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An American Consulate in Kerala?

Posted by Maddy Labels: , , , , ,

Abbot L Dow 1880, and the story of Alleppey

Difficult to believe, right? But that was indeed the case. An early US representation in India did exist for a while at Alleppey, and this started first with the appointment of a commercial agent stationed there and his office was later upgraded to a consulate. The consular officer was one Mr Abbot L. Dow.

Why Alleppey? For that you have to check out the details in my article on Darragh in Kerala and his pioneering efforts with establishing coir weaving establishments in Kerala. To recap, James Darragh, a Brooklyn man left New York in 1855, to seek his fortunes in India, like so many others.  He sailed to India, destined for Calcutta with an intent to start a coir industry but was unsuccessful in making mats with Bengali labor and English supervision (Remember now that coir matting was unknown in India but already well established in Britain and America). As it appears, he took a couple of his trained laborers together with the English supervisor to a place he had heard of, rich in coconuts and teeming with people willing to work their butts off, but had no idea of their commercial potential. The man had big business in mind, nothing short of setting up a world class factory and to become the biggest manufacturer of coir products in the world! That my friends, was the coir pioneer James Darragh.

He was a pioneer, in cocoa mats (The US name for coir), but he also went on to try his hand in a few other businesses before stabilizing his fortunes on coir and propelling Kerala to the forefront of the industry, worldwide. Darragh, Smail and Co., thus became the first American firm in these parts, soon employing some 1,081 hands and shipping coir matting to many parts of the world. Others like Aspinwall, Pierce Leslie and William Goodacre (to name a few) followed in quick succession.

We also note that after about 25 years in Alleppey, Darragh became a bigwig and was hobnobbing with the royalty of Travancore and even minting his own coins. He quickly diversified into coconut oil, tea, coffee, rubber and so on….and become a very rich man. In 1889 he decided to head back to New York and during a stopover at Cairo, he fell ill and died.

But while Alleppey, an English term derived from Allepilly or Alapuzha, a port developed by the sovereign Dharmaraja of Travancore within his domains to reduce their dependence and perhaps even rival Cochin and Calicut (which was already trending to decadency by then), was synonymous with coir, the purpose was originally to create an all-weather harbor to export all of Travancore’s products including spices, duly serviced from inland procurement centers through an inland network of canals and using cheap boat transportation. How did this plan come into being and how was it put into effect? Let’s go back in time to the rule of the Dharmaraja of Travancore to find out.

Dewan Keshava Pillai, the architect of the whole idea, is a character who deserves a separate article, in fact a book, for such is the power of his character. With a promise that I will definitely do a separate article on his times, let me pull away from the urge to write a few paras about him and instead stick to a simple introduction. Starting as a lowly visitor to the palace, the boy worked his way up as a scribe, and later became a brilliant military strategist trained by none other than Capt D’Lannoy. His commercial skills were unmatched in those times for a native and the man soon found himself heading the commerce department going on to become the Sarvadhikarai and eventually the (Dalawa) Dewan of state by 1788. He was also the biggest pillar of support for Dharmaraja, at a crucial time when Tipu Sultan sought to wage a war against Travancore. The purchase of the Cranganore forts from the Dutch and the battle of Nedumkotta followed, Keshava Pillay led from the front and ensured a timely repulse of the Mysore army (See my article Tipu’s waterloo for details). He did so much more, such as moving the capital from Padmanabhapuram to Trivandrum, building the MC road (the origin at Trivandrum is named Keshavadasapuram in his honor), the Chalai market and so on…

But Keshava Pillay’s everlasting achievement was the development of the port of Alleppey following the decline of the Dutch monopoly of the Pepper trade, after the Dutch defeat by Marthanda Varma at Kulachel. Now that the pepper business was directly conducted by the sovereign of Travancore (note that the Zamorin and family were in exile in Travancore during this period), the British were dependent on Travancore for pepper. Pillay decided to open two ports, one at Alleppey close to Cochin and a smaller one at Vizhinjam.

A port town was thus established in this sleepy village, warehouses were opened, traders were invited from Bombay (Kutchi Memons and Gujaratis), also Chettiars and Ravuthars from Tamilakam, to conduct trade. Transport of spices and raw materials were guaranteed by the royal army and new canals were built to link the waterways to the new seaport at Alleppey. Anjengo, Quilon and Vizhinjam were converted as feeder units to the main Alleppey port. Shaktan Thampuran of Cochin in the meanwhile was keener on establishing Trichur as his main base and thus the Cochin port largely run by the declining Dutch VOC, slowly took a back seat in maritime activities. The Dutch VOC’s pepper monopoly had ended. Alleppey was now the chief commercial town of Travancore. Spices, Coir and everything else sourced from Malabar and other coastal ports of Western India were headed to Alleppey for export, to the eager buyers in the west.

