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A century later, the UK still hasn’t apologised for the Amritsar massacre

  • 15 Apr 2019

British leaders have expressed ‘deep regret’ but have not issued an apology despite being urged to do so by the UK opposition.

Congress party president Rahul Gandhi, and other dignitaries pay homage to those killed by British forces in Amritsar [Prabhjot Gill/AP Photo] ( Prabhjot Gill / AP )

The United Kingdom is facing calls to formally apologise for its slaughter of hundreds of Indians in the city of Amritsar in the Punjab region more than a century ago.

On April 13, 1919, thousands of Indians gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh area of the city in defiance of an order banning public protest, angry at the repression of native Indians by the colonial authorities.

Instead of peacefully dispersing the crowd of thousands, soldiers under the command of British officer, Reginald Dyer, opened fire, killing up to 1500 people, according to the Indian parliament.

While receiving condemnation from some politicians, Dyer became a hero in the UK, with the House of Lords declaring him the ‘Saviour of Punjab’.

His supporters, including the acclaimed author Rudyard Kipling, raised £26,000, the equivalent of more than £1.1m in today’s money, so that he could retire in comfort.

The massacre galvanised the Indian independence movement and led to the assassination of Michael O'Dwyer, the British governor of Punjab.

A hundred years later, however, the UK still hasn’t apologised, despite calls to do so by the Indian government, and the large South Asian diaspora in Britain. 

Addressing MPs on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history,” adding: “We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused,” thereby stopping short of a full apology.

That approach has angered both activists and the opposition parties.

“I fail to understand why the government finds it so difficult to issue a formal apology for the appalling, atrocity of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Labour in government under Jeremy Corbyn certainly will” wrote Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell on twitter.

“100 years on from the Amritsar massacre, a shameful stain on British history, our government should issue a formal apology,” wrote the Liberal Democrat Party in a tweet.

This isn’t the first time the UK has faced criticism for its handling of colonial era atrocities.

In recent years, the country’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill’s status as a hero, has been criticised by activists and historians, who point to his racist views on people, including Indians, as well as his role in the Bengal famine, which left millions of Indians dead.

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