Few incidents in the British rule of India have given rise to more acute controversy than Dyer's drastic action at Amritsar on April 13th, 1919.
Shortly after half past four on the afternoon of April 13th, 1919, a detachment of 75 troops - 50 of them armed with rifles – marched into the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, where a prohibited meeting was in progress. At the command of the British officer in charge, Brigadier-General R. E. H. Dyer, and without any warning to the crowd, the riflemen opened fire and continued to do so for ten minutes, each man expending 33 rounds. Before their ammunition was exhausted, and while part of the milling crowd remained undispersed, the cease-fire was given and the detachment marched out the way it had come. Of a crowd, later estimated as between fifteen and twenty thousand, 379 people were killed and about a thousand wounded.
After an interval of several months, frenzied controversy arose over the Amritsar incident both in India and at home. The 'massacre' was seized on by Indian champions of Home Rule, as the perfect symbol of the wickedness of the Raj, and at home, with less clear-cut motives, by critics of Lloyd George's Coalition Government. Dyer, too, found his champions, some of whom took the view that he was not just a soldier carrying out a very unpleasant duty, but a hero whose timely action had averted a second and more terrible Mutiny. At first the latter reaction seemed to triumph: Dyer's conduct received official approval, and his military reputation was apparently enhanced. Then reaction and personal disgrace speedily followed. Dyer was brusquely deprived of his command and sent home. Though he was not dismissed from the service, increasing ill-health failed to conceal the fact that he would never again be employed by his country.
Amritsar is still an emotive word, and had far-reaching effects in two directions. First, Dyer's fate raised arguments among Army officers on the issues of responsibility for using force to restore civil order and the reliability of government promises of support. Secondly, it encouraged the leaders of the Indian Home Rule movement to exploit British scrupulousness and veneration for fair play.
Why did a high-ranking and extremely competent British officer act in this apparently callous way? And why was his conduct at first supported and then denounced by the British Government and the Government of India?
The conclusion of the war in Europe brought not peace but increased unrest in India. The war-time Home Rule Movement was encouraged by British sympathizers like Mrs. Besant, and by Edwin Montagu, whose criticisms of the Indian administration, before he became Secretary of State for India in 1917, and his Declaration of that year seemed to promise speedy progress towards self-government. The clamour for self-determination – in which clearly only a tiny minority were positively concerned – gained further impetus from the principles lauded at Versailles, and from the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms which were under discussion in 1918. A more general feeling was that India's wartime sacrifices in material and manpower, and the consequent rise in the cost of living, had earned her the right to tangible political concessions.
In such an explosive atmosphere, with a few mob orators already proclaiming that the British Raj was passing away, little more than a pretext was required to spark off a general rebellion. The spark was supplied by a Bill introduced early in 1919 to prolong the Government of India's emergency powers, when the Defence of India Act expired six months after the end of the War. The Rowlatt Act, though considerably milder than the Defence of India Act, was interpreted as a sign that force, and not concession, was to be the keynote of British policy. Opposition to the Rowlatt Act now clarified the role of Gandhi as a national leader. During the War he had pursued an equivocal path, giving his support to the recruiting campaign for the British Empire in the belief that 'unconditional co-operation would produce confidence and political progress.' In 1918 he began to demand Home Rule; and, on February 24th, 1919, he launched the Satyagraha mass movement of passive disobedience, which soon exceeded the moderate law-abiding aims of its leader. On March 30th, Delhi, the capital, got completely out of order; and, within a week, local disturbances had culminated in open rebellion, which rapidly spread throughout the Punjab. Gandhi's arrest in Delhi, on April 9th, was only the signal for further disorders.
The Punjab became the centre of the 1919 rebellion; and, within the Punjab, several causes combined to make Amritsar the outstanding trouble spot. A city of some 150,000 inhabitants, Amritsar was a key rail and trade centre. Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus were all strongly represented in the city; and a sure sign of impending trouble was a huge meeting in the Jallianwala Bagh on April 5th, at which Moslems and Hindus demonstrated their solidarity against the British by drinking from the same water vessels – a grave breach of caste. Most important of all, in the light of what followed, was the additional prestige acquired by local Congress leaders from the fact that the All-India Congress Party was scheduled to meet at Amritsar later in the year. Of these local agitators, two were outstanding: Dr. Kitchlew, a Kashmiri Mohammeqan barrister who had taken his degree at a German University, and Dr. Satya Pal, a Hindu assistant surgeon. Ignoring an order not to speak in public, these two played a leading part in organizing a hartal, or strike, in Amritsar for Sunday, April 6th.