Alleppey’s mud banks practically speaking, afforded a safe anchorage in the open roadstead (See explanation of ‘mud bank’ in notes).  Its natural port was unaffected during the ravages of the Malabar monsoons and remained open even when Cochin was closed, while at the same time, inland waterways afforded a route to get the goods across to and from Cochin and other producing locales.

As it became a busy and popular port by 1762 as the Dewan stationed himself to oversee the port’s development phase. The Travancore Raja built a palace there raising the esteem of the locale, also a Huzur Kutchery, and a temple. Mathu Tharakan oversaw all the timber business, Vicharippukarsanmar delivered hill produce and spices and the state commissioned (to avoid dependence on the EIC and the VOC) three ships to transport goods to major North Indian ports like Bombay and Calcutta.

By 1798, Dharmaraja passed away and the loss of his patron also decided Kashava Pillay’s fate. The new king was unduly influenced by his Samprati Jayantan Sankaran Nambudiri, who convinced the king that Pillay was colluding with the British. By the next year Pillay was found dead (murdered by poison). A few years later, the Church Missionary Society set up its local headquarters in Alleppey and three years later the first Anglican Church was built in 1819.

The 19th century was an all-important period for the fortunes of Alleppey. It continued to be a safe port and Markham surveying it stated so in 1867 - The mud-bank of Alipee, the Port of Travancore, is a curious phenomenon. The safety of the roadstead arises from its possessing a remarkably soft muddy bottom, and the fluidity of the water being diminished by the intermixture of mud the anchorage is very smooth in four fathoms, even while the swell of the monsoon is at its height in the offing.

Goods came down the canals and to the warehouses in Alleppey. Seafaring barges then carried them to oceangoing ships anchored at the mudbank. It was still not a thriving or bustling port until the mid-19th century but Travancore had by now come under British suzerainty. A British commercial agent was placed at Alleppey. It was in the first half of the 19th century that the Vadai canal was built, parallel to the commercial canal, indicating that commerce was heating up and congestion had to be relieved on the main commerce canal.

A report Voyage from Bombay to Madras and Calcutta 1829 narrates -

The trade of Cochin has so declined that there are at present neither political or commercial agents there on the part of the East India Company, this port being subject to the collector of Travancore, who resides at Alipee. The articles which were formerly exported and imported, now go from Calicut, except a small annual export of cocoa-nuts, coin, elephants' teeth, sandal wood, tamarinds, teak wood, and wax, which are carried in coasting vessels; the cassia, cardamums, ginger, pepper, &c., being now mostly collected at Calicut for the northern part of the country, and at Alipee for the southern.

There is some confusion in the books and charts regarding the situation of Alipee. Mr. Milburn places it in lat. 9° 42' N. near a river; calls it a town of considerable size, very populous, having many good houses, and wearing the flag of the Rajah of Travancore, to whom it belongs. Mr. Horshurgh says that Porea, which he places in lat. 9° 30' N. and long. 7C° 34' E. is sometimes called Alipee; but he adds, that the village properly called Alipee, is three leagues more to the northward, where the Company's ships load pepper, and confirms this, by saying that the Earl Camden, in five fathoms and three quarters, the village bearing E.N.E. 1/2 E., when at anchor, made it in lat. 9° 42' N. by observation. The Lord Cathcart and the Bombay, the two vessels loading pepper here, were lying in four fathoms, about two miles from the town, with a large and handsome brick building like a factory, having an arched entrance in the centre of its front, and a flag-staff, bearing the British flag, rising from its summit, bearing about E.N.E. This is a place belonging to the English, and subject to the collector of Travancore. We inquired its name from the natives, who came off to us in boats, and was told by several that it was called by them Alipelly, but by the English, Alipee. The latitude of this place, by a good meridian observation, was 9° 34' N., which is nearer to the situation of Porea; but of this name, or of any other Alipee than the present, these natives said they knew nothing.

By 1858, the EIC had relinquished their powers to the British crown and the colonial administration took its place. All royal monopolies were abolished, free trade was established and only a commission/duty needed to be paid to the Travancore royalty.

This was the stage when foreign investment and organizations came in droves to Alleppey and Cochin. Darragh was one of the first arriving in 1859. The British modernized the port, building a lighthouse by 1860 and a post and telegraph office by 1863, the first in Travancore, just 10 years after the one in Madras. Imagine the relief for traders who needed good and quick communications, so also safety for the ships and their produce. A pier was constructed in 1870, steam driven cranes were established and a small coolie operated tramway was established to move goods from the warehouses to the pier. The number of ships plying the port reached about 400 annually while at the same token, the total tonnage went up from 58,000 to 350,000 by the end of the 19th century. In fact Alleppey was modernized just 10 years after Bombay and Madras and was characterized as a fine harbor.

