The refusal of the uk government, even 100 years after the event, to unconditionally apologise for the official mass murder of an estimated 400-1,000 Indians, mainly Sikhs, who had peacefully assembled at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar (Punjab) on April 13, 1919, requires thorough reappraisal of almost two centuries of British rule over India.
The back story of the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh is that in April 1918, a committee under the chairmanship of Justice Sidney Rowlatt, recommended abolition of jury trial, in-camera hearings and a press ban on reporting sedition cases.
On April 6, Mahatma Gandhi called a national hartal (general strike) to protest the Rowlatt Act after eight youth protesting the Act were fired upon and killed by the Delhi police on March 30. Two days later on April 8, the Mahatma was arrested and briefly detained while on his way to Punjab. This provoked rioting in Amritsar and three British banks were set on fire and a woman missionary was severely beaten. On April 11, martial law was declared in Amritsar and administrative charge of the holy city was given to Brig. Reginald Dyer. Nevertheless, the protestors were undeterred and called a public meeting at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13 which fell on Baisakhi, the Sikh new year. When the ban was defied, Dyer proceeded to the meeting with 50 Gorkha and Pathan soldiers and two armoured cars. The outcome was the most infamous massacre in recent Indian history.
The history of almost two centuries of British rule over India and the greed, plunder, exploitation, and murder that was a defining feature of the Raj has been cleverly obfuscated by the British establishment, including the academy. For instance, history textbooks prescribed for British school children and youth proclaim the benefits of British rule — democracy, the English language, rule of law etc — derived by independent India and make almost no reference to the atrocities of Jallianwala and the Bengal famine (1943), the imperial divide and rule policy, the haphazard partition of India which resulted in massive bloodshed, and overt racial discrimination practised by the viceroy’s administration in India.
In this connection it’s worthy of note that in the 1960s, Germany’s chancellor Willy Brandt unconditionally apologised and knelt before the Warsaw ghetto for Germany’s attempted genocide of the Jewish people. More recently, Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau unconditionally apologised to the global Sikh community for his country’s racial discrimination against the community in 1914. In the circumstances, the reluctance of prime minister Theresa May to apologise and restrict herself to describing the Jallianwala massacre as a “shameful scar”, reflects the mean, petty-minded reclusiveness into which Britain has retreated after the collapse of her colonial empire.
This avoidance of an unequivocal apology is reportedly influenced by fear within the notoriously parsimonious British that descendants of the martyrs of Jallianwala may claim monetary compensation. Such trivial pecuniary apprehensions of a once great imperial power, cannot but arouse the pity, derision and contempt of all right-thinking people in India and beyond.