How significant was the Amritsar Massacre?

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The Amritsar Massacre of 1919 was incredibly significant in causing deterioration in relations between the British and Indians and, in India is remembered as the ‘watershed that irrevocably put Indian nationalists on the path to independence.’ Most importantly, the Massacre caused a shift in the Indian attitudes and severely affected their tolerance of the British. There was a breakdown of trust and respect due to the brutality that occurred of the 13th April, as what was supposedly a peaceful meeting turned into a massacre of up to 1,500 casualties. The event shocked Indians nationwide and had a profound effect on one of the movement's leaders, Mohandas Gandhi who saw the massacre as ‘an insufferable wrong.’During World War I, Gandhi had actively supported the British in the hope of winning partial autonomy for India, but after the Amritsar Massacre he became convinced that India should accept nothing less than full independence. To achieve this end, Gandhi began organizing his first campaign of mass civil disobedience against Britain's oppressive rule, and his methods became far more militant. Ghandi further went on to say that ‘the present representatives of the Empire have become dishonest and unscrupulous’ with little regard for ‘Indian honour.’ This was a view shared by the majority of the Indian people and explains why the fight for independence through the expanding nationalist movement became so much stronger as it was decided ‘The British were no longer worthy of respect.’ Following on from Mutiny, Dyer’s actions towards Indians did not improve as he declared the martial law. This was aimed at ‘humiliating the Indians who lived in Amritsar’and stated that any Indian who passed Dyer or any other European had to salaam, if they failed to do so they were ‘flogged or arrested and made to suffer indignities.’This was massively embarrassing for the people of Amritsar and showed further disgrace on the part of the British, demonstrating the lack of remorse from General Dyer for his careless actions. Not only this but in a testimony Dyer admitted that he had intended to teach the people of the Punjab a lesson and that ‘there could be no question of undue severity.’ Public subscription raised thousands of pounds for him as a reward. This only served to disgust Indians even more, leading them further towards the fight for independence.

In contrast, the Amritsar Massacre also served in changing the attitudes of British people as well as having a huge impact on their influence over India. British credibility was hugely damaged by the massacre and some have suggested that the massacre marked the beginning of the end of the British rule. It massively damaged the reputation of the British, as they appear to be hypocritical, it was said that ‘never again could the British claim to be ruling India with the aim of developing civilised public values or even that they governed by the rule of law.’However, the Hunter Enquiry conducted by the British into the misconduct by General Dyer could be said to have shown a possible change in attitudes. It was said that ‘London and Delhi both condemned Dyer’s actions’ and the Hunter Enquiry could support this point as it showed acceptance of wrong doing by the British. However, it could be said the Hunter Enquiry was only conducted in order to prevent international humiliation and a further decline in their reputation as a great empire. Despite this attempt at blame, Dyer again showed little remorse and claimed afterwards that his action had made a ‘wide impression’ and had considerable undermined the morale of the ‘rebel’ movement. This statement shows how he strongly believed he had done both Brittan and India a service through the massacre and that it was a positive outcome. Many people in Britain were in agreement and believed that Dyer had saved India from another mutiny, the House of Lords even went as far as to pass a vote in thanks, naming him the ‘hero of Amritsar.’ Also in Britain, public subscription raised thousands of pounds for him as a reward. This only served to disgust Indians even more. We can very clearly see that the Amritsar Massacre ‘left a permanent scar on Indo-British relations and was the prelude to Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement of 1920–22.’

Charlotte  H. GCSE Geography tutor, GCSE History tutor, A Level Histo...

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