How a Lahore landmark named for a British radical came to be linked with Jallianwala Bagh massacre

It was a meeting at Bradlaugh Hall which set in motion the chain of events that culminated in the Amritsar tragedy.
Updated Sep 30, 2019 04:14pm

Not far from where Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev shot dead British police officer JP Saunders to avenge the death of the Congress leader Lala Lajpat Rai stands Bradlaugh Hall.

Named after Charles Bradlaugh, the 19th century English radical who advocated for Indian representation in the colonial administration, the hall served as the hub of revolutionary anti-colonial struggle in Punjab until 1947.

Bradlaugh Hall also housed the National College, set up by Lala Lajpat Rai to prepare “intellectual revolutionaries” such as Bhagat Singh.

It hosted the Indian National Congress’s historic 1929 Lahore session that culminated in the declaration of Purna Swaraj, or full independence, on December 31, which the party would celebrate as India’s symbolic Independence Day until 1947.

Twenty years earlier, in March 1919, the hall had hosted another historic, though less remembered, meeting that would hugely impact India’s anti-colonial movement.

Though an Indian nationalist consciousness, conjoined with a communal discourse, started taking root in urban India after the turn of the century, the predominantly rural Punjab remained favourable to the British Raj.

Related: The 1915 Ghadar plan to free India from the British was a failure — but it sparked a revolution

The landlords, who in most cases enjoyed the allegiance of the peasants, saw no reason to upset the status quo.

Introduction of capitalist agriculture and the laying of canals and railways transformed Punjab into the breadbasket of British India.

The heady myth of being the land of the “martial races” had also turned Punjab into the primary military recruitment centre for the Raj, supply cannon fodder during the First World War.

The economic pain caused by the Great War, though, started to turn the ordinary people who did not necessarily have political allegiances against the British.

High taxation and the Rowlatt Act, which made permanent the wartime restrictions, giving the Raj complete authority to search and arrest any Indian without warrant or hold a suspect without trial for up to a year, only deepened the alienation.

It was against this backdrop that the March 1919 meeting of mostly common folk was organised by the Congress at the Bradlaugh Hall.

Ominous times

Bradlaugh Hall.—Photo by Aown Ali
Bradlaugh Hall.—Photo by Aown Ali

In keeping with the programme agreed at the meeting, a peaceful protest against the colonial administration was held in Amritsar on April 6.

Thousands of people turned out, only to be violently confronted by the police. Ten people were killed and several more injured.

The protestors retaliated by targeting government property — bank, telegraph office, post office and railway station. A few Europeans living in the city were also attacked and killed.

It seemed that for the first time since the annexation of Punjab, the British were losing control of the province.

Even in 1857, when popular uprisings swept much of North India, Punjab had remained largely peaceful.

In fact, it was Punjab’s “loyalty” to the colonial regime that had made it possible for the British to put down the 1857 “mutiny”; it was forces drawn from Punjab that recaptured Delhi from the rebels.

Also read: This village near Lahore serves as a reminder of Sikhism’s diverse past

To the British, protests in major cities of Punjab and elsewhere in India signalled a breakdown of their policy of “divide and rule”, crafted in the shadows of the War of 1857.

The murder of the Europeans in particular came as a jolt.

The colonial state resolved to preserve “order” at any cost and prevent the situation from spiralling out of control as it had over six decades earlier.

A week after the violent protest in Amritsar, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place.

It was a consequence of the colonial state’s desperation to not only exert control over “its” cities but reassert its ideology, which projected the Raj as the benevolent master of scattered communities and nationalities lacking a common identity.

It was a savage reaction to a growing nationalist consciousness and was informed by the trauma of 1857 that still haunted the colonial state.

By committing the massacre, the British thought they were strengthening their control over Punjab specifically and India generally. But time would prove otherwise.

This article was originally published on Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.


Author Image

Haroon Khalid has an academic background in anthropology from Lums. He has been travelling extensively around Pakistan, documenting historical and cultural heritage. He is the author of four books — Imagining Lahore, Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva and A White Trail.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (26) Closed

