100 years ago, on the 13th April of the year 1919, a crowd gathered at Jallianwala Bagh, in the city of Amritsar, to protest the deportation of two nationalist leaders. It was a public garden so there were also families having picnics. What the people didn’t know is that there was a ban on public gatherings in the city, which had been placed directly under the British Indian army.
The officer in charge of the city, Brig. Gen. George Dyer lined up his men against the wall of the enclosed garden and fired ceaselessly for up to 10 minutes, stopping only when they ran out of ammunition. As per official numbers, the death toll was 379, with four times as many wounded. However, the number could be high. The British leader Winston Churchill then described the massacre as ‘an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation’.
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British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed ‘deep regret’ in the Parliament on Wednesday, three days before India marks the Jallianwala Bagh massacre’s 100th year.
Theresa May said “The tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh of 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.”
David Cameron, the former British PM who visited India in 2013, had also expressed regret. Both leaders stopped short of an apology. The UK junior Foreign Minister Mark Field said an apology could have financial implications.
Field said “We debase the currency of apologies if we make them for many events.”
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Shashi Tharoor, a former UN diplomat and a vocal Indian leader, demanded a ‘full clear and unequivocal apology’ from the British PM Theresa May on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. In a tweet, Tharoor said “the British PM must now express a ‘full, clear and unequivocal apology’ as sought by her opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn. More important, Britain must express atonement not just for one atrocity, but for the colonial evils of which #Jallianwala Bagh was the symbol, not the cause.”
The Congress leader also welcomed May’s expression of regret. “As someone who has long sought an apology from London for its colonial atrocities, I am glad her statement at least addresses the issue. But it is not enough”, added Tharoor.