No apology from UK on centenary of Amritsar massacre

British High Commissioner to India Dominic Asquith laying a wreath yesterday to pay respects to the hundreds of unarmed men, women and children who were gunned down by colonial troops in the northern Indian city of Amritsar on April 13, 1919. British
British High Commissioner to India Dominic Asquith laying a wreath yesterday to pay respects to the hundreds of unarmed men, women and children who were gunned down by colonial troops in the northern Indian city of Amritsar on April 13, 1919. British Prime Minister Theresa May said in Parliament last Wednesday the incident was a shameful scar in British-Indian history.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI • Britain's envoy to India joined scores of politicians and public figures in the northern city of Amritsar yesterday to mark the 100th anniversary of a massacre of unarmed protesters by colonial troops.

"The events of Jallianwala Bagh 100 years ago today reflect a shameful act in British-Indian history," British High Commissioner Dominic Asquith noted in a visitors' book at the memorial.

Hundreds of unarmed men, women and children were gunned down at Jallianwala Bagh, a walled garden in Amritsar, on April 13, 1919, while they were peacefully protesting against the arrest of two prominent national leaders in defiance of a ban on public gatherings.

The British government at the time put the death toll at 379, while Indian freedom fighters said nearly 1,000 people were killed.

The massacre, considered one of the worst acts of cruelty carried out by the British colonial government, is thought to have sparked the Indian independence movement.

Indians have long demanded an apology for the incident.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said in Parliament last Wednesday the incident was a shameful scar in British-Indian history. "We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused," Mrs May said.

NEVER FORGET

India pays tribute to all those martyred on that fateful day. Their valour and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI POSTED ON TWITTER

 

Indian politicians and descendants of victims in India said the remarks fell short of a full apology.

Yesterday and the day before, several events were held to pay homage to the victims. Hundreds of people marched through Amritsar to the gardens last Friday, holding candles and flags and singing patriotic songs. Mr Rahul Gandhi, the head of the Indian National Congress opposition party, and Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh were among the stream of visitors to the memorial yesterday.

"India pays tribute to all those martyred on that fateful day. Their valour and sacrifice will never be forgotten," Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted on Twitter.

India is in the midst of general election, and both Mr Modi and Mr Gandhi were campaigning yesterday in southern Karnataka state.

Karnataka is among the regions where voting will be held in the second phase on Thursday.

Indian Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, a former leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, joined a ceremony at the memorial yesterday and released a commemorative stamp and coin to mark the 100th anniversary.

"This is a day that reminds us of the indomitable human spirit... It is a timely reminder to each one of us as to how hard won and precious is our freedom," Mr Naidu said.

In 1997, the Queen laid a wreath at a site during a tour of India. But her gaffe-prone husband, Prince Philip, stole the headlines by reportedly saying that the Indian estimates for the death count were "vastly exaggerated".

DPA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 14, 2019, with the headline 'No apology from UK on centenary of Amritsar massacre'. Print Edition | Subscribe