An Eyewitness

I hold a very important place in the history of Indian freedom struggle? Most of you may have studied history or at least have some idea about it, but very few of you know the exact facts. Ninety years ago, India was fighting for her independence. I still remember that day, April 10, 1919, when Dr Satyapal (Medicine) and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew (lawyer) were arrested by British and were thrown out of the Amritsar. Both were influential leaders in Punjab and this was done in wake of the agitation against the infamous Rowlatt Act.

But as the news of their arrest spread, Amritsar came out on the streets. The deputy commissioner of Amritsar, Miles Irvin ordered firing on the crowd. Four people died and several were hurt. The brutal sight of firing made the people’s blood boil and they went on rampage. The telegraph exchange, offices and banks owned by Europeans was attacked and a few Brits were battered to death.

The commander of the area, General Dyer arrived in Amritsar on 11th night. Irvin gave the control of the city to Dyer. He gave order to impose curfew in the city, 8 pm onwards. He also banned all the meetings and processions.

The youth of Amritsar announced the meeting in defiance of the draconian orders. They chose me as the venue. It was Sunday, April 13 1919, Baisakhi day. A multitude of people gathered to celebrate the festival and to register the protest against the extraordinary measures. The people were extremely happy and were enjoying them selves, playing cards, dice and at the same time watching the proceedings of the meeting near that very famous ‘well’.

Children were enjoying the day as well. Two resolutions were passed-one called for the repeal of Rowlatt Act and the other condemned the firing on the crowd three days earlier. At 1715 hours, sound of heavy boots were heard in my compound. General Dyer arrived with his men, blocked the only exit and surrounded the area. Hans Raj, a young organiser shouted “Sit down don’t be scared government will not fire.” The people sat down. Dyer ordered firing without any prior warning to the soldiers from the 59th Rifles Frontier Force.

What happened next wounded me forever. There were screams of pain, shouts of terror and no one was spared. The excruciating sight of Indian soldiers killing their own countrymen is still confined in my heart and you can still witness the bullet marks on my body. The firing stopped only when the men ran out of the ammunition. Thousands of people lay dead or wounded in my lap. Dyer left and no medical aid was provided for the wounded. The official figures were 379 dead. But I saw over 1000 people dead. The wounded people were crying in pain for help, but no one was there because of the curfew in the city. I saw Rattan Devi, who kept a night long vigil, armed with bamboo stick to protect her husband from the jackals and vultures. On my other side, I saw three men writhing in great agony and a boy of around twelve was crying endlessly. Heaps of bodies lay there, a number of innocent children. I shall never forget that sight. I spent that night crying and watching helplessly.

The senior British officers applauded Dyer for his suppression of another “Indian Mutiny”. Little did Dyer realise that he had sounded his death knell. Gandhiji called for Non-Cooperation movement, which became a milestone in India’s freedom struggle. The incident on April 13 led many youths to join the freedom revolution. A young Sikh teenager at Khalsa orphange named Udham Singh aka Mohammad Singh Azad vowed revenge and killed Dyer on March 13, 1940 in Caxton Hall, London.

I told you the history because if you have forgotten it, spare some thought for all those who died for your freedom, but their names have got lost somewhere. Now I don’t know what importance does this day hold for you. When you celebrate Independence Day as a public holiday, then I can expect nothing from you.

Today, the national days are seen more as a holiday and worst example of this can be seen in schools and colleges where students have little time to attend the flag hoisting ceremony. The schools and colleges of the country have to keep the attendance compulsory on national occasions.

It’s sad to witness that a student comes to attend such solemn occasions due to fear of losing some marks or paying a fine. Many of you see India as a launch pad for entry to US, UK and other cash rich countries. You try to ape everything from the West, but then why don’t you ape the feeling that they carry in their hearts. You will see whole of the country out in the street celebrating their Independence Day and other days of national importance. We feel that a foreign label on our foreheads can only shows our true value to the entire world. This is really a dangerous trend. We are losing our own identity in the process. This mental survey to the western culture is making India lose its freedom once again and it’s high time that we come out of it before it is too late.

There is so much more that an individual can contribute towards the progress of our nation.

Rishabh Srivastava

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