April 1919. The planting of 1,650 trees will form part of the National Forest in Leicestershire. The planting has been sponsored by the generous donors of the Pothohar Association UK.
The project is a partnership between the Pothohar Association UK and the National Forest Company, which will arrange the planting and upkeep of the trees. A mixture of Oak, Lime, Hazel and Cherry trees have been planted and these will be carefully managed so that over the long term a healthy forest will emerge.
The Pothohar Association UK was established in the 1970s in London as a cultural and social society bringing together people who had their origins in the Pothohar region in West Punjab. The Association organises lectures, cultural events and visits throughout the year.
The planting of the Jallianwala Grove will be completed by the 13th of April 2019 and there are plans to unveil a plaque at the site on this date. The Grove will be a fitting tribute and will be regularly visited by members of the Pothohar Association as well as others who would like to reflect on the massacre and its legacy.
All photos courtesy of the author.
Bhupinder Singh Bhasin lives in London. A second generation British Sikh, he is involved in interfaith dialogue and works with a number of voluntary organisations including The Interfaith Youth Trust. He tweets @BobbyBhasin