It has often been said that Britain lost its empire the day when, a hundred years ago, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, 55, commanding a regiment of 50 Gurkha and Baluchi riflemen, ordered firing without warning upon an unarmed crowd of over 15,000 Indians gathered at an enclosure called the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, a stone’s throw from the Golden Temple.Dyer had brought two armoured cars with mounted machine guns as well, but the entrance to the Bagh was too narrow to let them in. Perhaps to compensate for this shortcoming, Dyer directed his troops to fire wherever the crowd was densest. Dyer was not constrained by any conception of "the innocents": women, men, and children were all legitimate targets. And, at Dyer’s directions, the troops deliberately aimed at those desperately seeking to clamber over the walls to safety. The firing ended only when the troops ran out of ammunition; most of the 1,650 rounds met their target, judging from the official tally of 379 dead and some 1,200 wounded. As the narrator Saleem in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children recalls, Dyer told his men: "Good shooting." The Sunday picnic was over, and the men could take pride in their training: "We have done a jolly good thing."Spring was in the air: April 13 was Baisakhi, and crowds from the city and the adjoining countryside were milling around the Golden Temple and the vicinity. But the days immediately preceding had been taxing, ridden with uncertainty and violence. The end of World War I, to which, ironically, subjugated Indians had contributed with their own blood, brought forth not intimations of greater freedom but repression. A committee appointed to enquire into alleged revolutionary conspiracies, headed by Justice Rowlatt, had effectively recommended the suspension of civil liberties. The British resort to preventive detention in an attempt to squelch nationalist agitation was captured in the headlines of one Lahore newspaper with the phrase, "no dalil, no vakeel, no appeal."Mohandas Gandhi had returned to India four years ago after 20 years in South Africa. He responded to the Rowlatt Act with a call to the nation to observe a general hartal, with this launching himself into national politics. "The whole of India from one end to the other, towns as well as villages," wrote Gandhi in his autobiography, "observed a hartal on that day. It was a most wonderful spectacle."In the Punjab, however, Lieutenant-Governor Sir Michael O’Dwyer did not take kindly to the slightest expression of defiance of colonial authority and saw the "spectacle" as anything but "wonderful". He fancied himself a great upholder of the ‘Punjab tradition’, or the idea that ordinary Punjabis were simple folk without any interest in politics, who had reposed their trust in the government and therefore deserved protection from corrupt urban-based nationalist Indians. The iron hand of the colonial state had saved the Punjab from the "mutiny" of 1857-58 and its corrosive effects, and the peasantry of this State expected the government to preserve "law and order".At a meeting of the Legislative Council in Lahore, O’Dwyer ridiculed the "recent puerile demonstrations against the Rowlatt Acts", describing them as indicative of "how easily the ignorant and credulous people, not one in a thousand of whom knows anything of the measure, can be misled." The agitators, he ominously warned, "have a day of reckoning in store for them."