The industrialization of Travancore started by American James Darragh was extraordinary and as he promised, it was soon to become the center of all coir industry in the world. Everything was done in-situ and not in Europe as other companies had modeled their businesses. This was to continue for a full century, until 1970, and it was only in the last decades, when labor unrest ensued, that the business declined. But there were other reasons too as we will soon see.

Alleppey circa.1900
Aspinwall, Pierce Leslie and William Goodacre followed to establish their coir factories in Alleppey. The next were the Swiss Volkart brothers. All in all the coir business was very profitable and labor was dirt cheap (Darragh’s factory paid their laborers just 4 annas per day). Many tens of thousands of people were employed both in the factory aspects of the coir industry as well as the cottage based parts of de-husking coconuts and raw yarn bundling stages. Alleppey grew and grew for a century. The port became even more congested, the place reeked from decaying coconut fiber dumped in the canals for soaking and illnesses increased. Mosquito borne Filariasis was common place. Easy commuting over canal boats attracted even more and more job seekers and with the coir industry also amenable to women workers, the numbers swelled. All in all things were looking good but somewhat unstructured and unregulated.

As we said before almost all of Darragh’s coir was going to America. That was the business volume which made the American government decide to appoint a commercial agent in 1880 to take care of related issues, especially to liaise with the British, who controlled the seas, the ships and the ocean routes between India and America. The person appointed for to the position was one Abbot Low Dow.

Abbot Low Dow, born in 1845 was like Darragh, a native of Brooklyn - New York and came from an old and respected shipping family. He was the son of George Worthington Dow, a respected East India trader and Anna De Bevoise Prince. He was first married to Cornelia Suydam Herriman and his three daughters found mention in New York’s society news, most of the time. Dow also happened to be the first cousin of Seth Low, the president of Columbia University and the first mayor of the consolidated city of New York. He was a wealthy man indeed and became the trustee of the estate of his children in 1876, upon the death of his wife, who left $400,000 in trust for them.

In 1880 he moved to Alleppey as consular agent, perhaps after persuasion by his Brooklyn compatriot James Darragh. The importance of the locale and the bilateral business which was very much in favor of Travancore in terms of balance of payments, resulted in an upgrade of his office to a consulate quickly. The Congressional Series of United States Public Documents, Volume 2028, states that Abbot Dow was promoted as American counsel in 1881, so recommended by President RB Hayes and industrialist Samuel Sloan.


But the consulate was short-lived. We do not know how long it functioned because Abbot L. Dow, himself stated that it was difficult for him as the British Government 'permits no direct intercourse of Indians with other countries'. It existed perhaps (I could not find any further details of the consulate myself) for some 10 years and Dow’s comment above roughly dates to the 1890’s reflecting that all did not bode well between the Americans and British, with respect to trade at Alleppey. Nevertheless he continued on at Travancore for a while before moving back to America. We note that by 1899 he had become the director of the Craig colony for epileptics at Sonyea NY. In 1905, Abbot Low Dow married Helene Carola Nancy Sanford, a wealthy socialite (The city of Sanford in Florida gets its name from the Sanford family). Dow settled down in New Hampshire, in his Wakefield home and passed away in May 1914. His daughters Margaret married Ernest Greene in 1896, Caroline married Mr Hiss in 1906 and Cornelia to Charles Bancroft in 1905. One could guess that Abbot Dow’s high connections, and standing in New York society and his family background as East India traders must have got him the position in British India. So that was a bit about the consulate and the Consul.

Abbot Dow and Nancy Sanford
By 1890 the American consular agent one Mr John Grieve located in Cochin reported as below to Mr Comfort, Vice Consul at Bombay on the state of the Alleppey port, dated July 23 1890:
"Our season having now ended, I have pleasure in sending you the following short account of the trade done during the year ending June 30, as promised when I saw you in Bombay. Six American vessels, two British steamers, and four other vessels loaded cargo here for New York of the approximate value of 25 lakhs. Of the six American ships, three of them loaded part cargoes in Alleppey (about 30 miles from here) of the value of 82,000 rupees, while another American vessel loaded entirely in Alleppey, cargo to the value of about 106,000 rupees. The above is exclusive of cargo that may have been sent to London for transshipment there to New York, of which there is no trace in the customs returns."

