Today marks 100 years since the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. On Apr 13, 1919, thousands of Indians had gathered for a non-violent protest against the arrest and deportation of two nationalist leaders, Dr. Sathya Pal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. Col. Dyer and his regiment then came, blocked off the five gates to the walled park and opened fire indiscriminately. Estimates of the number killed vary, but are in the range of a few hundred to over a thousand.
Like any critical moment in the history of the Raj, there were a lot of pieces in play around the incident. I’m just going to briefly go over some of them before addressing the game design side of this.
India As A Separate Institution From Britain
The British Empire was large and anything but monolithic. The administration of India was put in place by the British Parliament, but had its own budget and its own powers separate from them once in place. At many points during the Raj, the Viceroy of India was arguably the most powerful person in the world due to the size of the Indian economy and the autonomy afforded to the Viceroy. The British PM was answerable directly to Parliament, but the Viceroy had much less in terms of checks and balances.
This position was unique also because it was in place to benefit the British people, who would ultimately determine the leadership in Britain and so in India, but was ostensibly also in place to benefit the Indian people. This idea of paternalistic management of India was key to the continuation of the Raj as it put aside the ethical questions of the colonial economy and of foreign rule in the minds of both the British and the Indians who comprised the Raj.
This separation was key to the development of Britain and to the impoverishment of India over the period of the Raj. For instance, by keeping India on the Rupee instead of the Pound and controlling the exchange rate, importing raw materials from India was kept cheap and exporting finished goods from Britain was kept dear. More directly, it was a justification, albeit an obviously flimsy one, for the Indian people paying taxes that went to benefit the British Empire without getting true enfranchisement and so a say in the rule of the British Empire.
This naturally and inevitably led to the rise of Indian nationalism and leaders of the Indian nationalist movement. There’s a wide spread of names here and a wide spread of beliefs ranging from Tilak to Gokhale to Besant to Jinnah to the Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru to the most critical of them all, Mahatma Gandhi.
World War 1
India contributed significantly to the Allied, and the British, cause in the Great War both in terms of men (about 1.3m) and in terms of material (including a loan worth about 2B pounds today). The nationalist groups of India fully supported the war effort. Gandhi even went recruiting himself for the army, a move that puzzled many due to its apparent contradiction with his pacifism. At the time, he believed fully in the idea, if not the reality, of the British Empire and also thought it would restore a strength of will to the Indian character. He said of this, “You cannot teach ahimsa to a man who cannot kill.”
This support from Indian nationalists greatly simplified the struggle of World War One for two simple reasons. The first is the aforementioned contributions and the second is the internal stability of India during the War. Had British soldiers been required to maintain order, it would have heavily taxed an already stretched army, as had happened to the Russians in the middle of the War.
Responsible Government and the Rowlatt Act
On August 20, 1917, Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu announced a program of action to include more Indians in governance, “with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India, as an integral part of the British Empire.” In the context of British constitutional history, “responsible government” meant a governing executive directly responsible to the elected representatives of the people, or self-rule as a part of the British empire.
After World War One however, India instead saw the Rowlatt Act, a draconian act that indefinitely extended the emergency powers that allowed the government to arrest people without any form of trial. On the 10th of April, 1919, two members of the Indian National Congress, Dr. Sathya Pal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew were arrested in just this manner.
The Horror of Jallianwala Bagh
Jallianwala Bagh is a walled garden of about 200 yards to a side. Thousands of people had gathered there, not only for the protest, but also on the way back from a pilgrimage to the Golden Temple and people attending the annual horse and cattle fair in the city. The Hunter Commission estimated that 10-20k people had congregated there. Dyer took no action to keep them from congregating.
An hour after the meeting was due to start, Dyer arrived with 90 troops drawn from the Gurkha, Sikh and Sind Rifle regiments armed with rifles and two armored cars with machine guns that were left outside only because they could not be fit into the Bagh. Rather than ask the crowd to disperse, Dyer had his troops block the entrances and commence firing. He explicitly ordered his troops to fire where the crowd was thickest. The troops fired for ten minutes and stopped only when the ammunition was almost exhausted. Dyer stated when called on to explain that this “was not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience.”
