University of Cambridge > > Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History > The Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, 13th April 1919: Some Thoughts on the Casualty Figures

The Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, 13th April 1919: Some Thoughts on the Casualty Figures

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The massacre launched by General Reginald Dyer in the city of Amritsar in 1919 was probably the worst atrocity in the history of the British Raj. It is credited with being the decisive influence in the tactical change of the Indian National Congress to push for full Indian independence, abandoning their previous policy of demanding Home Rule. Yet even after eighty years, the number of dead and injured remains open to very considerable doubt, and heated debate often blurred by national identities and pride, made still more complicated by Amritsar’s continuing status as a key city on the tense India/Pakistan border.

The authors of this paper – one a legal, and one a military historian – make their own attempt to come up with a probable figure of the dead, based upon both the weapons used by the troops and the stampede engendered by the attempts of the crowd to escape from the walled garden in which the attack took place. To do this they use eyewitness accounts, reports of official tribunals and a close analysis of the likely death and injury rate of the weapons used. They also explain why both the official British figure of 379 dead and c. 1000 injured, and the Indian estimates (which reach in some cases 2,000 dead and 6-7,000 injured) are unsatisfactory and should be treated with caution.

This paper is on a controversial and sensitive topic, and the authors are aware of the ethical and political issues it raises. However, they also intend to explain why it is essential that a casualty figure is reached which, if not absolutely accurate, is at least tenable, and how a failure to do so could have serious repercussions in the modern world.

This talk is part of the Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History series.

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