Monday, April 9, 2018

Northern Sojourn Day IV: Amritsar – Sikhism’s Holy Land

To Amritsar

From Delhi itself train was 3 hours late, it didn't try to catch up during night. Hence, we were running far behind the schedule. Cold air creeping inside through air gaps kept me awake for almost all night. Temperature was in single digits; in between, I woke up and rub my toes to keep the sensations alive. Except me, all others were wearing multiple layer of clothing to beat cold.

Finally, it was morning. I woke up from my middle berth and moved to side-lower which was empty. Nothing much was visible outside due to dense white fog. By then, train was running more than four hours late. I went back to ‘Sigma Protocol’; protagonist was still on run to avenge the death of his brother and brother’s girlfriend. After a while, I gave a break to kindle and started looking Punjab countryside. Rays of sunlight slowly started tearing the white cover of dense fog. Countryside looked greener. In between, there were multiple dry container terminals and numerous warehouses.

After a while, we started crossing one of Punjab’s biggest river - Sutlej. Sutlej is one of five rivers from which Punjab got its name. Other rivers are - Beas, Ravi, Chenab and Jehlum. Sutlej is the longest of five and easternmost tributary of Sindhu (Indus) river. India's third largest reservoir - Gobind Sagar - is in this river. As per Indus Water Treaty (IWT), waters from Sutlej along with Beas and Ravi are allocated to India (Indus, Chenab and Jhelum are allocated to Pakistan). Hardly much water was flowing through Sutlej at that point; there were large agricultural lands on banks (or I would rather say in Sutlej's dry bed). After a while we reached Beas bridge; contrary to Sutlej, water in Beas was touching both river banks.

Finally, we reached Amritsar station. Our bogie – the last one - was off the platform. We literally had to jump to ground below.

I was not planning to book a hotel room in Amritsar. However, being 4 hours late screwed all plans. After getting down at station I went outside and rented a room at S.K Residency. After taking a bath and washing some essential cloths, I set out to explore the city. My first destination was Golden temple. Due to some reason, I chose to walk from railway station to Golden Temple. Meanwhile, I also identified a highly popular restaurant in Shashtri Market for lunch.

It took a while to reach Shashtri market. Some portion of market was very crowded and other parts were practically empty. Narrow lanes passed through market; both sides of lanes were occupied by small vendors. After taking numerous turns, I finally reached restaurant. Regrettably, it was crowded and waiting for lunch there was going to cost a lot of time. So, I came out and continued towards my destination - Golden Temple. 

Sri Harmandir Sahib (aka Golden Temple)

Amritsar was named after lake founded by 4th Sikh guru ‘Guru Ram Das’ in 1574. Harmandir Sahib was designed (to build on the center of tank) by 5th Sikh guru, ‘Guru Arjan’. He also installed 'Adi Granth' inside Harmandir Sahib. ‘Akal Takht’ inside the complex was constructed by 6th guru, Guru Hargobind. In early 19th century Maharaja Ranjit Singh covered upper floors of gurudwara with 750kgs of gold.

Guru Arjan was tortured and executed by then Mughal Emperor Jahangir for his refusal to convert to Islam. After Guru Arjan's death Harmandir Sahib was not occupied by Sikh gurus for a long time. Later Guru Gobind Singh and his Khalsa Sikhs captured the temple. Harmandir Sahib was attacked multiple times in history. After each attack temple was restored by Sikhs. During 1980s Golden temple was occupied by militant groups. In 1984 then prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi, ordered military operation (Operation Blue Star) for the removal of militants. This operation damaged Akal Takt, which was later repaired by central government. In 1999 these repairs were removed and Akal Takth was rebuilt.

After keeping shoes at stand and washing hands and legs I entered the complex. One need to cover their heads before entering Harmandir Sahib. Temple was indeed a beautiful sight to see. So calm and serene. There were a lot of people, but everything was in order. I slowly walked through paved path around the temple. In between, at two-three places I touched holy pond and washed face, hands and legs. A long queue was formed for going inside the temple located at the center of pond. If I reached Amritsar on time then there would have been a lot of time to spend. Walking all the way to Golden Temple and exploring Shastri Market also took time. In addition to that, I booked an early evening train to Ludhiana. All this took standing in queue out of the equation. So, I sat at one place near pond, along with lot of families and individuals who were doing a kind of meditation. After a while, I woke up and went to Sikh museum. Museum describes major events happened to Sikh religion, including numerous instances of persecutions.

