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This is why Mahatma Gandhi forgave General Dyer even after Jallianwala Bagh massacre

Ironically, it was Gandhi who coined the term ‘Dyerism’ to describe brute force and violent suppression.

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Brigadier General Dyer, the chief perpetrator of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, was an object of hate among Indians, but Mahatma Gandhi forgave General Dyer again and again, even as he warned people against ‘Dyerism’.

At that time, Mahatma Gandhi was trying to show the country a different path – a path of non-violence and forgiveness.

Gandhi said that “it would be sin for me to serve General Dyer and co-operate with him to shoot innocent men. But it will be an exercise of forgiveness or love for me to nurse him back to life, if he was suffering from a physical malady (sic)”. (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG) Vol 18, P195, ‘Religious Authority for Non-Cooperation’, Young India, 25 August 1920)

Gandhi even wrote that Dyer “merely destroyed a few bodies but the others tried to kill the soul of a nation”. He said that “the fury that has been spent upon General Dyer is, I am sure, largely misdirected”. (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 18, P46, Young India, 14 July 1920) 

When Dyer suffered from paralysis in the last phase of his life, a friend wrote to Gandhi blaming the Jallianwala Bagh massacre for his ill-health.

Gandhi, a staunch believer of Bhagavad Gita, had a rational response to this. “I do not think that his paralysis has any necessary connection with his action in Jallianwala Bagh. Have you considered the implications of such beliefs?… My dysentery, appendicitis and this time a mild attack of paralysis must have been known to you. I should be very sorry if some good Englishmen were to think that these diseases were due to my fierce opposition, as it must appear in their estimation, to the English Government.” (CWMG Volume 34, P229 ‘A Letter’, 24 July 1927)

Then he forgave Dyer again, nearly two decades after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

“Who could be more cruel or blood-thirsty than the late Gen. Dyer?” asked Gandhi, “Yet the Jallianwala Bagh Congress Inquiry Committee, on my advice, had refused to ask for his prosecution. I had no trace of ill will against him in my heart. I would have also liked to meet him personally and reach his heart, but that was to remain a mere aspiration.” (CWMG Volume 68, P83, ‘Talk to Khudai Khidmatgars’, 1 November 1938)


Also read: Jallianwala Bagh centenary — Britain won’t apologise but will ‘express regret’ for massacre


Forgive but don’t forget

While Gandhi forgave Dyer, he clarified that “absence of hatred does not and must not mean the screening of the guilty”. (CWMG Volume 30, P442, ‘To S.L.R. Young India’, 13 May 1926)

“Though we do speak of forgetting and forgiving the misdeeds of others, it would be a sin to forget certain things.” Talking about Dyer and O’Dwyer (the Lt Governor of Punjab during the Jallianwala Bagh massacre), Gandhi said, “We may forgive Dyer and O’Dwyer for the Jallianwala massacre, but we cannot afford to forget it….” (CWMG Volume 45, P132 ‘Speech to Congress Leaders, Allahabad’, 31 January 1921)

Dyer did not repent his act at Jallianwala Bagh either. But once, he did consider donating the proceeds from some of his lectures “among the relatives of the Indians who fell during Amritsar affair in 1919”. (The Manchester Guardian, 3 February 1921, ‘General Dyer’s Lecture Fund’)

Gandhi’s journal Navjivan even took note of this and said General Dyer had dared to spare the income for the victim families of Jallianwala Bagh. (Navjivan, February 1921, P188)

But the idea didn’t materialise. As per Manchester Guardian’s report, “He (Dyer) has varied that intention and is devoting the proceeds to a fund for supplying medical aid to the wives of British officers serving in India”.


Also read: The BJP can’t remove Congress from India’s history or from the Jallianwala Bagh trust


Gandhi & Dyerism 

Ironically, it was Gandhi who coined the term ‘Dyerism’ to describe brute force and violent suppression, thus making General Dyer the most referred name in that context.

He described untouchability as ‘Dyerism of Hindu religion’. He also drew a parallel between General Dyer’s act of cruelty with murder in the name of cow protection.