Two closely connected events were to lead to rioting and bloodshed in Amritsar on April 10th. First, on April 8th, in face of increasingly ominous public meetings, the Deputy-Commissioner, Miles Irving, requested military reinforcements from the Punjab Government in Lahore, about 25 miles to the west. At that time, the garrison consisted of only a company of the Somerset Light Infantry and a detachment of mounted men from the Royal Field Artillery – about 230 troops in all. Irving's second act – an injudicious one – was the secret arrest of Kitchlew and Satya Pal on the morning of April 10th, in obedience to instructions from Lahore. Considering that reinforcements had not yet arrived, and that the only forces of order within the city were an armed Indian police reserve of 75 men and 100 unarmed constables, it was asking for trouble to deprive the mob of its leaders. 'It was like poking a stick into a wasps' nest before taking steps to stupefy the insects.'
As soon as news of the arrests reached the city, an angry, though unarmed, crowd surged towards the railway. Held up by a small picket at the railway crossing, the crowd began to throw stones. After showing great calm and forbearance, the British and Indian troops and police were forced to fire to prevent the civil lines from being rushed. Two short bursts of firing resulted in 20 casualties. Meanwhile, another mob had taken charge within the city; and the native police, though right at the centre of the rioting, remained almost completely passive. The inspiration of the mob was clearly hatred of Europeans, few of whom fortunately could be found. But three bank officials were beaten to death in their offices and their bodies burnt in the street; two other officials were brutally murdered near the goods yard; and one elderly female missionary was knocked off her bicycle, repeatedly beaten to the ground and left for dead in the gutter. All buildings connected with the British were destroyed or damaged; and telephone and telegraph communications were systematically cut.
By nightfall on the 10th, the expected reinforcements and a windfall of 260 Gurkhas had arrived. The European sector was relieved from the likelihood of attack; but the city remained at the mercy of the mob. The Commissioner of the Division decided that the situation had passed beyond civil control: it was the Army's responsibility to restore order. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, commander of the neighbouring Jullundur Brigade, and responsible for a disaffected area the size of Yorkshire, arrived in Amritsar at nine o'clock on the evening of April 11th and took control. He reorganized the pickets, entered the city the same evening to confer with the Indian Chief of Police, and issued an order forbidding all gatherings and processions. The order stated unequivocally that 'all gatherings will be fired on.' Compared with the previous day, the city was ominously quiet – 'like a hive of bees which had swarmed once and was ready to swarm again.' What was the background and character of the officer whose task was to restore order in Amritsar with less than twelve hundred miscellaneous British and native troops?
The Dyers were an old Devonshire family; but Reginald's father, Edward, had settled in India, just before the Mutiny, and had made a fortune by brewing beer for the Europeans in the Hill stations. Reginald was born in October 1864, the sixth child of the family and the youngest son. After showing brief interest in a medical career, Dyer proceeded to Sandhurst and in 1887 entered the Indian Army. He was an intelligent and keen regimental officer, whose professional zeal is exemplified by the years he spent in trying to perfect a mechanical range-finder for infantry use. He had always been good at mathematics and was also a gifted linguist, speaking fluent Persian, Punjabi and several other Indian dialects. He attained the elusive prize of entry to the Staff College in 1896 – a brilliant year, whose alumni included Haig and Allenby - and passed out successfully, though regarded as unsociable and 'very queer,' by some of his contemporaries. Achieving his majority in 1903, Dyer for several years held staff appointments concerned with the education of Indian Army officers. In 1916 he was promoted Brigadier-General to command military operations in South East Persia. After a successful campaign, he was rewarded late in 1916 with command of the great Punjabi training centre of Jullundur; and this post he still held in 1919. In short, Dyer's long military career provides no sinister indications of latent irresponsibility or a liking for bloodshed. Happily married, popular with his colleagues and men and above average in military efficiency Reginald Dyer was certainly not the monster soon to be portrayed by Indian propagandists.
