The government was determined to suppress the mass agitation. It repeatedly lathi-charged and fired upon unarmed demonstrators at Bombay, Ahmadabad, Calcutta, Delhi and other cities. Gandhiji gave a call for a mighty hartal on 6 April 1919. The people responded with unprecedented enthusiasm.
The government decided to meet the popular protest with repression, particularly in the Punjab. At this time was perpetrated one of the worst political crimes in modern history. A large but unarmed crowd had gathered on 13 April 1919.
Amritsar (in the Punjab) in the Jallianwala Bagh to protest against the arrest of their popular leaders, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal.
General Dyer, the military commander of Amritsar, decided to terrorise the people of Amritsar into complete submission. Jallianwala Bagh was a large open space which was enclosed on three sides by buildings and had only one exit.
He surrounded the Bagh (garden) with his army unit, closed the exit with his troops and then ordered his men to shoot into the trapped crowd with rifles and machine-guns.
They fired till their ammunition was exhausted. Thousands were killed and wounded. After this massacre, martial law was proclaimed throughout the Punjab and the people were submitted to the most uncivilised atrocities.
A liberal lawyer Sivaswamy Aiyer, who had received a knighthood from the government, wrote as follows on the Punjab atrocities:
The wholesale slaughter of hundreds of unarmed men of Jallianwala Bagh without giving the crowd an opportunity to disperse, the indifferences of General Dyer to the condition of hundreds of people who were wounded in the firing.
The firing of machine-guns into crowds who had dispersed and taken to their heels, the flogging of men in public, the order compelling thousands of students to walk 16 miles a day for roll-calls, the arrest and detention of 500 students and professors.
The compelling of school children of 5 to 7 to attend on parade to salute the flag the flogging of a marriage party, the censorship of mails, the closure of the Badshahi mosque for six weeks.
The arrest and detention of people without any substantial reasons the flogging of six of the biggest boys in the Islamiah school simply because they happened to be school boys and to be big boys.
The construction of an open cage for the confinement of arrested persons, the invention of novel punishments like the crawling order, the skipping order and others unknown to any system of law, civil or military, the handcuffing and roping together of persons and keeping them in open trucks for fifteen hours.
The use of aeroplanes and Lewis guns and the latest paraphernalia of scientific warfare against unarmed citizens, the taking of hostages and the confiscation and destruction of property for the purposes of securing the attendance of absentees.
The handcuffing of Hindus and Muhammedans in pairs with the object of demonstrating the consequences of Hindu-Muslim unity, the cutting of electric and water supplies from Indians’ houses, the removal of fans from Indian houses and giving them for use by Europeans.
The commandeering of all vehicles owned by Indians and giving them to Europeans for use. These are some of the many incidents of the administration of martial law, which created a reign of terror in the Punjab and have shocked the public.
A wave of horror ran through the country as the knowledge of the Punjab happenings spread. People saw, as if in a flash, the ugliness and brutality that lay behind the facade of civilisation that imperialism and foreign rule professed.
Popular shock was expressed by the great poet and humanist Rabindranath Tagore who renounced his knighthood in protest and declared:
The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part wish to stand shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of my countrymen who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.