Govt to honour man who bared truth of Jallianwala massacre in Amritsar
New Delhi, August 23
Little is known of Pandit K. Santanam, the man who first bared the horrors of Jallianwala Bagh massacre to the world and who, despite being a conservative Iyengar from Tamil Nadu, left his native place and made Lahore his permanent home. This August 25, the Department of Posts will release a commemorative stamp in Santanam’s memory, 62 years after he passed away.
Much of the man’s contribution was made to Punjab, which he toured in the aftermath of the Jallianwala tragedy in Amritsar to reveal the truth. The government-appointed Hunter’s Committee had buried the facts which resulted in the Indian National Congress appointing its own committee to probe the tragedy.
Santanam, as secretary of this committee which comprised Mahatma Gandhi among others, helped compile a two-volume report on the massacre in the holy city of Amritsar, after recording the evidence of 1,700 survivors in times when the British had clamped martial law in the region, and blacked it out from the world.
“The volume came in 1920 and remains, to date, the most authentic record of the massacre. My father had a special love for Punjab, especially Lahore, where he lived until the Partition. Unfortunately, we were unable to carry back documents that contained references to him. All we had for record were the references to him contained in the works of Gandhiji and Nehruji. I am glad his work is being finally recognised,” Madhuri Sondhi, the lone surviving daughter out of the four that Santanam had, told The Tribune today.
She recalled the association her father had with The Tribune and how his house briefly hosted the newspaper during its clandestine publication from Lahore. The Tribune for its part elaborately covered the unusual inter-caste marriage Santanam, a Brahmin from Kumbakonam, had with Krishna, daughter of Arya Samaj leader Pandit Atma Ram Vedi, in 1916. “It was an unusual wedding for those days,” recalls Madhuri, widow of eminent parliamentarian and IFS topper, the late M L Sondhi.
She added that the Jallianwala tragedy was not just about April 13, 1919; it was equally about the brutal reign of terror the British unleashed after the massacre in their attempt to thwart legitimate protests.
“It was then that the British embroiled top leaders for waging a war against the government. My father represented them, being a barrister with the Lahore High Court,” she says.
Santanam was defence counsel in what came to be called as the Lahore Leaders Case. To seek its transfer out of Lahore and ensure an impartial probe, he undertook a dramatic journey to summer capital Simla, just to inform the Indian member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council of the goings-on in Punjab and the horrors of Martial Law.
“He hid under a bunk in a railway carriage where an Englishman had seated himself. He could not get the case transferred but he did bring the facts before the rest of India which didn’t have a clue to what was happening in Punjab post Jallianwala,” Madhuri says.
Also treasurer of the association set up for the defence of Bhagat Singh, Santanam, in 1924, became Managing Director of Lakshmi Insurance Company, which was later called the LIC of India. “That was at the behest of Lala Lajpat Rai, his close friend,” his daughter recalls. The man’s last assignment was as member of the advisory committee to the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation which rehabilitated the Partition victims.