The 1919 Massacre at Amritsar


Amritsar ScreenshotIt was April, 1919, and India was still a part – perhaps, the most important part – of the British Empire. Mahatma Gandhi, a local freedom fighter, helped the British in the First World War. He asked Indians to fight in the British Army in Europe. Tens of thousands of Indian boys died far away from their homes and families. A million British soldiers died too. Every family lost a son or a brother or a husband. The Indians hoped that the British were going to thank them by giving them more rights. They were wrong.

On 13th April, there was an important festival of the Sikh religion in the capital of the Punjab, a state in northern India. Here was the most important Sikh temple, the Golden Temple and the Punjab was the centre of the Sikh religion. Thousands came together in a central park, men, women and children.

But this was also a dangerous time. A day or two before, angry Indians killed three Englishmen. A crowd also attacked an English woman, although other Indians saved her and got her away to safety. The head of the British Army in Amritsar, General Dyer, gave orders that people could not meet in large groups, but not everybody knew about it.

GateWhen General Dyer heard that there was a large crowd in the park, he took fifty soldiers and told them to shoot at the crowd. He did not tell them to leave the park or to go home. He just started shooting. None of the Indians had guns and many were children. Dyer told the soldiers to shoot especially at the exits. Of course, when the shooting started, people ran to the gates so that they could get out. Many women and children jumped into wells so that they could get away from the shooting. They drowned.

The shooting continued for ten minutes. It stopped when there were no more bullets. The British Army said 379 people died and many hundreds more were injured. Gandhi’s Indian National Congress said that there were one thousand dead.

General-Reginald-DyerGeneral Dyer lost his job in the Punjab and never got another one. However, when he returned to Britain, a newspaper gave him a cheque. It was for 26,000 pounds, a lot of money at that time. Thousands of readers wanted him to have the money because he did a very brave thing in Amritsar.

Dyer died in his bed years later of old age. He said that God was now going to tell him if he did right or wrong.


 This post is from our Elementary collection of non-fiction graded readers...

Image of wall at Jallianwala Bagh, Public Domain, via WIkimedia Commons