By Karun Lama
Numerous incidents had happened in the past which take away the heart of every Indian and every human as well. One such incident can never be forgotten because of its immense tragic nature and the massive genocide that took place. It took place on April 13, 1919, is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar Massacre. This incident marked its first centenary this year.
On the day, hundreds of men, women and children were killed and many were wounded by British troops led by Brig General REH Dyer in Jallianwala Bagh. Prior to the attack, on April 10, two Indian leaders, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlu and Dr Satypal, were arrested under the Rowlatt Act in connection with Satyagraha, which created much restlessness in Punjab. On April 13, civilians came up for a peaceful gathering on the occasion of Baisakhi, the main festival of Sikhs, condemning the arrest and deportation of the two national leaders. It was then that Gen. Dyer ordered his troop to open fire on the crowd which lasted for about 10 minutes until the ammunition was almost exhausted.
The British India sources give a figure of 379 as identified dead and approximately 1,100 as wounded. But the Indian National Congress had estimated that more than 1,500 were injured and approximately 1,000 were dead. Though, the exact figure lies somewhere between the two.
Though some Britishers condemned this happening at that time, many of them were in favour of the perpetrator, Dyer. Historical records say that Gen. Dyer was rewarded with honour and pride by the British government and also tagged him as the man who saved India, in the British context.
One can undoubtedly understand the nature of Britishers through this incident as the massive killings of the innocent unarmed civilians portrayed a vivid picture of the Britishers’ loyalty towards Indian people about how they had used Indians in their hours of need and betrayed later, for instance in the crucial period of World War I. It is known to all of us about how the Britishers squeezed and exploited the wealth of India.
No matter it is acceptable that the Britishers had introduced many things in India for the first time, be it the railways, telegraph and factories during their colonisation, yet their cruelty and prejudice over the Indians for the two long centuries is extremely deplorable.
As this incident has passed long years, there had never been any formal apology from the British government for such a shameful act. A lot of conscious Indians and political leaders have opined their views urging that an expression of regret with an apology for the cause by the UK government is expected as the incident marks its first centenary.
As reported by Hindustan Times recently, a similar sentiment was expressed during the February 19 debate in the House of Lords, when the government said it has been “reflecting” on the demand for a full apology. Such apologies have been previously tendered by prime ministers for various historical misdeeds. The Queen and the then prime minister David Cameron both had expressed deep regret on their visits to Jallianwala Bagh in the recent past.
The question still remains on the table whether an apology should be made. There arise various aspects; should apology from the Britishers be made only on the incident of Jallianwala Bagh? As for the cruelty and genocide of the Indians by the Britishers is subjected, there are innumerable incidents, for instance the Bengal famine during the 1940s taking more than 30 lakh lives, inhumane torture on Indians during national movements and so on. Apologies won’t be enough in that context, neither any sort of reparation stands rational.
Though reparation would be beyond expectation for that past wrongdoing of their forefathers, at least an apology from the present government or from the royal family is still anticipated on this account. The sad thing is, most English people of the present-day have little knowledge of the heinous scenes on the colonies by their ancestors, which they must have had known. As history is past and it cannot be corrected, yet admitting or accepting one’s misdeeds might have exonerated the present English people from the sins of their forefathers and it would have definitely brought a better bond in the India-UK relationship ahead.
Indeed, this is one of the deadliest and horrendous events that have happened with the Indians during the British Raj. But there is no doubt that this incident changed the direction of British rule in India as it brought a turning point in the national freedom struggle movement.
At a public garden of national importance in Jallianwala Bagh, established by the Government of India in 1950, the nation commemorated 100 years in the name of the departed innocents by showing unity, strength and remembrance, during the peak hours of election and politics all over the nation.
(The author is pursuing masters in Political Science)