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Saturday, Oct 19, 2019

‘Profound shame’: Archbishop of Canterbury mourns Jallianwala killings

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place on April 13, 1919, when troops of the British Indian Army under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer fired machine guns into a crowd of unarmed protesters and pilgrims

india Updated: Sep 11, 2019 07:16 IST
Surjit Singh
Surjit Singh
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby reading out a prayer from the Jallianwala Bagh memorial.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby reading out a prayer from the Jallianwala Bagh memorial. (SAMEER SEHGAL/HT PHOTOS)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, on Tuesday mourned the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on April 13, 1919, expressing deep sorrow and shame at the carnage, one of the defining moments of the Indian freedom struggle.

Welby said it was “deeply humbling” and he felt “profound shame.” “My first response is to pray for healing of relatives, of descendants, of our relationships with India and its wonderful people. But that prayer renews in me a desire to pray and act so that together we may learn from history, root out hatred, promote reconciliation and globally seek the common good,” he wrote in the visitors book.

Welby, 63,is the first head of the Church of England to visit the memorial. On entering the premises, he bowed and shut his eyes before the Amar Jyoti torch lit in memory of the martyrs for half a minute.Then he saw the bullet marks on the structures.

“I can’t speak for the British government as I am not an official of British government. But I can speak in the name of Christ. It is a place for sin and redemption. Because you have remembered what they have done and their name will live, their memory will live before God. I am so ashamed and sorry for the impact of this crime...I am a religious leader, not a politician. As religious leader, I mourn the tragedy we see here,” he said.

Reading out a prayer, he said, “The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class. Father, forgive”. On being asked if he would ask the British government to apologise, he said, “I think I have been very clear {about} what I feel and that will be broadcast in England.”

“Here, a great number of Sikhs – as well as Hindus, Muslims and Christians – were shot dead by British troops in 1919”, he said in a Tweet after the visit. On Facebook, he wrote, “I have no status to apologise on behalf of the UK, its government or its history. But I am personally very sorry for this terrible atrocity”.

He added on Facebook:“To say sorry as a Christian is to turn around and take a new direction alongside voicing words of apology. When there is something on the scale and horror of this massacre, and done so many years ago, words can be cheaply bandied around, as if a simple apology would ever be enough.”

He said, “Learning of what happened, I recognise the sins of my British colonial history, the ideology that too often subjugated and dehumanised other races and cultures. Jesus Christ calls us to turn away from sin and to turn to Him as Lord. We are called to not just repent of old ways but to intentionally live in a new way that seeks the Kingdom of God here on earth”.

On the afternoon on April 13, 1919, some 10,000 people gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh, an area in Amritsar surrounded by high walls with only one exit. People were angry in particular about the arrests of two local leaders. April 13 was also Baisakhi, a harvest festival in northern India. The crowd included men, women, children and pilgrims who were visiting the nearby Golden Temple, one of the holiest sites in Sikhism.

British troops opened fire on the crowd of unarmed protestors on April 13, 1919. The number of casualties is unclear with colonial-era records showing about 400 deaths while Indian figures put the number at closer to 1,000.

First Published: Sep 10, 2019 21:00 IST

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