The attention that Alleppey was getting from Trivandrum was perhaps lackluster and investment had reduced. Perhaps the British also neglected maintenance in the port and it was in a state of decline with diseases and crowding on the up. A reason for the decline of the port was sadly the development of a road network between Travancore and Cochin. The KH 1 or MC road (again conceived by Keshava Pillay) and the advent of trucking transport resulted in goods taking the safer land route to Cochin where bigger ships could dock in safety nearer the port, whereas in Alleppey they had to be transported further into the sea on barges. The factories in Cochin decided to truck or boat the village produce directly to their Cochin factories. The world wars resulted in Cochin getting promoted as a naval port with crown funds for further development and then again there was a mega port at Bombay which got a bulk of the funding.

But there was another reason at the turn of the 20th Century (Krishna Poduval - Calcutta review) - It was again nature which moved the mudbanks out from Alleppey to Puracad. Recently, however, the mud-bank which hitherto held out all the advantages of an excellent harbour and made this port so very attractive to shipping and thus helped in building it up into an emporium, one of the oldest in this part of the world, appears to have, partially, at all events, shifted to about twelve miles south near a village called Puracand, Thus nature has snatched off one of the best advantages with which she had endowed Alleppey, with the inevitable result that the town is now face to face with a south-ward diversion of its trade, and its time-honored commercial eminence stands doomed, at least for the time being. I take care to add the qualifying phrase, seeing that quite possibly the operation of natural forces similar to those which have now carried off the mudbank may, at some future time, move it back to its original site and leave Alleppey in statu quo ante. Speculation apart, the occurrence in question is certainly a serious economic disaster to this unfortunate town and indirectly to Travancore.

Nevertheless, that did not seem to be a major issue at the time, only the barges had to move a little further. The primary reason for the decline in Alleppey after all was increasing labor costs and militancy amongst the labor ranks. The coir industry had required little capital investment as all initial work was done in the countryside, near homes and the yarn was moved by boats plying canals, to Alleppey. Freight costs were also thus minimal. Handlooms and power looms in the sheds producing the end product were also not too expensive. Port duties were quite low. The highest cost thus was the labor cost at Alleppey’s factories or work sheds. This was quite low until the 1950’s but at the same time, the mat so produced was not a glamorous item, even at its final destination, America (so it’s selling price could not go up very much). Starting from the 1920’s trade unions started to emerge in order to counter bad working conditions. This was coupled with the emergence of class consciousness in Travancore and the slow disintegration of the century old caste system. A number of labor movements and strikes ensued while at the same time, the demand for coir products reduced. Wages had to be increased and the bigger organizations decided to move away to less militant locations in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka and other places. The factories in Alleppey split into unorganized smaller units and lost their economics of scale. Exports declined from a 25,000 ton level in 1962 to 7,000 tons in 1973. A port which once commanded 40% of Kerala’s exports in the mid 50’s was now exporting less than 10% of its total. That my friends was the story of the spectacular surge and decline of a modern port Alleppey,  the Venice of Travancore, a story unlike the stories of many of the medieval coastal ports of Malabar which died more natural deaths.

Today Alleppey forms part of the tourist belt, as the gateway to the backwaters and many a person passes or visits the locale while boating through the waters on houseboats. These tourists will never hear about the coir industries which had once set the shores buzzing nor of the ships that were anchored out yonder waiting to carry coir mats to America. They will also not know about the turbulent 1920-1950 period when the very same shores witnessed the first of Kerala’s labor unrests. But they will take in the serene waters, the still lagoons, the picture-book lakeside views, palm fringed canals, the bustling day to day routines of the canal-side dwellers, simple homes and many other small marvels.  No boatman or tour guide will tell them about Dewan Keshava Pillay or James Darragh, the American Sayip, for they had served their respective purposes and moved on, now only reduced to flashing memories and ashes in the ground. Nor will they know that an American consulate once existed, in Alleppey.

But from the ashes of one, rises another, in this case, Cochin. The reemergence of Cochin as a premier inner harbor port is owed to one person, Sir Robert Bristow. His of course has to be another story, for another day….

References
Alleppey – From a port without a city to a city without a port (Gateways of Asia, ed Frank Broeze) – Hans Schenk
The Oriental Herald, Volume 23
Travancore state manual – T K Velu Pillai
Trade Union movement, a social history – N Raveendran
The mud banks off the Malabar Coast - Krishna Poduval, Calcutta Review, Volumes 116-117

Notes
Mudbank – They are temporary formations, occurring annually and naturally on the west coast of India, normally near Alleppey, Cochin and Calicut. Almost all the old ports of Malabar, Cochin and Travancore were actually due to mudbanks. Mud banks are typically described as “calm, turbid waters having high loads of suspended sediments occurring in the coastal regions during monsoon season.” They appear “in a semi-circular shape with average distances of 4-5 km along shore and 5-6 km offshore, and are characterized by a heavy suspension of dark, greyish green fine clay.” Although mud banks are known to occur along the southwest coast of India for at least three centuries, the cause of their appearance, disappearance and their shifting is still an enigma for the local and the scientific community.

