Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Jallianwala Massacre: Figures disputed

Indian researchers have found that many more people than what the British claimed were actually killed in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of April 13, 1919. Also, identities of 1600 more people have been established from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh who were among those killed in the First War of Independence in 1857.

The significant new findings form part of the maiden volume of National Martyrs’ Registry project, commissioned by the government to produce the first historically referenced list of national martyrs.

So far, the only work on the subject, “Who’s Who of Indian Martyrs” by P.N. Chopra, lacked authenticity due to absence of references from primary sources like judicial files and military records. Also, this 1969 work merely mentioned the name of a martyr without citing his family history, sometimes without even naming the movement he died fighting in.

Now, for the first time, experts from the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) have righted the past wrongs and published the first set in a series of works to be produced under the Martyrs’ Registry project.

This first volume, to be released in the Capital later this month, covers martyrs from the North -- Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Himachal -- who participated in the freedom struggle from 1857 to the Jallianwala tragedy of 1919. Part two of this volume will come up next and will cover the martyrs from 1920 to 1947. In the subsequent volumes, martyrs from eastern, western and southern regions will be covered.

For now, the focus is on the fully-referenced maiden volume which lists 2,500 martyrs from the states under study. The biggest accomplishment of this research is that it trashes the British claim of 381 Indians killed in the Jallianwala massacre. New findings conclude that at least 451 people were killed in the tragedy; for these 451, complete details have also been given.

“It was to escape the wrath of liberals in India and opposition parties in England that the British downplayed the Jallianwala killings. But we now have irrefutable evidence that at least 70 more people than what the British list states were killed, possibly more. Though the dispute over the list won’t end, we have, for the first time, managed to update it historically,” K.L. Tuteja, who led research on the first volume yesterday told The Tribune. New entries have been traced to records other than official.

Importantly, the All India Congress Committee list on Jallianwala tragedy claims 1100 people were killed; it, however, bears no names or references of those killed, and needs to, like the British list, stand the test of historical research. Obviously, both lists were found deficient.

Besides resolving the dispute on the Jallianwala list to an extent, the first volume on martyrs mentions 1600 never-before-heard names (mainly sources from Haryana state archives) of those who died fighting the 1857 war. Chopra’s work mentions just 1100 names from across India of those who died in the mutiny. The new work lists 1600 from four states alone, indicating the possibility of handsome additions to the old list of martyrs.

Also featured in the just-published work are over 70 Kuka martyrs from Punjab. It was the last minute decision of the ICHR to include Kukas as researchers earlier said they found no direct evidence of their participation in the freedom struggle. The move followed several representations to the ICHR by the Namdharis, including from H.S. Hanspal, member, Minority Commission. “Eventually, we found in the British records that Kukas, under Ram Singh, fought the British. Their opposition to foreign cloth and post offices also reflected their anti-British conscience. So we included them,” ICHR experts said.

Aditi Tandon, Tribune News Service, New Delhi, March 15

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