The Jallianwala Bagh is a seven acre garden surrounded by 10 feet walls with five narrow entrances with locked gates. Balconies of houses three to four stories tall overlook the Bagh. A water-well stands at the centre of the garden. At mid-afternoon on Sunday, 13th April 1919 Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus having earlier visited the Golden Temple were passing through the Bagh on their way home. It was the festival of Baisakhi. But large assemblies were a breach of the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919. This Act was passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in Delhi on 10th March 1919 and indefinitely extended the emergency measures of preventive indefinite detention, incarceration without trial and judicial review. It foreshadowed the Patriot Act.
The ensuing ban by Colonel Dyer in Amritsar on all assemblies was not widely disseminated and he arrived at the Bagh with troops. They entered the garden. Blocking the main gate they took up positions on a raised bank. On his orders they fired for ten minutes, directing their weapons towards the open gates through which people were trying to flee until the ammunition was exhausted and every gun fell silent with white smoke. The ineffective inquiry and the initial accolades for Dyer by the House of Lords fuelled rage and sowed the seeds of Satyagraha led by Mahatma Gandhi.
But the prologue to this atrocity was in Trinidad. The Indian Festivals Ordinance of 1882 empowered Governor Sir Sanford Freeling to regulate Indian celebrations. On 30th July 1884, he proclaimed a regulation prohibiting Hosay processions from the high roads of the colony, thus preventing the Naparima celebrations from entering San Fernando and permitting Tajahs only on the estates where the bamboo, tinsel and cloth tombs can be drowned in ponds and rivers.
A week before the festival, a clandestine meeting was convened at night in the St. Clement’s churchyard cemetery near Ste. Madeline. At Ste. Madeline, managers destroyed tajahs under construction which caused the immigrants to flee to the Golconda estate. At Diamond, Paul Vessiny, an old experienced French Creole, took upon his own purse the expense of the tajah and entire Hosay celebration provided that the labourers remain on the estate and not engage in a street procession.
The Palmiste and Wellington estates locked their gates to prevent outsiders from inciting dissent. Colonial Secretary John Scott Bushe declined a request to repeal the Ordinance. Inspector General of the Constabulary, Capt. Arthur Wybrow Baker was placed on high alert. During the Cannboulay Riots in Port-of-Spain in 1882, Baker’s officers were severely beaten by rioters. When unrest among the Indians began he was better prepared. His men were armed with Enfield Carbines loaded with 20 rounds of buckshot each. They were the preferred firearms for intense and fatal impact across a short distance.
An entry strategy into San Fernando was devised. Capt. Baker and 50 armed police were sent by train to San Fernando and were quartered at the Drill Hall in Paradise Pasture. A Royal Navy warship, the H.M.S Dido landed reinforcements. Additional reserves waited aboard to be signalled by flags if needed which were to be hoisted from the tower of the San Fernando Courthouse and Constabulary on Harris Promenade. Stipendiary Magistrate Arthur Child was empowered to read the Riot Act if necessary. At Mon Repos, Capt. Baker and Justice of the Peace, Edghill Johnstone saw the tassa drumming worshipers and their tinsel tombs approaching. Johnstone read the Riot Act and firing commenced. Sgt. Giblan and 10 men were dispatched to Guaracara Bridge in Marabella where the worshipers from Concord and Plaisance Estates sensed trouble and threw their tajahs into the Guaracara River and dispersed. Drs. Knox, Eakin and Knaggs loaded the dead and the wounded onto carts. The martyrs were hastily buried in a mass grave. The San Fernando Central Market now stands on their Holy Rauza. Just as the Red House sits majestically upon the blessed funerary of the Amerindian First Peoples. BREXIT has rekindled in recent days a yearning to return to the British Raj as an alternative to the EU. The majority of the working class voted for BREXIT. Many remain voters have seen this as a sign of inherent xenophobia. Others claim that the vote was in opposition to further net migration.
On 3rd April 2019 Home Secretary Sajid Javid, announced that the government will pay up to £200m in compensation to people whose lives were damaged by the Home Office’s mistaken classification of long-term British residents as illegal. The treatment of the Windrush Generation has triggered immigration reforms and compensation to those affected by hostile environment policies. Payments will not be restricted to people from the Caribbean but made to anyone who has been in the UK since 1988 and as a result of being wrongly classified as an illegal immigrant and thereby losing the right to employment, access to healthcare and the opportunity to rent property.
Relatives of persons who had died before the Home Office’s mistakes were exposed are eligible to apply. Of the 164 people who were wrongly detained or removed from the UK, 19 died before officials could apologize and 27 could not be traced. This is the dawn of an unromanticized version of colonial history, a post-BREXIT cautionary tale and a footnote on managing migrants from Caracas.