Although British Prime Minister Theresa May has expressed “regret” over 1919 massacre by British troops in India, many in the South Asian country wait for an official apology from the British authorities.
“There is a sentiment among people that British authorities should tender an apology for the massacre,” Prof. Sukhmani Bal Rair, an expert of modern history at Chandigarh-based Panjab University, told Anadolu Agency.
On April 13, 1919, also the Baisakhi day — the spring festival that marks the New Year in Sikhism — the British troops led by Col. Reginald Dyer opened fire on civilians, who had gathered at Jallianwala Bagh in the city of Amritsar.
According to a report by the Hunter Commission established by the British government, Dyer’s troops fired 1,650 rounds at the unarmed protesters, including women and children. The report put the death toll at 379, but the number of dead is said to be much higher.
According to the report, over 1,000 people were also injured in the shooting.
Even after 100 years have passed, the massacre still evokes anger and sadness in the minds of people.
“This is the worst event in the history of India. The British government should apologize before the public of India. I have read in books how innocents were martyred that day,” said Varun Bhatia, a student in India’s Punjab state.
Expressing regret over the incident, May said on Thursday: “The tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history. As her majesty the Queen said before visiting Jallianwala Bagh in 1997, it is a distressing example of our past history with India […] we deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused. I am pleased that today the U.K.-India relationship is one of collaboration, partnership, prosperity and security.”
In 2013, then British Prime Minister David Cameron had also visited Punjab state and described the incident as a “deeply shameful event in British history.”
People want more
Dalbari Lal, former state minister in Punjab state, told Anadolu Agency that everyone in India wants a formal apology from the British authorities but he sees lesser chances of it happening.
“They should apologize for the carnage. But it will never happen because if they do it, anyone from the India would approach courts and ask for compensation. Also there are some people, who justify Dyer’s actions,” Lal said.
In February 2019, the state assembly of Punjab unanimously passed a resolution, seeking an apology from the British government over the massacre.
A Pakistani minister has also sought apology from the U.K. for the massacre.
“Fully endorse the demand that British empire must apologise to the nations of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh on Jallianwala Massacre and Bengal famine .. these tragedies are the scar on the face of Britain, also KohENoor [diamond] must be returned to Lahore museum where it belongs,” Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a Tweet on Thursday.
However, Prof. Rair said apart from apology “we should also be asking for more — like give us the records so that we can construct the history of that period.
Mahesh Behal, who is in his 70s and a grandson of a victim of Jallilanwala Bagh massacre, said the Indian governments “have not done much” for the families of the victims.
“General Dyer is Butcher Dyer for India and for the families like us,” Behal said.
“The government has not done anything much for the families except giving a freedom fighter card, which can be used to avail exemption on toll tax on the highways,” he added.
Behal said that the massacre was an “important point” for the independence of India from the British rule. “At least the government should give respect [to the victims], so that everyone recognizes the sacrifice of those who got martyred,” he added.
Tek Chand, 73, whose grandfather Khushi Ram was also killed in Jallilanwala Bagh, told Anadolu Agency that the then authorities had announced some compensation, but it was never given to us […] the British government has not issued any apology yet. They should,” Chand said.