In Amritsar, India’s holy city of the Sikh religion, British and Gurkha troops massacre at least 379 unarmed demonstrators meeting at the Jallianwala Bagh, a city park. Most of those killed were Indian nationalists meeting to protest the British government’s forced conscription of Indian soldiers and the heavy war tax imposed against the Indian people.
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A few days earlier, in reaction to a recent escalation in protests, Amritsar was placed under martial law and handed over to British Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, who banned all meetings and gatherings in the city. On April 13, the day of the Sikh Baisakhi festival, tens of thousands of people came to Amritsar from surrounding villages to attend the city’s traditional fairs. Thousands of these people, many unaware of Dyer’s recent ban on public assemblies, convened at Jallianwala Bagh, where a nationalist demonstration was being held. Dyer’s troops surrounded the park and without warning opened fire on the crowd, killing several hundred and wounding more than a thousand. Dyer, who in a subsequent investigation admitted to ordering the attack for its “moral effect” on the people of the region, had his troops continue the murderous barrage until all their artillery was exhausted. British authorities later removed him from his post.
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The massacre stirred nationalist feelings across India and had a profound effect on one of the movement’s leaders, Mohandas Gandhi. During World War I, Gandhi had actively supported the British in the hope of winning partial autonomy for India, but after the Amritsar Massacre he became convinced that India should accept nothing less than full independence. To achieve this end, Gandhi began organizing his first campaign of mass civil disobedience against Britain’s oppressive rule.