Jallianwala Bagh massacre: Why Britain must follow the Archbishop’s lead
It is the centenary of the tragedy. But London is yet to say sorryUpdated: Sep 11, 2019 20:29 IST
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the principal leader of the Church of England, has said that he was “personally very sorry” for the slaughtering of around 1,000 unarmed Indians by soldiers of the colonial British government at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. Though the Archbishop’s apology is not the same as a State apology, the fact that it comes from the principal leader of the Church adds moral heft to the demand for an official apology for the massacre.
Britain has refused to do so even though former prime ministers have expressed regret in some form, the latest being Theresa May’s reference to it as a “shameful scar” in British Indian history. Britain can follow its own precedent. It acknowledged its culpability in the crackdown on the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s, and the killing of 13 protesters in Northern Ireland on Bloody Sunday in 1972. In 2016, Canada apologised for the Komagata Maru incident (1914), in which hundreds of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu passengers were forced to return to a violent fate in India. France has apologised for its role in criminal slavery in Haiti. This week, Denmark apologised to indigenous children who faced abuse and neglect in orphanages decades ago.
There are two main reasons why Britain is reluctant to formally apologise. One, many academics, such as Priyamvada Gopal of Cambridge University, demand that Britain must expand the scope of an apology. They argue that Jallianwala Bagh was not an isolated incident, but a part of the colonial project, which was violent from start to finish, and which included systematic racism and discrimination. Therefore, Britain and other colonial powers must apologise for the entire colonial project. Second, Britain fears that an apology will open the space for demands for reparation by the descendents of Jallianwala Bagh’s victims. But even without an apology, the legatees of the violence can demand compensation, as the Mau Mau victims did in 2013. It is time to stop the excuses, and say sorry.
First Published: Sep 11, 2019 19:25 IST