Jallianwala Bagh massacre a ‘shameful scar’ on British Indian history: Theresa May

Vidya Ram London | Updated on April 10, 2019 Published on April 10, 2019

File photo of British Prime Minister Theresa May in the Parliament   -  REUTERS

The Labour Party has called for a “full, clear and unequivocal apology,” from the British government for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, after the Prime Minister described the events as a “shameful scar on British Indian history,” but failed to make the formal apology that many hope for. On Wednesday, 80 MPs wrote to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for an apology, pointing to “lasting pain both in India and among UK citizens with family roots in India.”

Opening Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, with a reference to the massacre on April 13 1919, Theresa May quoted the Queen’s previous remarks on a visit to India that it was a “distressing example” of Britain’s past history with India, and her “deep regret” for what happened and the “suffering caused.” It came after MPs from across the political parties called for the formal apology during a debate on Tuesday afternoon.

It remains to be seen if the UK will go further than this on the actually centenary of the event this weekend. Foreign Office Minister Mark Field told MPs on Tuesday that he recognised that there was a “strong and compelling case” for Britain to go beyond the “deep regret” already expressed by the UK, though acknowledged his own instincts had made him reluctant to apologise for things that had happened in the past, referring to considerations such as financial implications.

MPs had suggested that an apology was owed to the victims and their families, as well as part of efforts to strengthen relations with India. “India will never forget,” Conservative MP Bob Blackman, who introduced the debate on Tuesday told MPs. Others argued that there was a need for the UK to raise awareness of the atrocity and the darker aspects of Britain’s colonial legacy in schools, which would help children understand where they came from and where the country was today. “By othering or writing people out of history can we really be surprised that hate crime continues to exist or racism continues to fester?”,” asked Preet Kaur Gill, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston.

Over 80 MPs from across political parties signed a letter initiated by Labour MP Pat McFadden on Wednesday calling for an “official apology.” “Some might ask, why just this atrocity? Yet it is never a good argument to say that because you cannot do everything, you should do nothing,” they wrote.

India-UK relations

“Relations between the UK and India today are friendly and constructive. Yet that does not mean that an apology would not do good…we cannot turn back or erase the past, but we can take steps to recognise what happened and to respond in a way that befits a modern relationship between two countries which today enjoy normal and positive diplomatic relations.”

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Published on April 10, 2019
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