Pics
Aleppey stone bridge – courtesy D'Cruz, Zachariah, British online gallery
Dow couple – courtesy Sanford family


Hans Raj - The British Approver

Posted by Maddy Labels: , , , ,

And his role in the Amritsar Massacre

I spent a considerable amount of time reading various published accounts of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre. A summary of the events that transpired and an accounting of some of the persons who attained notoriety from it was posted the other day. But there was one thread that I did not unravel in that article, for I thought it deserved a more studious effort. That related to the murky role played by a person of some consequence and mentioned in the various records of the event. Many Indians refused to agree that it was a minor role and some even went on to characterize his role as a part of a large conspiracy. Who was that person and was there a conspiracy? Let’s check out the involvement of the infamous local lad Hans Raj, in the Amritsar massacre of 13th April 1919.

Now Jallianwalla was once upon a time a home site belonging to the Jalhewalas who hailed from the Jalla village. You may not recall Pandit Jalla, the unpopular Brahmin deputy in Hira Singh’s court, the one who used to be remembered once upon a time by this couplet ‘Ooper alla, Talley Jalla, Jalla de sir tey khalla’ (in heaven lived Allah, in earth lived Jalla…may Allah give Jalla a shoe beating), well his name became immortalized with the events of 1919 when Col Dyer ordered the shooting of some 20,000-25,000 assembled in this 24,000 sqmts space, without any provocation.

Who exhorted the unfortunate masses to attend a meeting in this compound? It was largely due to the exertions of an energetic young man named Hans Raj. As records put it, Hans Raj, an aide to Dr. Kitchlew, announced on the 11th that a public protest meeting would be held at 16:30 the following day in the Jallianwala. People flocked to hear these speeches instead, as festivities (the cattle market fair was closed) had been banned by specific proclamations at the usual meeting places, by Col Dyer. Was Hans Raj such a popular figure to be heeded to, was he a real activist? Why did people follow him like pied piper to the Bagh? What happened to him at the ground? What was his relationship with Dr Satyapal and Dr Kitchlew the leaders who had been exiled a few days earlier? And who was the mysterious Bashir who was involved in the two days preceding the massacre, the one who was to speak and the one who never turned up? Let’s take a deeper look.

The first writer to provide some details of the character was Pt Peary Mohan, a vakil of the Lahore high court, writing his account in Dec 1919, just 8 months after the incident. The book’s opening page shows a man in the buff being whipped, setting store for the gory details of the massacre in the pages that follow.  The Hunter commission had been convened in October and Dyer had given his evidence in Nov. The British report was published in March 1920 and Mohan’s book itself was published in May 1920.

According to Mohan, HansRaj, son of a local prostitute Devi Ditta Mal Bedi aged 23, had passed his matriculation in 1911. His less than stellar background traversed many jobs until the 1919 event, and we see that his services had been terminated on many occasions, due to his dubious and shifty character. First he was a ticket examiner in the NWR where he had been dismissed for embezzlement, then he clerked for the municipal commissioner LH Shah, next as a clerk at the Union club, then with a banker Seva Singh and so on. During this period he tried to obtain employment in the police department and was on a waiting list, but was apparently allowed to act as a CID (more correctly as an informer, perhaps). During the events that transpired in 1919, he was a commission agent for printing and stationery. Until Feb 1919, he kept a low profile and suddenly began to appear at all kinds of public political meetings. Mohan argues that it was not fervent nationalism which made him do this, but the responsibility to report inside information to his police superiors. He also cultivated acquaintances with important public figures, expressing his ability and willingness to organize meetings, record and copy meeting minutes, print notices and so on.

By 8th April he was accorded a formal title, the Secretary of the Satyagraha Sabha. Thus he got closer to Dr Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal, the two leaders who had been banished days before the Amritsar event. In fact he was present as the two were deported and carried back copies of the deportation notices to inform their relatives (why did the police entrust him with this duty?). He then bound himself to the next in line Dr Bashir and many other activists who continued to rebel. Before we cast doubts on his character, let us see what he did next, for he certainly went on to stir the hornets’ nest. After leaving Satyapal and Horniman who were being carted off to Dharmasala in high secrecy, Hans Raj reported the deportations to the friendly press and snapped of a telegram to Gandhiji. He then went around town and informed the public of the happenings. It was following this that a crowd collected demanding details on their leaders and the mob violence as well as the event involving Sherwood of 10th April took place. For all practical purposes, Hans Raj was the instigator of the 10th April violence, though Hans Raj later implicated Dr Bashir for these events.