Jalianwala Bagh

Located near Harmandir Sahib, this structure witnessed one of the dark chapters of British Raj in India – massacre of defenseless innocent civilians at the hand of well-armed powerful British Army. Bagh (garden) is not a big area; walled on all sides it may be around 6-7 acres. There were 5 entrances; but most of the entrances of kept closed. Jalianwala Bagh is very close to Golden Temple.
During World War I, ‘Defence of India Act’ was passed by British. Only in name it was for defence of India. This act limited civil and political liberties. To suppress revolutionary activities (especially in Punjab and Bengal) British came up with a sedition committee (chaired by Sidney Rowlett). Based on recommendations of this committee, Rowlett Act was passed. This act limited civil liberties further. 

Numerous protests were organized against this act. Gandhi's call for protest received huge response from people; streets were overflowing. On 10th April 1919, there was a protest outside the residence of Deputy commissioner's office for releasing Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew. Both were part of Gandhi's Satyagraha movement. A military picket shot at crowd which ended up killing several people which in turn set off further violent events.

On 11 April, Miss Marcella Sherwood was attacked on streets (pulled to ground by her hair, stripped naked, beaten, kicked) and left for dead. Some locals rescued her and took her to Gobindgarh Fort. (After visiting Sherwood "on 19 April, the Raj's local commander, Colonel Dyer, issued an order requiring every Indian man using that street to crawl its length on his hands and knees").
By 13th April British Raj placed entire Punjab under martial law. 

A meeting was organized at 4.30 PM in Jalianwala Bagh to protest the arrests of Satyapal and Kitchlew. Annual Bishaki cattle fair was also going on during that time. At 2 pm British closed the fare. By 4.30 PM thousands of people were gathered at Jalianwala Bagh. 

By 5.30 PM Colonel Dyer arrived at Bagh with approx. 90 army troops. They also had armored vehicles which were not able to enter the complex due to narrow entrances. After blocking main exits and without warning, Dyer gave the order for shooting. What happened next was one of the worst massacres in the history of Raj. Military kept on firing unarmed, people from all age categories. Those people didn’t have any place to run. To escape from bullet storm may jumped in to a well. Later bodies of approx. 120 people were removed from this well. After 10 minutes firing stopped; in fact, they were running out of ammunition otherwise massacre would have been continued.

An unfortunate fact is, even if order came from a British Commander, Raj's Indian soldiers were also part of this crime against humanity. Another irony was, Jalianwala Bagh is in Punjab Province; and it was from the same Punjab British recruited heavily for fighting against Germans and Ottomans in World War I. 

21 years later in 1940 Udham Singh (who had witnessed and wounded in Jalianwala Bagh massacre) shot and killed Michael O'Dwyer (he was British LG of Punjab at the time of massacre) in London.
To add salt to the wound, Colonel Dyer was later presented with a gift of £26,000 which came from a fund set up on his behalf by the Morning Post. Families of people who were killed received a compensation of £37.10. 8 years later, in 1927, Colonel Reginald Dyer died of cerebral hemorrhage and arteriosclerosis.

I slowly entered the bagh through its only entrance - a small lane. Hardly, three people could walk side by side. It was through this lane Raj soldiers went inside, and shot numerous unarmed people. Numerous bullet holes are still preserved and one can still imagine the horror by looking across the bagh. On the left side there is a well, which was used by people to escape from bullets. However, it proved to be disastrous, they might have escaped from bullets but not from well. Jalianwala Bagh is a place which bring tears to the eyes of every Indians. 

Back to Railway Station

While going back I took a different route. Streets, near Jalianwala Bagh were beautifully decorated. It looked more like any posh happening place in western cities; after crossing that stretch it was again narrow street lanes and dull, semi-dark stone paths. After a while its Amritsar railway station.


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