Jaliawala Bagh massacre1919: British paid compensation Rs 1942917 to victims

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Chandigarh: British government of India had compensate the victims of Jaliawala Bagh massacre 1919. It has come in light when a freedom fighter  Mohan Singh recently moved the High Court seeking compensation for the “brutal death” of his grandfather at Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919, documents chanced upon during the digitisation of Punjab Archives show that the British had announced “liberal compensation” to the victim families of the massacre.

The 1919 massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh
The 1919 massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh

As per media reports  Even those who sustained injuries in the massacre, ordered by Colonel Reginald Dyer, were compensated. (Follow The Tribune on Facebook; and Twitter @thetribunechd) The compensation amount ranged from a few thousand rupees for some daily-wagers to Rs 1.01 lakh for the family of an Amritsar-based businessman whose annual income was calculated at Rs 9,000. The British had sanctioned Rs 15,92,155 for families of those killed and Rs 3,50,762 for those injured.

However, compensation was awarded to the families of only 218 of the total 376 documented as having been killed in official records — “principally because no claimants could be found, or if found, they refused to appear (before committee)”.

Though “liberal compensation” was announced, till February 1921, just Rs 14,150 was paid to 19 families of Amritsar city, 13 of Tarn Taran tehsil and seven of Ajnala tehsil. Voices of concern, however, eventually led to the entire compensation being paid.

These facts are recorded in four files (1920-1922) of the Home Department of the British-administrated Punjab — found by staffers of the Chandigarh-based Punjab Digital Library (PDL) during the digitisation of official documents.

“Can we even imagine that the British could have compensated the Jallianwala Bagh victims? These 300 pages offer documentary evidence about a little-known fact. Punjab’s archives have lakhs of such pages with invaluable information about our past,” says Devinder Singh, Executive Director, PDL.
Though the files are silent on what exactly led to the British ordering compensation, these do convey that the administrators were satisfied with the compensation amount ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 600 they had initially given to a handful of victim families in mid-1920. A “confidential” letter sent to the Punjab Chief Secretary by Amritsar Deputy Commissioner HD Craik on February 9, 1921, reads: “Rs 13,050 have been distributed to dependents of persons killed in Jallianwala Bagh.

So far only two wounded persons have been compensated (Rs 1,100). But a further sum of Rs 5,000 has recently been placed at my disposal for distribution to persons permanently injured.”

A February 28, 1921, communication from the Home Department to the Legal Remembrancer, Punjab, states, “Amount paid to individuals ranged from Rs 200-Rs 600 is according to the circumstances of the recipients carefully enquired into by the DC.”

However, rethinking on the compensation quantum had begun soon enough. Following a resolution moved by Jamnadass Dwarkadass in the Central Legislative Council, the Punjab Legislative Council on March 17, 1921, passed a resolution “to propose adequate compensation to the families of those killed and injured at Jallianwala and other places during the Punjab disturbances of 1919”.

On April 20, 1921, a committee was formed to assess the quantum of compensation in each case with Raja Narendra Nath, Maulvi Muharram Ali Chisti, Chaudhary Muhammad Amin (all members of the Legislative Council) and High Court lawyer Bakshi Tek Chand as its members. Commissioner, Lahore Division, A Langley, was president of the committee, which submitted its report to the Chief Secretary on December 22, 1921.

Apart from the Jallianwala incident, the committee also proposed compensation to the victims of “disturbances” in Lahore, Kasur and Gujranwala, when martial law was imposed in these cities in 1919.

A total compensation of Rs 22.66 lakh was proposed by the committee (including for the Jallianwala Bagh victims), which was disbursed by June 1922. An amount of Rs 27,560 remained undisbursed and HP Tollinton, Commissioner, Lahore Division, on September 20, 1922, wrote to the Chief Secretary that the amount be credited back to the government account.

Dr Harish Sharma, retired Professor and Head of Department of History, GNDU, Amritsar, said, “It is true that compensation was paid by the British to victim families. But I have never come across any research paper or book dealing in detail with this aspect of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. This fact has never become part of the historical narrative of the freedom struggle.”

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