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Jallianwala Bagh massacre: UK ‘reflecting’ on apology demand

In Chandigarh, the Punjab assembly on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution seeking an apology from Britain for the massacre.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2019 00:13 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Jallianwala Bagh,Britain,apology
Hundreds of people were killed when British troops under Brig-Gen Reginald Dyer’s command fired on a crowd of unarmed Indians at Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919.

Britain is “reflecting” on the long-standing demand for an apology over the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre ahead of the centenary of the bloodbath on April 13, government whip Annabel Goldie has said.

Hundreds of people were killed when British troops under Brig-Gen Reginald Dyer’s command fired on a crowd of unarmed Indians at Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919.

“The Foreign Secretary [Jeremy Hunt] is currently… reflecting on the situation and I can say that the views expressed in this debate are certainly noted and will be conveyed back to the department,’’ Goldie said on Tuesday. Goldie was responding to a debate in the UK Parliament’s upper house – the House of Lords – on the massacre’s centenary. Indian-origin British parliamentarians, Lord Meghnad Desai and Lord Raj Loomba, had initiated the debate.

In Chandigarh, the Punjab assembly on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution seeking an apology from Britain for the massacre. “...it is high time for India to prevail upon the British government to tender an apology to assuage the bruised psyche of our countrymen and the Indian diaspora across the globe,” said Punjab’s parliamentary affairs minister Brahm Mohindra, who moved the resolution.

Goldie said she is aware how passionately the issue is felt and noted that the government at the time had condemned the atrocity. She cited Hunt’s remarks when Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee asked him in October if 2019 might be an appropriate moment to apologise. “That is a very profound thought; let me reflect on that, but I can understand why that could be a potentially very significant gesture,” she quoted Hunt as saying.

Goldie underlined history cannot be rewritten and added it is important not to get trapped by the past. “We must also look forward to the future and do all we can to prevent atrocities [from] happening.”

Several Indian-origin parliamentarians participated in the debate and cited instances when Britain has apologised. They demand an apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, too.

British leaders have over the years visited Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh Memorial but have stopped short of apologising. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron called the carnage “a deeply shameful event in the British history” during his visit to the memorial in 2013.

Queen Elizabeth visited the memorial 16 years earlier in 1997. “History cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise. It has its moments of sadness, as well as gladness. We must learn from the sadness and build on the gladness,’’ she had said.

During the debate, Labour lawmaker Kenneth Morgan recalled Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip’s “off-the-cuff remarks” questioning the number or casualties during the 1997 visit. He said that had made matters “somewhat worse”.

Karan Bilimoria, another lawmaker, said, “The Canadian PM Justin Trudeau did just that in 2016, when he apologised for Canada’s actions in the atrocities a century earlier, when the Indian immigrants on the [Japanese steamship] Komagata Maru were denied permission to land in Vancouver, thereby sending many of them to their deaths. Why can Britain not do this?”

First Published: Feb 20, 2019 23:54 IST