Ratan Devi went to the Jallianwala Bagh looking for her husband in the dead hours of the evening in 1919 after hearing about Sir Brigadier General Reginald Dyer and his troops opening fire at the protesters in the Bagh. Searching through piles of bodies that lay scattered around her feet, she spent the longest night of her life seated by her husband's dead body with a stick in her hand as dogs attempted to feed off the massacred.
She later documented the trauma of losing her husband to the Indian National Congress (INC) Committee - an account that is now re-produced by Amandeep Singh Madra and Parmjit Singh in their book “Eyewitnesses at Amritsar- A visual history of 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.” As the Centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre approaches this month, the duo compiles accounts of 40 such witnesses from the archives of the Hunter and the INC Commissions with some images even sourced from private collections of families that have not been published anywhere before.
“Our book is a series of eyewitness accounts, of people who were there at the heart of the attacks as victims or perpetrators and how they recovered from the repercussions that followed,” said Amandeep Madra OBE.
None of these survivors or witnesses quoted in the book are alive today. However, 100 years after the massacre where the British troops opened fire at the unarmed group in Amritsar, the debate surrounding the number of victims actually killed and injured in the Bagh continues even today.
A compensation list and smuggled photographs
This book attempts to document the harrowing incidents of these families but also re-produces an extract from the original compensation list provided by the Government of India. This list includes the names of the people who were killed. But it also provides an insight into the calculations that determined the valuation of these victims based on their age and the dependents they left behind them.
“A 12-year-old Madan Mohan was the first name on the list and on reading through this compensation list, one realises that the calculations made by the British are very stark and unemotional,” said Amandeep.
But some of the 100 images re-produced in the book chronicle beyond the emotional and physical loss suffered by the relatives of these victims. One of the most shocking images for the author himself were the visuals of the “two armoured cars with machine guns” that Dyer had access to and had brought with him to the city. According to the historian, the Bagh's narrow entrance prevented Dyer from driving into the grounds and therefore, meant that he had to park his vehicle outside the Bagh.
“Had Dyer been able to drive these cars in, the carnage would have been much worse. It had taken him only 30 seconds to enter the Bagh and start shooting which meant that he had already made up his mind,” believes Amandeep.
But beyond the physical and financial loss, some photographs reveal the humiliation that followed the massacre with the imposition of martial law and the crawling order with a couple of these images being sourced from families of Army Officers who had “smuggled these images out of India and to the UK.”
“If you were in the British Army, you were not allowed to take photographs especially at a time when photography was considered as a form of war propaganda.
“What we re-produce are photographs which are captured almost secretly by Indian Army officers that are now possessed by their families,” reveals Amandeep.
Some of these images also reveal the history behind the crawling order which was issued following an attack against a white British schoolteacher and missionary during the Rowlatt protests. This attack meant that any Indian citizen, mostly the local residents who even saved her, who passed the area of the attack had to crawl on their bellies as punishment.
Today, Amandeep although born and brought up in the UK travels back to his roots in the Punjab and document his culture and heritage in his work.
'As desired in the official notification, I give below a brief account of the tragic death of my son, Madan Mohan, which occurred in the Jallianwala Bagh on the 13th April last. The delay in submitting this information is due to my absence from Amritsar to Mussoorie hills. Jallianwala Bagh is at a distance of about three minutes’ walk and is the only open place near my house which is opposite the Clock Tower. My son, Madan Mohan, aged about 13 years … along with his playmates used to visit this open square for play almost daily. On the 13th April last he went there as usual and met his tragic end, having been shot in the head which fractured his skull, he bled and died instantaneously. I with eight or nine others had to search for about half an hour till I could pick up his corpse as it was mixed up with hundreds of dead bodies lying in heaps there, who met their respective ends under circumstances well known. This is how my innocent child of innocent age was murdered by those who allege they acted in the name of justice, law and order.’ When the British authorities called for the residents of Amritsar to submit the names of relatives killed at Jallianwala Bagh, Dr Mani Ram, a dental surgeon, was among the respondents. He was eventually awarded 8,362 rupees in compensation for the loss of his son.