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 it.
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. Kitchlu 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 reply 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 caravanserai.
Owing to the principal Punjab leaders being in jail, their place, I
found, had been properly taken up by Pandit Malaviyaji, Pandit
Motilalji and the late Swami Sharddhanandji. 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 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 Tyebji, 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 as 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 work.
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.