In a post-imperial era, it is extremely difficult to conjure up the atmosphere that surrounded the British Raj in the critical years following the First World War. One fact that emerges from a study of Dyer's life is that the 'group consciousness' of the Mutiny still powerfully influenced his thinking - his parents had lived through the Mutiny, though in comparative safety in the Hills - and was manifest in the profound concern he frequently voiced for the security of European women and children in India. More immediately, Dyer had only returned on April 6th with his family from Delhi, where he had witnessed several unpleasant incidents.
On April 12th, his first day in Amritsar, Dyer took prompt action. He had the city reconnoitred from the air, and also marched through it in person with all available troops and two armoured cars. Although the crowds greeted the procession with insults, and, in somecases, refused to disperse, no action was taken beyond the arrest of two ring-leaders. Firing would have been strictly within his rights; but Dyer judged that the people had not yet had fair warning. He clung to the hope that, if his restrictions were sufficiently ruthless and widely broadcast, they would deter any further meetings and so obviate the need to use force. With deterrence in mind, therefore, General Dyer again led a procession through the city on the morning of April 13th, and issued his proclamation at nineteen prominent places with drums beating and a maximum of ceremony; The proclamation - to the effect that the people would be held responsible for all damage to property and, if they assembled, would be dispersed by force of arms - was read out and explained several times in both Urdu and Punjabi.
The crowds were not impressed. They laughed and jeered at the column, held a mock procession beating a kerosene tin, and, most provocatively, declared that the British would not dare to open fire. At about one o'clock General Dyer heard that a meeting was to be held in defiance of his proclamation at the Jallianwala Bagh at half past four that afternoon. So far as is known, Dyer did not seek advice during the next three hours. Although his rank and the situation made any such discussion technically unnecessary, it would be interesting to learn how much he had discovered about the Bagh, for it was not one of the points visited during the morning's march. What does need explaining is why, during the afternoon, no attempt was made to prevent the rebels from assembling. Here Dyer's subsequent self-defence seems convincing. The rebel leaders - and six of the eight speakers, who addressed the crowd before his arrival, were later convicted of taking a leading part in rebellion during the previous days - had played into his hands by meeting in a position where they could be crushed once and for all, and not merely dispersed to gain in confidence.
At four o'clock, hearing that a crowd had already assembled, Dyer set out with his staff officer Captain Briggs, in a motor car followed by two armoured cars and a force of Sepoys, from which pickets were detached along the route. Passing through a maze of narrow streets, the detachment finally reached the entrance to the Bagh, which was so narrow that the armoured cars had to be left behind. The General emerged on to a raised platform and saw a huge, densely packed crowd listening to an orator about a hundred yards away. Considering that the nature of the Bagh was crucial to an understanding of the 'massacre,' contemporary descriptions differ surprisingly on certain important details. The word 'Bagh' usually denotes a garden; but this was a mere dusty open space, about 200 yards long, with houses on all sides, according to the report of the Punjab Government. The whole area was about four feet below ground level, with fairly steep sides. Accounts differ also on the vital question of exits; but, again according to the Punjab Government, there were three or four narrow passages; 'and in places the boundary walls are low enough for a man to climb over without difficulty.'
When firing commenced, the crowd, which was armed only with lathis, or metal-tipped sticks, surged first to one end corner and then the other. Captain Briggs for a moment feared the crowd was massing for an overwhelming rush; and Dyer therefore directed firing to the densest part of the crowd. There can be little doubt that, in this idea, he was tragically mistaken - the terrified rabble thought only of escape; but Dyer's belief at the time was relevant to his later self-justification. Moreover, since the firing was several times re-directed, and ceased to order before ammunition had been exhausted, the argument that Dyer let the firing get out of hand is untenable.
Whether Dyer had observed the principle of using the minimum amount of force necessary was to be bitterly disputed; but the immediate effect of his action was certainly to pacify Amritsar. Though the city remained under martial law, there were no further serious disorders, and ordinary life was soon resumed. Within a few days of the incident, a deputation of merchants and shopkeepers thanked the General for preventing an orgy of destruction and looting. Most impressive of many tokens of gratitude, 'his pacification of the district earned for him from the Guardians of the Golden Temple (the central shrine of the Sikh faith) the signal honour of investiture in that temple as a Sikh.'
The first news of the Jallianwala Bagh incident, a verbal message, reached the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Michael O'Dwyer, in the early hours of April 14th. Initially, O'Dwyer withheld official approval, because he was given the false impression that only British troops had been used, Indian troops having refused to fire. Later in the day, Dyer's full written report reached the Divisional Commander, General William Beynon, who approved it and passed it on to O'Dwyer. By April 16th Dyer had received the following message from Beynon: 'Your action correct and Lieutenant-Governor approves.'