In response to a letter, Gandhi wrote: “General Dyer himself surely believed that English men and women were in danger of losing their lives if he did not take the measures he did. We, who know better, call it an act of cruelty and vengeance. But from General Dyer’s own standpoint, he is justified. Many Hindus sincerely believe that it is a proper thing to kill a man who wants to kill a cow and he will quote scripture for his defence and many other Hindus will be found to justify his action. But strangers who do not accept the sacredness of the cow will hold it to be preposterous to kill a human being for the sake of slaying an animal (sic).” (CWMG Volume 33, P358, ‘Letter to Deveshvar Siddhantalankar’, 22 May 1927)


Also read: Remembering Shaheed Udham Singh, the revolutionary who avenged Jallianwala Bagh


During the Dandi March, Gandhi came to know that some villagers were not supplying grocery or water to the police or other government officers. Gandhi said that if Dyer and O’Dwyer “whose deeds, which were the very incarnations of cruelty, I had termed as “Dyerism”, shoot me and if I am still conscious and come to know that one of them has been bitten by a snake, I would go running to them to suck out the poison. I have done such things in the past”. (CWMG Volume 43, P116, 21 March 1930)

He told American journalist-historian Katherine Mayo that “I want this country to be spared Dyerism (sic). That is, I do not want my country, when it has the power, to resort to frightfulness in order to impose her custom on others”.  (CWMG Volume 30, P120, ‘Interview to Katherine Mayo’, 17 March 1926)

The author is a senior columnist and writer in Ahmedabad.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Someone made up the claim that Gandhi condemned Udham Singh’s killing of O’Dwyer and a whole lot of other are repeating it without question.Wikipedia cites The Harijan (March 15, 1940) as the source. There is no issue with that date. Moreover, there is no mention of Singh in the Harijan.

  2. That’s why Gandhi was never honoured with Nobel Peace Prize, whereas his followers like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther were. If Gandhi had the audacity to forgive and forget a diabolical personality like dyre, saving Bhagat Singh’s life would have been a cake walk for him. In fact it was Gandhi himself who must have found his popularity threatened by the rise of Bhagat Singh and Subhash Bose in particularly the youth of the nation. So, he deliberately removed the competitive hurdles of his way to his political throne and made a very clear pathway for autocracy in Indian National Congress which is very clearly reflected in INC even today holding his surname

  3. Is it true that Gandhiji said udhamsinh ,an insane? Nehru said udhar singh ‘s killing Dyer as nonsense deed?

  4. In his death too this mahatma (or guratma) killed and raped 6000 brahmin men , women and children in Maharashtra for none of their mistake…they were innocent. All brahmins who survived and lived thereafter lost their homes and properties for ever. Gandhi’s philosophy and his chela Neheru made laws to protect the killers of brahmins.

  5. Well, dyer was unapologetic till his fate. He said that some say it was a right step while some say it was wrong. He wanted his Maker to classify if it was right or wrong to do. Don’t know what document recorded his apology.

  6. Gandhi was a megalomaniac. For him it was always my way or the highway. He is a hated figure in Bengal – from his refusal to ask for clemency for Khudiram Bose, his constant criticism of revolutionaries, the politics that he played with Subhas Chandra Bose that resulted in Bose leaving Congress, his U turn over partition etc. It is high time someone genuinely independent historian, not of the left/ Congress variety, did an honest appraisal of him.

  7. What happen 100 years ago by the British. We see a very similar character like General Dyer in Gen Narendra Dyers Mo from Gujurat.We the defenceless Indians jad to face the atrocites and National radical violence ALL OVER IN INDIA SINCE last 5 YEARS VERY SIMILAR TO VIOLENCE WHICH TOOK PLACE IN JALLIANWALA BAGH . The Butcher of Gujurat did the same in 2002 .
    HERE GOES ANOTHER DICTATOR under the Gab of Hindutava Nationalizim. HAI RAM WHAT A COUNTRY HAS COME DOWN TOO.

  8. Gandhi was a megalomaniac, confused but astute politician. He was so forgiving of Dyer but criticized other Freedom fighters including Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. Why such double standards? Why we consider him larger than life and who gave him the title “Bapu”? Country is bigger than any individual. Media kept brainwashing us with a singular narrative on Gandhi. He was a freedom fighter like many others. He had ability to mobilize people but He was not the reason why we were freed. He along with millions others like Subhash, Azad Hind Force, Chandrashekhar, Bhagat Singh and so forth all fought British.