Imtiaz Ali Khan
Apr 22, 2019 05:56pm
British colonist did lots of crime against my IndoPak family it's sickening! ''Indian economy was 24% of the world during Mughal time then came British colonist. After British nearly 200 years they left our economy in shambles and it was reduced to 4%.'' Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh.
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Apr 22, 2019 06:07pm
Glad to see that the foundation stone, laid by Sri Surendra Nath Banerji in 1900 is still intact.
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Random Indian
Apr 22, 2019 07:30pm
Mr Khalid, a short but wonderfully informative article. In all our school history studies we don't look at things from the grassroots, what people felt and what key events caused alienation and resentment. Thank you!
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Apr 22, 2019 10:03pm
The building looks dilapidated. We will lose the bearings of history with our misplaced priorities of budgets. This is what we are supposed to pass on to the next generations.
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Kaku Sahib
Apr 22, 2019 10:29pm
Kindly also look into the British massacre in Empress Market Karachi. This was a horrible event never discussed and mentioned in Pk. history.
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Satya Sidhu
Apr 22, 2019 10:42pm
Awesome. Very nice article.
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Apr 22, 2019 11:53pm
“The protestors retaliated by targeting government property — bank, telegraph office, post office and railway station. A few Europeans living in the city were also attacked and killed.” This was a common tactic used by the congress during their ‘hartals’. It is simply not true that the independence struggle was won non violent as taught by some history books.
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Rizwan Khan
Apr 23, 2019 12:23am
Wish Punjab Archaeology Department would also include this building in its list of renovation / conservation projects.
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Yash D
Apr 23, 2019 01:01am
A brilliant read! Thank you Haroon Khalid
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Apr 23, 2019 01:05am
Such a beautiful historic building - why is it lying in such a state? Who owns it?
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Surinder Gill
Apr 23, 2019 02:30am
Very informative article like your other articles. Thanks Mr. Haroon. the biggest unpardonable crime of Britishers was that just to rule India they divided Indians for ever on basis of religion. It ultimately divided our dear land of five rivers. We all still feel this division and partition. I wish that good sense should prevails on all that we are brothers not enemies.
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Apr 23, 2019 05:50am
I love this guy’s writing. Every piece is so educational. Unfortunately the British are long gone but they seem to have permanently divided us
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Apr 23, 2019 07:05am
@Imtiaz Ali Khan, Bangladesh and Southern states where doing better than others
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Chris Roberts
Apr 23, 2019 07:09am
@Imtiaz Ali Khan, But everything is not so cut and dry. The IndianTea Association itself acknowledges that 'The credit fof creating India's vast tea empire goes to the British...' Largely because of Warren Hastings, Governor-General of Bengal; Sir Joseph Banks; and Robert and Charles Bruce, today India has over 13,000 tea gardens and the tea industry employs over 2 million people. The foreign exchange from exports of tea was approximatelg $786 million a few years ago. British investment in infrastructure, irrigation and industry stood at around 400 million pounds by 1914, and the railways, financed by British investors, were the fourth largest in the world and the quality and the service were said to be of a high standard. Charles Bradlaugh, after whom the building was named, was himself quite a remarkable figure at the time.
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Apr 23, 2019 10:03am
@Imtiaz Ali Khan, There was no such thing as an «Indian economy» before British. There was a Mughal Sultanate which had 24% of world GDP under Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir. I have seen Indian history books which has almost deleted Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Sultanate which explain why Indians believe Muslim kings were foreigners.
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Apr 23, 2019 10:35am
Textbook reading. Can we have fresher articles and views?
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Apr 23, 2019 12:49pm
@Chris Roberts, It does not matter how much development took place due to the British empire. That does not absolve the British of the basic fact: They came as traders and then occupied the land. When you are talking of violating some body's sovereignty, economics and development hardly matters. The British were an occupying force and committed several sins. No amount of arguments can hide this fact. Just be silent if you cannot apologize.
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Apr 23, 2019 02:07pm
@Durgasharan, Also, all the 'development' - whether the railways or the tea gardens - was done not to benefit India but to exploit it. The tea was all auctioned in London. The railways were used to transport raw materials from India to the ports to benefit industries in Blighty.
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Apr 23, 2019 02:26pm
@Shah, There was no such thing as a country called 'India' before the British. In a very real sense Britain created both India and Pakistan.
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tell me this
Apr 23, 2019 11:37pm
@Frank, "There was no such thing as a country called 'India' before the British" If there was no country called India before the British, which country was Columbus trying to reach originally?
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Chris Roberts
Apr 24, 2019 04:00am
@Durgasharan, We cannot turn back the hands of time. The point is that the infrastructure, railways, and certain industries originally set up by the British are still functioning in the Sub-continent to this very day. Many British men and women did develop a deep affinity for India and its people, did have a conscience and really did what they could, in their own way, to serve the people within the framework of the time. If, on one level, 'the British were an occupying force and committed many sins', - which, as human beings, we unfortunately commit against our own people in our own countries - at a deeper level, the Sub-continent has also had a huge impact on Britain (and vice versa), culturally and socially.
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Apr 24, 2019 07:27am
@tell me this, Of course the landmass known in the West (but not in South Asia) as 'India' existed, but no such country or nation existed before 1947. Punjab for example was an independent nation under Ranjit Singh before it was forcibly and illegally incorporated into the British Indian Empire.
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Apr 24, 2019 01:04pm
@Frank, Do you know about East India Company.l ?
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Apr 24, 2019 02:45pm
@SATT, India was used as a name for Hindustan by Europeans. We the people of Hindustan: Pakistan, India and Bangladesh never called us selves Indians before the Europeans took over. The land mass existed for a few billion years as with all landmasses on earth but the country India: Republic of India never existed before 1947. We the people and our civilization existed, of course, long before that.
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Apr 24, 2019 05:51pm
@SATT, East Indian Company? Have you even read history? Or are you sticking with the Indian version of a 5000 year old country? There was no such thing as a "India" during the time when East India Company entered our shores. There was a Mughal Sultanate and some smaller states here and there. Also, I find it strange that you would point to a colonial company for your national ID. India as a name was introduced by the Europeans. We had other names for areas under the Mughal Sultanates and for areas outside it, but never did we, the native people, call any area in South Asia for India.
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Apr 25, 2019 10:23am
@Shah, What Chinese call themselves ?
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