Monday, 12 February 2018

Murderous Gen. Reginald Dyer' s final days and death - Colonial India

Delhi Durbar. Col Dyer. wikipedia. com
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Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer CB (9 October 1864 – 23 July 1927) temporary Brigadier General in the British  India Army did something unexpected which other senior British military officials would have shunned to do it. It accelerated the Indian freedom movements on one hand and on the other  it tarnished the image of oppressive British rule in India. It ultimately invited wide spread condemnation from Indian  leaders and world leaders across the globe. Indians  across India  were outraged. The leaders of the Indian National Congress, who had  agreed to work with the British on constitutional reform, now, under Gandhi's leadership opted for civil disobedience. The British government, in the wake of this worst massacre, lost the trust of the Indian freedom fighters.
Amritsar massacre April 1919, storyboardthat.com
 Reginald Dyer was solely responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar (in the province of Punjab) on 13 April 1909.  Considered "The Butcher of Amritsar, whose premeditated  firing  without warning on a crowd of 20,000 people resulted in the death more than 1000 people, including women and children (official figure by the British was far less). The unexpected British India officials gagged the media  and in England the public got the distorted version that led to the killing. 

Upon his return to Britain in 1920, the Dyers had lived in a dairy farm  near Ashton Keynes in Wiltshire with their son Geoff and had a few friends and travzeled a little.  Because of the censor on his return to Britain his action - the murderous one, was applauded by well-known British people.  It wasn’t just the House of Lords that called Dyer a hero, the unfortunate fact was the famous author  and jungle story writer Rudyard Kipling was in full praise of Dyer. The Hunter Commission (headed by Lord Hunter) came down heavily on Dyer, but  was not highly critical of of him, It held back from outright censure. On the morning of July 8, 1920,  the debate opened in the House of Commons where Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War called Dyer’s actions “monstrous”.

Following the debate, a section of unscrupulous British people who had connection with the British Raj, a group of British ladies and a local conservative Newspaper Morning Post formed a Trust to collect funds  to be awarded to Dyer  for his killing spree in the Bagh (in April,1919) in retaliation  against the Indians  who  severely assaulted  a British woman associated with a mission school in Amritsar.  People from all walks of life, including clergy, the Duke of Westminster and others made contributions.  For the British newspaper it provided an opportunity to increase its popularity. If their  publicity bonanza went well, it would improve their circulation; purely it was a self-centered motive.

When the real picture of the Punjab tragedy leaked out of India by some honest British journalists with gory details, the public and the politicians were appalled by the enormity of the crime committed under Dyer's command  with blessing from Michael O'Dwyer, Governor of Punjab. Dyer was highly criticized in India and across the globe. The Punjab tragedy triggered the downhill fall of the British rule in India with the death bell having been tolled by Gen. Reginald Dyer and his cronies. It put the freedom movement at a fast mode.

Dyer never for once doubted his actions right from the day of his role in the Bagh and  always maintained his “intention to fire if necessary”.  Yet, he changed his version of the story several times. He was not remorseful and stuck to his gun by saying he did his duty as a soldier to save the British Empire from the fall (meaning repeat of 1857 mass Indian rebellion). In the House of Lords, the debate went in favor of Dyer, pointing out that in the face of a rebellious crowd (meaning the rioting occurred a few days prior to the tragedy) Dyer had merely done his job and suggested that he should be honored by the  Government rather than compulsorily retired. 

Dyer's last days.Sommerset Cottage,deccanchronicle.com
This time Dyer and his family  quietly moved into their new home at  Somerset  after a careful search. They wanted to be away from scoop-hungry media, because the debates in parliament, a raging court case and the media-led fund raising campaign had affected their privacy. Dyer and Annie, his wife, had been hounded  since the tragedy at the Bagh six years ago  Already a  broken man with no peace of mind  Dyer was dogged by ill health, severe criticism after Hunter Commission's report, loss of a comfortable job with perks.
Abhinav Agarwal
Dyer’s biographer Nigel Colette  says, “Dyer used the word ‘horrible’ many times. He told the Hunter Committee that it was ‘a horrible act and it took a lot of doing.  After the massacre, Dyer doubted  his own action and expected severe criticism from his superiors.  Upon knowing his superiors' support  he felt secure to face the Hunter Commission with courage. 

On the question of cash award, the Dyers refused to accept ii (28,000.00 pounds) proposed  by the newspaper at a public function.  Annie  might have thought it was detrimental to his mental well-being and it was too early to accept it.  Dyer  spent the last days in the Somerset cottage. Now, diagnosed with a heart disease "arteriosclerosis", any bout of excitement or slight provocation meant it would lead to stroke or, perhaps, hear-attack.  Dyer spent his last days quietly away from public scrutiny. One would see him sitting out in the garden.  A stroke earlier had left him speechless. His self-doubt stayed with him till the end -  July 23, 1927.  The man who erased the precious lives of more than 1000 Indians in a matter of 15  minutes took rest in the Church graveyard after a painful life in the last phase of his life.
Dyer church courtyard: All Saint's churchyard deccanchronicle.com

 Dyer had two funerals - one was held at his Parish church -  All Saint's Church in Long Ashton,  less than a mile from his cottage.  The second being a military funeral held  at St Martin's-in the-Fields in London. Soon after this funeral service, his body was cremated in Golders Green in London. Earlier, his body lay in the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks and was taken in procession through London to a grand funeral service at St Martin-in-the-Fields (probably with the connivance of the reactionary Home Secretary Sir William Johnson-Hicks).

Dyer's military funeral at St Martin's,London. deccanchronicle.com
Cameron cartoon.ushalbhattacharya.wordpress.com
Dyer's biographer Colette says, “There was no memorial stone made to Dyer and no known resting place for his ashes. Annie destroyed all his papers. She was careful not to leave anything behind. The great-grandchildren today hardly have any effects or photographs or any living memory of Reginald Dyer. Annie wanted the memory to be gradually forgotten. 
Edwin Montague, the Secretary of State for India denied Dyer's honorary rank of Brigadier-General. though Churchill was against that move. Montague knew well this would further cause uproar among the already angered Indian political leaders across the continent. So,Dyer remained just a Colonel for the rest of his life. As of to-day the British government has not apologized to the Indian people for their past lapses during the tragic  event  at the Bagh in 1919. Their long silence  shows their lack of moral turpitude and scant respect for the innocent people who died in pain for no reason whatsoever. In this regard, the Britain's face remains soiled, particularly the the proposal to award Dyer with a cheque (28,000. 00 pounds). This nauseating incident  was amounted to rubbing the salt on the wounded Indian leaders and the natives in the later years. A simple apology or sorry will suffice.

https://www.deccanchronicle.com/sunday-chronicle/cover-story/100416/the-last-days-of-reginald-dyer.html

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/books/a-family-man-whose-bloody-disposition-sent-the-british-into-a-spin/201603.article
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