It was on the 12th evening that Hans Raj was involved again, in a meeting at Bashir’s house where Bashir was exhorting the people gathered to call off the agitation if the British promised no reprisals on the mob participants, but Has Raj would not agree stating that each and every one had to be aware that their leaders had been spirited away and that they should all take up individual leadership to continue the agitation. He then called for a meeting at Jallianwala Bagh the next day under the leadership of an elderly resident Lala Kanhiya Lal (who had no idea of all this!). The plan was to announce a hartal on 13th and suspend all businesses until their leaders were released. Gandhiji who had been released in the meantime addressed a meeting in Bombay stating there should be no demonstrations against any leader’s arrest, but that message never reached anybody in Amritsar.

From Draper’s accounts, we note the sequence of events as follows - On the 13th Hans Raj was busy preparing for the meeting at the Bagh. He arranged for a platform to be erected for the speakers and a batch of sweepers to clean up the area as much as possible, and organized for water carriers to carry water through any crowd that assembled. Meanwhile somebody noticed that Has Raj was in conversation on two occasions, with some undercover CID officers in the area. It appears that some people already knew of potential violence even before the event and stayed away from the Bagh or decided to go back. The meeting started and speakers talked about Kitchlew and Satyapal, later some poets recited poems. A plane flew overhead and some witnesses saw Hans Raj wave a handkerchief at it and while at the same time a few policeman in the crowd left the locale. As the sight of the plane triggered some panic, Hans Raj asked the people not to worry and the plane was quickly gone. The speakers continued and just about then, at 5:15 PM, the boots of Dyer’s troops could be heard pounding the entrance path. Again, witnesses noticed Hans Raj wave a handkerchief and the crowd chanted ‘they have come’. Hans Raj exhorted the speakers to sit down assuring them that the Sarkar would not fire. At that instant, Dyer shouted out his orders ‘Gurkhas right, 59th left fire’. Hans Raj shouted – they are only blanks – and it seems, he bolted. The soldiers knelt, loaded and fired, and fired and fired…all of 1650 of .303 Mark VI ammunition into the crowd, methodically, with Dyer directing the aim to the most crowded spots. Dyer and his troops then retreated as collective wails floated up from the walls of the Bagh.

Hans Raj by some accounts had vanished, but that part as well as his kerchief waving were perhaps exaggerations. Let’s now go on to see what Hans Raj did next, for he would reappear soon in the so called Amritsar leader’s case, which took place in June 1919.

The Jalianwala Bagh massacre (courtesy Indian Express)
Lala Jowahar Lal, a CID inspector who had been observed speaking to Hans Raj at the meeting and had left before Dyer arrived, was the first to pick up Hans Raj on the 21st, 8 days after the horrible event, and stated that Hans Raj wanted to confess and help the government, but that he did not have in possession the statements or notes made during pervious interrogation meetings as he had destroyed them. All other police officers speaking for the crown, had interestingly done the same thing. Fellow prisoners had noticed that Has Raj was being treated preferentially and seemed to be leading a jolly life in detention. Lal then took Hans Raj to A. Symour, the magistrate where he admitted that his confession was not being made under duress (though he was held in the British fort for 4 days preceding the confession), but curiously declined to make it under an oath. Thus Hans raj became the key witness for the prosecution, he had turned approver in exchange for full pardon, since he had also been charge sheeted.

The case was held ‘in camera’ though news of JP Ellis’s adhocism trickled out of the chambers. He went on to name each and everyone involved with a remarkably lucid memory and accuracy, and summarized the meetings before 13th to being not related to Satyagraha but as meetings cloaking a plan to agitate violently. He also told the court that Satyapal and Kitchlew had before leaving, asked him to incite the crowds in Amritsar in revenge. With this one statement, Hans Raj nailed the leaders to the board. During his examination, he also provided the court with hundreds of names, their exact statements, in other words, everything that was required by the court, in a way they wanted it, to make a judgment just as they wanted to. He confidently assured the people of the court that he was not committing perjury in exchange for pardon. Many of the onlookers were convinced that Hans Raj had been carefully coached for the narration. Everything he said was taken note of without corroboration or cross-examination and accepted as evidence even though he was the main culprit, the person who had organized and conducted the so called rebellious meeting. Instead all the others leaders who were absent, were convicted.

