Troops from the British Indian Army committed the Amritsar Massacre when they opened fire on nonviolent protesters and pilgrims at Jallianwala Bagh.
The First World War had seen the introduction of a series of emergency powers by the ruling British government that sought to suppress the emerging Indian nationalist movement. The Rowlett Act that came into effect in March 1919 extended these powers and was greeted with significant political unrest, especially in the Punjab region. On 10 April violence erupted in Amritsar and troops killed several nationalist protesters while the crowd killed at least five Europeans. The following day they beat a female English missionary.
In response to the volatile situation, the British government placed Amritsar under martial law and passed control to Brigadier General Reginald Dyer. Dyer immediately banned gatherings of more than four people, although it is likely that many Punjabis from outside the city were unaware of the ban when they arrived at Amritsar for the annual Baisakhi celebrations on 13 April. An estimated ten thousand people gathered at Jallianwalla Bagh, a large walled park in the city, although it is unclear how many were there to celebrate the festival and how many were nationalist protesters attending a demonstration.
Dyer arrived at the Bagh with armed soldiers in the late afternoon and blocked the exits. Without warning, he then gave the order for his troops to open fire in an attack that only stopped after most of the ammunition had been used. According to the British inquiry 379 people were killed, although Indian estimates place the figure at more than a thousand. Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State for War at the time, condemned the attack as ‘monstrous’.