Nor did Dyer's civil and military chiefs in the Punjab merely approve his action as regards Amritsar alone; both men, at the time and on later occasions, argued that the severity shown at the Bagh had prompt and far-reaching effects, and that these must be taken into account in judging the rightness or wrongness of Dyer's decision. In his autobiography India As I Knew It, O'Dwyer remarks:
My own view... was that not only did Dyer's action kill the rebellion at Amritsar, but as the news got around, would prevent its spreading elsewhere. As a matter of fact, after the 18th, by which time the news had penetrated over the Province, it was not necessary to fire another shot.
General Beynon told the Committee of Inquiry in 1919 that Dyer's 'strong measure' had 'prevented any further trouble in the Lahore Divisional area.'
In Britain, Edwin Montagu avoided specific mention of the Jallianwala Bagh; but, in a Parliamentary speech on May 22nd, he described the events in North India in April as 'rebellion and revolution,' and implied that the soldiers would be supported, thus underlining the promise of 'full countenance and support ' already given by the Government of India to the Punjab authorities. Yet, at the same time, Montagu's pro-Indian sentiments were evident in his description of Gandhi as 'a man of the highest motives and finest character.'
Throughout the summer of 1919, Dyer continued to receive indications of support from the authorities in India. Perhaps the clearest of these indications came on September 19th, 1919, when the Adjutant-General of India, Sir Henry Havelock Hudson, gave the Legislative Council of India a full account of the rebellion in Amritsar and completely exonerated General Dyer. Stressing that only the officer on the spot could be in a position to judge how much force was required, he called attention to the impossible situation local commanders were placed in, where moderation was later labelled weakness, while severity was equated with coldblooded murder. 'When a rebellion has been started against the Government,' he concluded, ' it is tantamount to a declaration of war. War cannot be conducted in accordance with standards of humanity to which we are accustomed in peace.' Yet already, while Dyer's star was still apparently in the ascendant, political forces were gathering to bring about his downfall. Their instrument was the Committee appointed by the Government of India, late in the summer of 1919, to investigate the disturbances in the Punjab and certain other areas - known after its Chairman as the Hunter Committee.
An element of classical tragedy is present in the closing acts of Dyer's career; for, had he not embroidered on his initial report of April 1919, where he had stated that the decision to fire and the amount of firing had been decided largely by his judgment of the situation in the Bagh, he would not have placed fatal arguments in the hands of his critics and enemies. Yet it was hardly surprising that his later evidence should have become confused and even self-contradictory. In the first place, his memory was blurred by later dramatic events; in May 1919 he distinguished himself in the Third Afghan War, from which he returned a very sick man. Secondly, the enormous publicity given to his action in India, where he was feted as 'the Saviour of the Punjab,' may have distorted his recollection of his motives in deciding to fire without warning. In the report he drew up at the request of the Government of India in August 1919, he emphasized that he had detected the existence of a co-ordinated rebellion in India and had noted its connection with the impending Afghan invasion, and that he had attempted to influence events much further afield than Amritsar. This report was seen by the Indian Government, and was passed on to the Hunter Committee, to form the basis of the charges against Dyer. Above all, as the net descended around him, it is well to remember that Dyer had little reason to suspect that his professional reputation was at stake.
Even Dyer's severest critics have admitted that the Committee set up under the chairmanship of Lord Hunter was in several respects inadequate. It was neither a military court of enquiry nor a civil court of justice; it contained no member with Indian administrative experience and three Indians, two of whom had personal reasons for hostility to the Punjab Government; and its procedure bore little resemblance to a court of law. A more serious defect was the restriction of the investigation to Bombay, Delhi and the Punjab. Thus Dyer's claim to have crushed a widely organized rebellion, before a concerted attack developed from Afghanistan, could not be carefully examined, since Peshawar and other vital areas were excluded from the scope of the enquiry.