As the defense counsels were not provided any of the evidence beforehand, they could not take apart Hans Raj other than cast aspersions on his character and this obviously was not sufficient to dent the prosecution’s case. Another crown witness Brij Lal however mentioned that while in detention, Hans Raj worked with the police in forcing Lal to make a confession as they wanted.  Lal was also forced to memorize the content of his statement so that he could stick to it faithfully while in court. In addition, all the accused refuted the evidence given by Hans Raj, with Satyapal even going onto say that he would never have been involved with Hans Raj as the latter was on a much lower social scale! Bashir emphatically stated that he had not asked Hans Raj to organize the 13th meeting at the Bagh. But they were all of no avail.

The court as expected decided that that Punjab had been on the brink of a revolt, that a criminal conspiracy existed and that war had been waged on the 10th of April against the crown. They also mentioned that Has Raj, a person of little standing was ‘worthy of credence’ a statement made strangely without even a bit of corroboration! The record states - We have arrived at the conclusion that Hans Raj had endeavored to tell his story as fully as he was capable of doing and has not deliberately made any false statements. That he has been occasionally confused is apparent, but that is not surprising considering the numbers of persons he had to deal with (a good deal more than the accused in this case and we have given the accused concerned the fullest benefit of any such confusion of ideas, dates and names.

Kitchlew and Satyapal were to be transported and had all their property forfeited. Dr Bashir who was not even involved and who had actually treated some of the injured, was sentenced to death, for his involvement in the 10th April mob violence. Hans Raj was also used in another case to deliver identical results and even more people were sentenced to death on the weight of his evidence. However some of them including Dr Bashir were later acquitted on appeal.

Whatever happened to Hans Raj following the case? As some Indian leaders fumed and planned a retort, or wrote letters to the press, Hans Raj vanished. If he had been let go after the case, he would have been torn to pieces by the angry people of Amritsar. The British apparently rewarded him with a large sum of money and spirited him away to Mesopotamia. It is not clear if his hapless mother or sister accompanied him, perhaps not. The British, interestingly paid out about Rs 18 lakhs as compensation, a couple of years after the event, to families of many of the victims.

Many contemporaries such as Lala Hans Raj (a senior advocate) felt that Hans Raj was actually part of a larger conspiracy, in which Dyer planned in order to make an example of the British iron hand.  Jalianwala Bagh, was carefully chosen location to inflict maximum damage due to its being walled. They were also of the opinion that the Bagh firing was a retaliation for the mob actions of the 10th and that it was deliberately planned and executed by Dyer, not something that happened on the spur of the moment, as recounted by Dyer. But to date no proof exists or whatever existed have been carefully erased or vanished, like Hans Raj himself.

Dyer of course was confident all along that under no circumstance would the crown fail to support him, O’Dwyer certainly did support him to the end, but as events transpired, Dyer got castigated by the crown in the process, whereas O’Dwyer did not. VN Datta believes that both Kitchlew and Gandhiji preferred to remain silent on the Hans Raj issue and let the matter lie, for this was more on the side of national interest and presented a poor image of the crown’s handling of the law and India’s innocent.

Raja Ram in his analysis brings out a point that it was clear from records that O’Dwyer had all the time been gearing up for a major event on the 13th due to the Baisakhi celebrations, the influx of people into Amritsar, and that the event of the 10th happened by chance.  The 10th events provided an even more convenient excuse to announce that a rebellion was being staged, which is defined as ‘waging war’ under martial law. He also mentions of plans to carry out an aerial bombardment of Amritsar which was however called off to prevent damage to the Golden Temple.

Without doubt, what precipitated the disturbances was the unnecessary arrest of Kitchlew and Satyapal. They were the only two leaders who could have controlled the events of 10th April. Gandhiji stated - The police expected that the demonstrators would try to liberate the two leaders and precautions were taken, but 'there was no attempt at rescue'. The banishing of the leaders removed from Amritsar the two men who might have restrained the populace. 'Starting in anger at the action of the government in deporting the two local politicians,' reads the Hunter Report, a mob raged through the streets. That reckless decision by O’Dwyer was what led to Chettur Sankaran Nair’s statement and the court case we discussed in the previous article. In fact Gandhiji said later - The truth of the matter is that the wrong man was in the wrong box; the right man to have been in the box of the accused should certainly have been Sir Michael O'Dwyer. Had he not made inflammatory and irritating speeches, had he not belittled leaders, had he not in a most cruel manner flouted public opinion and had he not arrested Drs. Kitchlew and Satyapal, the history of the last two months would have been differently written.

