35. IN THE PUNJAB
Sir Michael O'Dwyer held
me responsible for all that had happened in the Punjab, and some irate
young Punjabis held me responsible for the martial law. They asserted that
if only I had not suspended civil disobedience, there would have been no
Jalianwala Bagh massacre. Some of them even went the length of threatening
me with assassination if I went to the Punjab.
But I felt that my position
was so correct and above question that no intelligent person could misunderstand
I was impatient to go to the
Punjab. I had never been there before, and that made me all the more anxious
to see things for myself. Dr. Satyapal, Dr. Kitchula, and Pandit Rambhaj
Dutt Chowdhari, who had invited me to the Punjab, were at this time in
jail, But I felt sure that the Government could not dare to keep them and
the other prisoners in prison for long. A large number of Punjabis used
to come and see me whenever I was in Bombay. I ministered to them a word
of cheer on these occasions, and that would comfort them. My self-confidence
of that time was infectious.
But my going to the Punjab had
to be postponed again and again. The Viceroy would say, 'not yet,' every
time I asked for permission to go there, and so the thing dragged on.
In the meantime the Hunter Committee
was announced to hold an inquiry in connection with the Punjab Government's
doings under the martial law. Mr. C. F. Andrews had now reached the Punjab.
His letters gave a heart-rending description of the state of things there,
and I formed the impression that the martial law atrocities were in fact
even worse than the press reports had showed. He pressed me urgently to
come and join him. At the same time Malaviyaji sent telegrams asking me
to proceed to the Punjab at once. I once more telegraphed to the Viceroy
asking whether I could now go to the Punjab. He wired back in replay that
I could go there after a certain date. I cannot exactly recollect now,
but I think it was 17th of October.
The scene that I witnessed on
my arrival at Lahore can never be effaced from my memory. The railway station
was from end to end one seething mass of humanity. The entire populace
had turned out of doors in eager expectation, as if to meet a dear relation
after a long separation, and was delirious with joy. I was put up at the
late Pandit Rambhaj Dutt's bungalow, and the burden of entertaining me
fell on the shoulders of Shrimati Sarala Devi. A burden it truly was, for
even then, as now, the place where I was accommodated became a veritable
Owing to the principal Punjab
leaders being in jail, their place, I found, had been properly taken up
by Pandit Malaviya, Pandit Motilalji, and the late Swami Shraddhannandji.
Malaviyaji and Shraddhanandji I had known intimately before, but this was
the first occasion on which I came in close personal contact with Motilalji.
All these leaders, as also such local leaders as had escaped the privilege
of going to jail, at once made me feel perfectly at home amongst them,
so that I never felt like a stranger in their midst.
How we unanimously decided not
to lead [=lay?] evidence before the Hunter Committee is now a matter of
history. The reasons for that decision were published at that time, and
need not be recapitulated here. Suffice it to say that looking back upon
these events from this distance of time, I still feel that our decision
to boycott the Committee was absolutely correct and proper.
As a logical consequence of
the boycott of the Hunter Committee, it was decided to appoint a non-official
Inquiry Committee, to hold almost a parallel inquiry on behalf of the Congress.
Pandit Motilal Nehru, the late Deshbandhu C.R.Das, Sjt. Abbas Tyabji, Sjt.
M.R. Jayakar and myself were appointed to this committee, virtually by
Pandit Malaviyaji. We distributed ourselves over various places for purposes
of inquiry. The responsibility for organizing the work of the Committee
devolved on me, and as the privilege of conducting the inquiry in the largest
number of places fell to my lot, I got a rare opportunity of observing
at close quarters the people of the Punjab and the Punjab villages.
In the course of my inquiry
I made acquaintance with the women of the Punjab also. It was if we had
known one another for ages. Wherever I went they came flocking, and laid
before me their heaps of yarn. My work in connection with the inquiry brought
home to me the fact that the Punjab could become a great field for Khadi
As I proceeded further and further
with my inquiry into the atrocities that had been committed on the people,
I came across tales of Government's tyranny, and the arbitrary despotism
of its officers, such as I was hardly prepared for, and they filled me
with deep pain. What surprised me then, and what still continues to fill
me with surprise, was the fact that a province that had furnished the largest
number of soldiers to the British Government during the war, should have
taken all these brutal excesses lying down.
The task of drafting the report
of this Committee was also entrusted to me. I would recommend a perusal
of this report to anyone who wants to have an idea of the kind of atrocities
that were perpetrated on the Punjab people. All that I wish to say here
about it is that there is not a single conscious exaggeration in it anywhere,
and every statement made in it is substantiated by evidence. Moreover,
the evidence published was only a fraction of what was in the Committee's
possession. Not a single statement regarding the validity of which there
was the slightest room for doubt, was permitted to appear in the report.
This report, prepared as it was solely with a view to bringing out the
truth and nothing but the truth, will enable the reader to see to what
lengths the British Government is capable of going, and what inhumanities
and barbarities it is capable of perpetrating, in order to maintain its
power. So far as I am aware, not a single statement made in this report
has ever been disproved.