Dyer was called before the Hunter Committee as a witness on November 19th. His case had already been prejudiced by then hostile evidence of native witnesses, who were not under oath and were not subjected to cross examination. He suffered further from the lack of legal counsel to shield him from the expert probing of the Indian members of the Committee, all of whom were experienced lawyers. In his verbal as in his written evidence, Dyer repeated that he had acted under a terrible necessity: 'I had a choice of carrying out a very distasteful and horrible duty, of suppressing disorder or of becoming responsible for all future bloodshed.' Though he again mentioned the momentary fear that the mob intended to rush him, the essence of his unrepentant position was that 'it was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd; but one of producing a sufficient moral effect, from a military point of view, not only on those who were present but more especially throughout the Punjab. There could be no question of undue severity.'
Dyer made an unfortunate impression at; the trial - for such it had become in all but name; and this was exaggerated by the garbled account of his evidence that was eventually published. Under constant provocation the General did not always remain silent. For example, he was trapped into saying that, if he could have brought machine-guns into the Bagh, he would probably have used them.
Ironically, however, it was an incident unconnected with the actual shooting that did most to blacken Dyer's reputation; an incident that most clearly reveals his state of mind during the crucial days. This was the so-called 'Crawling Order,' which Dyer imposed, after restoring order, as a punishment for the brutal assault on the missionary, Miss Sherwood. He closed the lane in which the attack occurred, placed a picket at either end and told the sergeant in charge that Indians (men only), who wished to pass, must go through on all fours. Later investigation suggests that the pickets took their orders more literally than Dyer intended; but he, of course, remained responsible. After five days, the punishment was hastily ended on the order of Sir Michael O'Dwyer. Dyer's defence of this 'fancy punishment ' before the Hunter Committee is revealing. 'We look upon women as sacred, or ought ,to,' he said;' he had searched his mind for a punishment to fit the crime, and as Indian devotees went on all fours to places they held sacred, he thought that procedure appropriate.' In this incident, Dyer's judgment was at fault; for he had not considered the interpretation of racial discrimination that was likely to be put on the incident. Yet ' fancy punishments ' were common at the time; and a local reprimand would probably have ended the matter, but for the greater question of the Jallianwala Bagh.
The European members of the Hunter Committee criticized General Dyer on two grounds : that he began firing without giving the crowd a chance to disperse; and that he committed 'a grave error' by continuing to fire after dispersal began. They were sceptical about the widespread nature of the rebellion, and also about the potential danger of the crowd assembled in the Bagh. The three Indian members went much further in their minority Report. By denying the existence of a rebellion, their criticism of Dyer was necessarily more sweeping, and was patently directed at the British administration in general: 'We feel that General Dyer, by adopting an inhuman and un-British method of dealing with subjects of H.M. the King-Emperor, has done great disservice to the interest of British rule in India.' They stressed the innocuous nature of the crowd and - ignoring Dyer's repeated phrase of 'a horrible duty' - his determination to use machine-guns. They added further complaints of failure to attend to the dead and wounded, and of the long delay in counting casualties.
The Government of India in the main endorsed the Hunter Committee's indictment of Dyer, though, on the first count, admitted that most of the crowd did, in fact, know the risk they were running. What is remarkable, in the letter to the India Office of May 3rd, 1920, is the acknowledgment that there was 'a dangerous rising which might have had widespread and disastrous effects on the rest of India' but for the prompt action of Sir Michael O'Dwyer in the Punjab. Yet O'Dwyer, and his military colleague General Beynon, had both supported Dyer's action, and had expatiated on its far-reaching influence as the turning-point in the rebellion.
A third, and extremely confused, condemnation of Dyer was contained in the Secretary of State for India's reply, on May 26th, 1920, to the Government of India. The impression is unavoidable that Montagu had been far more influenced by the Minority Report than by either that of the Majority or the Government of India. Thus he singled out the Amritsar incident for special emphasis, misstated the problem as a question of dispersing 'a large but apparently unarmed assembly,' mostly ignorant of the proclamation, and underlined the Minority's point of inhumanity towards the victims. The most curious feature of Montagu's letter, however, was a concession to Dyer that knocked the ground from under the Hunter Committee's criticism: namely, that Dyer 'naturally could not dismiss from his mind conditions in the Punjab generally, and he was entitled to lay his plans with reference to these conditions.' When Dyer was eventually permitted to see the evidence on which he had been condemned, he was able, with legal advice this time, to compose a devastating analysis of his critics' confusions and contradictions. These latter do not necessarily vindicate Dyer: they do testify to the injustice of the methods on which he was condemned.