    British left for this collective pressure as well as because of the total destruction of their country in Second World War. Please teach the next generations right History.

    • There was no double standards.
      Being victims we have the upper hand to forgive though not necessarily forget.
      But being victims we would not be right to do likewise though we may have the right as the accused for it is against the principles of DHARMAM.
      IT IS INDEED DANGEROUS TO BE GOOD.
      A HONEST AND RIGHTEOUS MAN WOULD HAVE MANY ENEMIES AND PROBABLY BE A LONE SOUL.

  9. There is no way in which a sane persone fails to criticise and get angry over such a gruesome and cowardly act done by Dwyer. But Gandhi surely wasn’t one of them. The worst part is that when Shaheed Udham Singh ji Killed Dwyer there at Britain and then got caught, Gandhi and Nehru condemned this heroic act of his. Gandhi did not even criticize Dwyer. But in Udham Singh’s case he not only Criticised him but also showed agony on his action.

    • Since he was a hypocrite and megalomaniac and Congress and Media kept teaching us a singular narrative that “Gandhi was larger than life”

  10. It is very difficult to many people, to differentiate between a person and his qualities like, cruelty and kindness. Only Mahatma Gandhi could do it.
    We have to remember, that General Dyer was a British Officer, and like many Britishers of those days, must be having nothing but contempt for Indians. An Officer, with this kind of mental make up could not have conducted himself in a better way.

    That is why one, should not nurture ill will towards others. We can dislike people’s for their bad mentality, bad thinking, and bad practices they stand for, nevertheless we should not be cruel to them and kill them.

    I think this is what Mahatma Gandhi ment, when he said General Dyer is to be distinguished from Dyersim which needed to be condemned.

    • There is law for crime ,one who believes in system should not behave like a Judge even if he is respected as father of Nation.Interpreting a crime as per own convenience itself is a crime more so when literacy rate was only twelve percent . What Dyre did was a rarest by any standard ,and punishment should be equally rarest.To pacify public anger or to justify was treacherous and to analogue it with social evils like untouchabilities was encouraging to Britisher so much so that they honoured General Dyre.

  11. The number of people critical of Gandhi is growing these days as evident from comments here and on WhatsApp messages. However, rarely has there been a more innovative revolutionary in the history of the world (Dandi March is one example). Gandhi was a pacifist, but also a realist…a personality who kept evolving with changing circumstances and age. In the end he didn’t ask for power, and he was not afraid of death.

  12. One shouldn’t justify a crime ,be it Gandhi or else ,but he did ,he even compared one singular crime with mass killing , he was declared father of nation but he was not father of those massacred in Jaliyanwala. We would have respected him more if he protested Jaliyanwala incidence and being lawyer faught on behalf of victims in court or on streets but he didn’t ,but use Dyrism for social evils. Gandhi used Indians and even his minor niece as Guinea pigs but never as a normal human being living with dignity and self respect and pride.This is Congress Ideology.

  13. Mahatma Gandhi was wicked person on mas s acre.If he had courage, might have saved Lala Lajpat Rai too.

    • That’s why Gandhi was never honoured with Nobel Peace Prize, whereas his followers like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther were. If Gandhi had the audacity to forgive and forget a diabolical personality like dyre, saving Bhagat Singh’s life would have been a cake walk for him. In fact it was Gandhi himself who must have found his popularity threatened by the rise of Bhagat Singh and Subhash Bose in particularly the youth of the nation. So, he deliberately removed the competitive hurdles of his way to his political throne and made a very clear pathway for autocracy in Indian National Congress which is very clearly reflected in INC even today holding his surname

      • Popularity threatening..??
        I think Mr.Gandhi was well aware about his potential and position.He was born leader and has abilities to mobilize the mass. Even if we remove Gandhi from Indian history then,I don’t think any leader would have enough potential to unite India.
        Before Gandhian era,many leaders were born and they did well ..but they were just condensed in a small region even they didn’t tried to include the mass– (the citizen).. some tried but they were potentially not enough to lead the mass.

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