Nick Lloyd’s book however presents Hans Raj’s relationship with Bashir in a different light based mostly on Hans Raj’s testimony and conflicts those provided by Draper, Mohan and Datta. Quoting Lloyd – ‘According to Hans Raj, Bashir was the man who pushed for the meeting and never turned up (Bashir was according to another account, watching the events as they transpired, from a nearby shop). He narrates that it was Bashir who ordered Hans Raj to organize a meeting at the Bagh. Conflicting Mohan’s notes, Lloyd mentions - When Hans Raj suggested that they should end the hartal, Bashir told him that he was ‘a child’ who did not understand ‘such matters’. He does not believe that Dyer was a premeditated murderer, but he did so due to the size and nature of the crowd he faced and since he had few troops had no option but to keep firing. Nigel Collett reviews Lloyd’s book and rebuts many of these comments in his article linked here.

It is also interesting to see how the judgement was reviewed at a later date in the House of Commons, especially the case of Dr Bashir. When asked by Col Yate why Bashir was released subsequently, Edwin Montagu, secretary of state for India replied “Dr. Muhammed Bashir was sentenced to death by a martial law commission in the Amritsar Leaders' case, which included the charge against him of inciting the mob in the attack on the National Bank. The sentence was reduced by Sir Edward Maclagan, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, to one of six years' rigorous imprisonment. The two High Court Judges appointed to examine cases tried by Martial Law Courts agreed that the part of the case against the doctor relating to the events at the National Bank rested on the, uncorroborated testimony of an approver; one judge was of the opinion that there was sufficient evidence to justify a conviction for waging war only, but the other judge would not admit the sufficiency of the evidence to justify a conviction at all. The Punjab Government, in the circumstances, recommended the release of Dr. Muhammed Bashir on certain conditions, and the Government of India accepted these recommendations.” This goes on to prove that much of what Hans Raj provided as testimony was upon detailed analysis, considered dubious and unworthy of merit or action.

It is now time to glance at a peculiar event that transpired after the massacre. Col Dyer and Maj Briggs were made honorary Sikhs by the elders of the Golden Temple. They thanked him for protecting the temple, not bombing it and for saving Amritsar from plunder by the mobs. Excused from growing a beard, Dyer did promise to cut his smoking at the rate of one cigarette a year. The Mahants then offered the services of 10,000 men to Dyer in order to fight the Afghans, which was declined. Anyway two years from then, the Akali Gurudwara reform movement would wrest power away from those powerful Mahants and turn it over to the SGPC.

Collett’s paper provides an aside that Dyer was perhaps fed with a good amount of misinformation by various vested interest groups when he landed up in Amritsar and this clouded his judgement and made him very nervous indeed. Kitchin told him that 200 armed Sikhs from the manja were about to raid Amritsar. The Superintendent of Police, Ashraf Khan had informed Dyer that the rebellion was being spread into the surrounding districts by agents from Amritsar and that large numbers were coming into the city to form a dandafauj (armed with sticks) and drive the British out.  Thus Dyer formed a belief that an army of the Punjabi insurgents would face him the next day and that he should stop it at any cost.

Collett concludes - Who were these Indian informants who had dripped such poison into the administration ears, why had they done so and why had the administration taken any notice of them?  All around these villages clustered the large houses of wealthy and locally powerful Sikh families, supporters, in the main, of the status quo. All were families whose stakes in land and property were threatened by the disorder in nearby Amritsar and who in all likelihood would have desired the British to act decisively before events got further out of hand. It is perhaps from such sources that Kitchin and Donald received the information which they passed on to Dyer. So, by default, the administration consulted its old sources and received advice that was less and less useful as time passed.

An unintended effect of all this was the overhearing of Dyer’s bombast by Jawaharlal Nehru who was lying down on an upper berth in a train compartment which had Dyer and his friends. The infuriated Nehru who was until then ambivalent about Satyagraha, decided to throw his weight into in the lead.
Years later, another Hans Raj, also a state approver, became prominent in the Bhagat Singh case. That is another story, for another day…..

Read Part 1 Dwyer, Dyer and Nair ..here

References
An Imaginary rebellion and how it was suppressed – Pt Peary Mohan
The historiography of the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre - Savita Narain
The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer - Nigel Collett
Imperial Crime & Punishment – Helen Fein
Jalianwala Bagh Massacre - VN Datta, S Settar
The Jalianwala Bagh Massacre - Raja Ram
A Muse Abused: The Politicizing of the Amritsar Massacre - Nigel Collett
The O'Dwyer v. Nair Libel Case of 1924: New Evidence Concerning Indian Attitudes and British Intelligence During the 1919 Punjab Disturbances: Nigel Collett
British administration and the Amritsar Massacre – Horniman
The Amritsar Massacre – Nick Lloyd
Armies of the Raj: From the Mutiny to Independence, 1858-1947 - Byron Farwell
Jallianwala Bagh Commemoration volume – VN Datta
Amritsar – Alfred Draper