The report of the Hunter Committee was not acted upon until March 1920. On January 28th, Dyer, still ignorant of impending disaster, was apparently promoted by being given temporary command of the 2nd Division. The cancellation of this appointment, on February 17th, left an unfortunate impression that the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Charles Monro, was the cats paw of a vacillating Government, which had approved Dyer's action when it had pleased patriots at home and then thrown him over to placate Indian critics. Why give even the semblance of promotion to a man unknowingly under the shadow of disgrace for a serious error of judgment and soon to be deprived of even his permanent command? The impression that Dyer was a scapegoat is strengthened by the humiliating circumstances in which he was relieved of his command and sent home, although since December 1919 he had been very ill.
The Hunter Committee's Report had been presented to the Government of India on March 8th, 1920; Dyer had been informed of its censure of his conduct on March 22nd; but when he arrived in England, on May 2nd, he had still not seen a copy. He received no reply to a letter to the India Office, dated May 10th, and eventually saw the judgment on which he had been punished in the newspapers on May 27th. O'Dwyer, too, who had retired and returned to England, was cold-shouldered by the India Office and was obliged to conduct his self-defence in the press.
Dyer could only submit in silence to removal from his post; but he fought resolutely against the greater dishonour of removal from the Army, which could not legitimately be carried out against an officer of his rank without specific charges and a formal trial. In the summer of 1920, with the Government awkwardly trying to appease the Indian nationalist leaders, Montagu, with Churchill's assistance as Secretary of State for War, tried to get 'General Dyer's head on a charger.' They were forestalled by the military members of the Army Council, in particular by Sir Henry Wilson, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Against repeated attempts to bludgeon them into acquiescence the Army Council stood firm: it made no attempt to reverse the Hunter Committee's censure - repeated by a vote of 230 against 129 in the House of Commons on July 8th, 1920 - or to re-instate Dyer in his command. The case was simply suspended.
Apart from a vote of 129 to 86 in his favour in a subsequent division in the House of Lords on July 20th, 1920, Dyer's critics seemed to have triumphed; and, from the end of that year, Dyer's suffering from arterial sclerosis was too intense for him to make any further personal fight for vindication. In November 1921 he was partly paralysed by a stroke, and suffered continuously thereafter from mental depression as well as physical weakness. He died on July 23rd, 1927.
Vindication, from the standpoint of British justice if not British politics, was indirectly won for Dyer in 1924 by his former political chief Sir Michael O'Dwyer, who had also been criticized by Montagu in his despatch of May 1920. In a libel action against Sir Sankaran Nair, a former judge in the Madras High Court and a Member of the Government of India in 1919, the jury's verdict hinged on two questions: whether or not Dyer's action was an atrocity, and if it were, whether the plaintiff (O'Dwyer) was responsible. The trial lasted five weeks and was widely reported. Justice McCardie, in his summing up, expressed the view that 'General Dyer, under the grave and exceptional circumstances, acted rightly, and in my opinion, upon the evidence, he was wrongly punished by the Secretary of State for India.' The jury recorded a verdict of eleven to one that Dyer's action was not an atrocity, and found for O'Dwyer on all points. Although there was no appeal against the legal decision, the controversy that Judge McCardie's summing up aroused in Parliament revealed the great extent to which politics still enveloped memories of Amritsar. In 1924 the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, could describe Judge McCardie's summing up as 'unfortunate' and 'objectionable,' because it was 'calculated to have a very serious effect upon Indian public opinion.'
During the critical post-war years, when soldiers and politicians tended to take extreme views of the case, the most anxious talking point was whether the punishment of Dyer - ' the greatest travesty of British justice in my lifetime' one partisan called it - would hamstring the Army in future disturbances for fear of political betrayal. In general, this fear was not realized. The lasting significance of Amritsar was rather in its employment by opponents of British Imperial Government. They had seized - or rather were handed - a two-edged sword. Amritsar could be inflated to mythical proportions as the symbol of British cruelty, and thus presented to millions of ignorant followers. For the leaders, of course, its significance was quite otherwise. The fate of General Dyer convinced them that in the last resort the British would hesitate to repress disorders by the use of force: the Imperial grasp was slackening. If necessary the British could be prized from power inch by inch by threats or by calculated outbreaks of violence. More subtly, as Gandhi perceived, they could be embarrassed and shamed into making concessions from unwillingness to employ force against passive disobedience. In the case of India, time proved Gandhi right. Amritsar was indeed a decisive step towards 'the end of Empire.'