Jallianwala Bagh massacre centenary marked in Wellington

Jallianwala Bagh massacre centenary marked in Wellington

Venkat Raman

Auckland, April 24, 2019

Former Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand (Picture from Oceanic Chinese TV)

A cross-section of the Wellington community gathered at St Peter’s Church on Willis Street on Friday, April 12, 2019 to pay homage to the victims and their families of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre that was executed in Amritsar City Punjab on April 13, 1919.

The Centenary was observed all over the world to remember those killed at Jallianwala Bagh, named after the Park where it occurred and to ensure that those who died did not die in vain. The Remembrance was intended to serve as a reminder of the moral responsibility that everyone has in keeping the world safe from such atrocities occurring again and to acknowledge that whilst we forgive, we will not forget.

The massacre of March 15, 2019 in Christchurch in which 50 Muslims were killed serves as a timely reminder of human capacity to destroy as well as the capacity of human race to forgive ‘those trespass against us.’

Grant Robertson

Finance Minister Grant Robertson (Picture from Oceanic TV Chinese)

Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who spoke at the Wellington gathering, said that remembering the people who were shot dead in Jallianwala Bagh is especially important for us in New Zealand.

“It is important for us to acknowledge what happened 100 years ago. There were about 1500 casualties, may be up to a thousand people were killed in what was an unfortunate and horrendous event affecting the people of India,” he said.

Sanjiv Kohli

India’s High Commissioner Sanjiv Kohli (Picture from Oceanic TV Chinese)

India’s High Commissioner to New Zealand Sanjiv Kohli said, “Many people have died. The best lesson that we can derive from the massacre is that we stand united against the forces that attempt to divide us, forces of terror, forces of extremism and racism. That is the best tribute to we can pay to those who laid down their lives.”

Sir Anand Satyanand

Former Governor General Air Anand Satyanand spoke of three markers that place the commemoration in context.

The following is an extract from his Speech.

The first was the end of World War I in 1918 when soldiers and other servicemen and women returned to their countries to take up civilian lives. This happened in New Zealand and Australia, UK and notably in India. And because many people of Sikh background had been soldiers, there were many returned soldiers who had returned to take up their lives in Amritsar at the end of World War I hostilities.

Beginning of Nationalism

India at the time was a British Colony and a mixture, at that time, of states, princely kingdoms and people of various backgrounds and languages, all functioning as a Colony.

The beginnings of nationalism had been stirring and the colonial powers had seen fit to pass a statute called the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act 1919 which went through the Legislative Council in Delhi on 10 March. This piece of legislation, popularly known as the ‘Rowlatt Act’ or ‘Black Act,’ extended emergency measures of arrests without warrant incarceration without trial, trials without juries and preventive detention. This gave the Imperial authorities power to deal with what they termed revolutionary activities.

Many of India’s emerging national leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi were very critical of this new piece of legislation and there were demonstrations mounted in many parts of India, later in March and into April 1919.

Baisakhi Festival

The next piece of the mosaic is Baisakhi, the harvest feast acknowledged by Sikhs in mid April. It is a religious Festival characterised by prayers, processions and the raising of flags and occurs at the beginning of the solar year when people thank God for a good harvest.

It has traditionally been observed on March 12 and so, in Amritsar at the Jallianwala Bagh, there gathered many hundreds of people in order to celebrate Baisakhi.

The Massacre

The rest is, as they say, history when troops under the command and control of General Reginald Dyer, an Indian born but British officer of the Indian Army who fired rifle shots on the unarmed citizens. This has gone down in Indian history as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Hundreds of people lost their lives and a number of reactions were forthcoming with Dyer being removed from duty and being criticised for his actions. Many people say that the episode was a decisive step toward the end of British rule in India. Certainly, in the fullness of time, the country of so many different kinds of governance would become united as one country with one constitution and independence, notwithstanding having a population with as many as 16 languages and encompassing two time zones.

The Christchurch shootings

There is, may I suggest, then a thread that reaches out over a hundred years, and extends to Christchurch in our own country, where four weeks ago, on Friday, March 15, 2019, by reason of the actions of one person, 50 Muslim worshippers at Mosques, in two Christchurch locations lost their lives under gunfire and almost as many have suffered wounds and injuries requiring attention.

It is always difficult to state in a clear fashion what correct responses ought to be to such enormous and far reaching events. Much has been said and written about Jallianwala Bagh.

The best I feel I can offer in relation to Christchurch is to quote what has been said by three well known New Zealanders following the Christchurch massacre and I offer them as a statement which we can all consider positively this evening.

Opinions on reactions 

First, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, who wrote in a blog two weeks ago as follows, “In our wider communities it is important to be aware that some people need special care and attention in the aftermath of this tragedy.  It will affect us all in different ways.  How we respond will be a mark of who we are.”

Secondly, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, the Labour List MP writing in Indian Newslink on April 1, 2019, wrote, “As we stand united in grief, we must stand united in strength to fight the hate that underpinned the attack. Let us work together to ensure that our diversity is truly valued, that we are supported to maintain what makes us unique as New Zealanders – regardless of where we come from – and that we are able to participate in society in a meaningful way”.

Thirdly and lastly, Ahemad Bhamji, a well-known Auckland businessman and respected Muslim leader, speaking at a community meeting on March 23, 2019, said, “The wide range  of caring, uplifting, embracing and inclusive responses from all sections of people including the youth in New Zealand, have been truly remarkable and extraordinary. 

This finally leaves me to express the thought that there is linkage in saying that Jallianwala Bagh 1919 is as deeply in the DNA of people of Indian origin as Christchurch 2019 now is for New Zealanders. 

The challenge is that linking these two horrific events should provide our resolve to stand against violence when it occurs and to try and ensure that it will never occur again.

Among those present at the event were Wellington Mayor Justine Lester, Mr Kohli, Pakistani and Bangladeshi diplomats, Members of Parliament, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Greg O’Connor, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, and members of the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jewish and other faith.

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