The INC reported over 1,500 casualties with 1,000 people killed. In addition to the people shot, people were killed in the stampede to exit the Bagh when firing started and from jumping into the well so as to escape the shooting. Additionally, the people who were wounded during the shooting could not be moved to medical care due to the curfew and many thus died. 42 boys were amongst the killed, including one only seven months old. The Hunter Commission confirmed the death of a six-week old baby.
A fact that always sticks with me from this is that after these atrocities the O’Dwyer administration imposed a 1.85 million rupee impost on the Punjab province to cover the cost of the military operation and the martial law imposed. Such is always the way of colonialism.
Cawnpore, White Womanhood and White Manhood
Jallianwala Bagh was just over 60 years after the Revolt of 1857 and the Siege of Cawnpore, but the scars from that still lingered in the British consciousness. The massacre of the British people in Kanpur when it fell never faded from British memory (although the memory of the atrocities they committed immediately upon recapturing Kanpur, including the outraging of religious beliefs, could not be forgotten any quicker). As with every other society dependent on the subjugation of a people, the othering of the Indian was key to the continuation of colonialism.
The protests in Amritsar before Jallianwala Bagh saw an English missionary, Marcella Sherwood, caught by the mob, stripped naked, beaten, kicked and left for dead. Dyer was outraged by this attack on a white woman and ordered every Indian man crossing that street to crawl on his hands and knees and the indiscriminate, public whipping of Indians, later explaining “Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu god and therefore they have to crawl in front of her, too.” Marcella Sherwood later defended Dyer, calling him the savior of Punjab. The Morning Post defended Dyer as well, saying that the massacre was necessary to “Protect the honour of European Women”.
Dyer himself never seemed to have a second thought about his actions. When asked if a peaceful resolution was possible, Dyer said “I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself.” Given the choice between his dignity in his mind and the lives of hundreds of peaceful protestors, he chose himself and seemed not to input any value at all to the lives of the Indians killed.
Churchill on Dyer
This, surprisingly, is one of the places where Churchill showed up well, believer in the Raj that he was. Despite his monumental failures in World War One, Churchill was still a loud voice in the British Parliament, showing that absolute inability to be abashed that still holds strong in British politics today.
His speech, while long-winded as always, has some strong statements in it when it gets going. My favorite bit though is this; “‘I was confronted,’ says General Dyer, ‘by a revolutionary army.’ What is the chief characteristic of an army? Surely it is that it is armed. This crowd was unarmed. These are simple tests which it is not too much to expect officers in these difficult situations to apply.”
Tagore and Kipling
Possibly the two most important writers of the British Empire had wildly different reactions to the massacre. Tagore, already a Nobel Laureate, renounced his knighthood out of horror at the act. Kipling, on the other hand, was quick to support Dyer, even setting up a purse for him. The author of The White Man’s Burden was quite the empire builder in person, a fact that always contrasts interestingly with the deep sympathy that he shows in Kim and The Jungle Book.
Brief note on aftermath
This massacre completely changed the nature of British-Indian relations. Both the incident and the lack of major consequences for Col. Dyer shook the faith of many Indians in the idea of a Raj that could work for the upliftment of Indians as well as British. From here, we saw the non-cooperation movement and its ending with Chauri Chaura, which in turn had plenty of consequences of its own. However, the incidents feel less important to me than the way it marked the end of an epoch for many. It was hard to continue to believe in a paternalist British Empire after the events of Jallianwala Bagh and the massacre was unfortunately what it took for the contradictions inherent to the Raj to become clear. Soldiers like Dyer were a part of it as much as someone like A.O. Hume.
And now, we can finally get to the Syphilisation side of this. I wanted to write out the history in large part because I feel like it’s a thing worth knowing, but it also serves to demonstrate just how convoluted the subject can be. Unforuntately, at this point, my writing hands have become quite cramped and I feel that the reader is likely similarly tired, but in that is much of my belief that a game made from this will work in a way that an essay cannot be. I’ll thus be brief from here. My belief can be distilled to the idea that giving players the space to play with the ideas and to engage with the facts of the Raj is a strong way to build a game.
Things like Jallianwala Bagh are important to the history of India, and so it has to have a large place in my game. I want people to know about this and I enjoy reading and writing about it. I feel the subject is inherently interesting and that tying the systems of a 4X to something with the real world implications of the history of the Raj will result in a game both unique and compelling.