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The end of the British empire - India
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Cartoon published in 1919 commenting on events at Amritsar
(British Cartoon Archive for the Centre for the Study of Cartoons & Caricature at the University of Kent: LSE 6183, David Low)
  • This cartoon was published in December 1919 in The Star newspaper. It was drawn by David Low, a very famous cartoonist. He was generally opposed to the British ruling countries where people wanted them to leave. He was critical of British rule in India and Ireland. In this cartoon he links British actions in these two countries. You can find out more about the end of British rule of Ireland in case study 4.
  • Low's title is 'Progress to Liberty - Amritsar style'. In Britain, Liberty meant self-rule, but only if you were responsible enough to rule your own country properly. Here the cartoonist is suggesting that the British simply talk about Liberty and have no intention of granting it. Low mentions Amritsar because of the Amritsar massacre of 1919.
  • By the early 1900s many Indians wanted greater self-rule for India. The country was ruled by the British Viceroy and his Council. Educated Indians wanted the opportunity to reach the top jobs in the civil service. They also wanted India to have its own government, in which men like them would become MPs.
  • In 1919 there was a huge demonstration at Amritsar. The commander of the British forces in the area was General Dyer. He ordered troops to fire on the peaceful protesters. Around 400 were killed and about 1,000 injured. His actions caused horror and outrage in India and back in Britain. General Dyer was forced to retire (but was not charged with any crimes).
  • The two figures in the cartoon are shown crawling because Low was drawing attention to a regulation introduced by General Dyer called the Crawling Order. He ordered that any Indians wishing to travel up a particular street in Amritsar had to crawl on all fours. Twelve Indians were arrested within hours of the order being put into operation.
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