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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cameron visits Jallianwala Bagh ~ stops short of apologising

Perhaps there can never be ‘righting of historical wrongs’. 

Apologise [Verb]
1. To make excuse for or regretful acknowledgment of a fault or offense.
2. To make a formal defense or justification in speech or writing.

It takes great courage and conviction to even apologise……….

India, we claim obtained its freedom without blood-shedding, which is far from truth. We have not properly recognized and appreciated the many lives of martyrs who selflessly died in the cause of freedom.  The Amritsar massacre is  one of the worst massacres in the history of World; people have died on battlefields but not on meeting platforms. 

the massacre from the film 'Gandhi'

Jallianwala Bagh the public garden in Amritsar would ever nurse the wounds and painful memory of those lives lost on that fateful day on 13th April 1919……… it now houses a memorial of national importance, established in 1951 to commemorate the massacre.  The brutal killings of British Raj statistically placed by their own historians as :  379 fatalities and 1100 wounded.  The true figures of fatalities may never be known  but most likely  are lhigher than the official figure of 379. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre (also known as the Amritsar massacre), took place in the Jallianwala Bagh public garden in the northern Indian city of Amritsar on 13 April 1919. The shooting that took place was ordered by Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer.

On Sunday, 13 April 1919, Dyer was convinced of a major insurrection and thus he banned all meetings. On hearing that a meeting of 15,000 to 20,000 people including women, children and the elderly had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh, Dyer went with fifty riflemen to a raised bank and ordered them to shoot at the crowd. Dyer continued the firing for about ten minutes, till the ammunition supply was almost exhausted; Dyer stated that 1,650 rounds had been fired, a number which seems to have been derived by counting empty cartridge cases picked up by the troops. Dyer was removed from duty and forced to retire. He became a celebrated hero in Britain among people with connections to the British Raj.

In Tamil, we often get confused with Dyer…..  there were two of them.  Michael O'Dwyer, the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab who approved the action and Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer who executed the mindless massacre.

There is news of British Prime Minister David Cameron visiting the site of massacre and repenting for the wrong……… but his statement stated it as a "deeply shameful event" in British history but stopped well short of a full apology !!!!!!!!!.  In the British Media, David Cameron has defended his decision to stop short of delivering a formal British apology for the Amritsar massacre in 1919.  Guardian reports that ‘As relatives of the victims expressed disappointment, the prime minister said it would be wrong to "reach back into history" and apologise for the wrongs of British colonialism.’

Cameron bowed his head at the memorial, in the Jallianwala Bagh public gardens. In a handwritten note in the book of condolence for victims of the massacre, Cameron quoted Winston Churchill's remarks from 1920. He described the shootings, in his own words, as a "deeply shameful event". "In my view," he said, "we are dealing with something here that happened a good 40 years before I was even born, and which Winston Churchill described as 'monstrous' at the time and the British government rightly condemned at the time. So I don't think the right thing is to reach back into history and to seek out things you can apologise for.

"I think the right thing is to acknowledge what happened, to recall what happened, to show respect and understanding for what happened. "That is why the words I used are right: to pay respect to those who lost their lives, to remember what happened, to learn the lessons, to reflect on the fact that those who were responsible were rightly criticised at the time, to learn from the bad and to cherish the good."

Dear Prime Minister, our erstwhile ruler – you are the Head of the State and it is the State owning the actions and has nothing to do with the age…… century old rules, customs, laws and more get interpreted by various people at various places, not necessary that any of them were born at the time, they were made…. !!!  The relatives of the victims were naturally disappointed.  The ordinary Q is  "If he said it is shameful, why did he not apologise?"

It was a daylight  massacre ~ not intended to curb the political uprising but  horrific man slaughter and yet British are reported to be kind and we claim that we got our freedom without bloodshed. Winston Churchill who incidentally also vehemently opposed India’s independence, didn’t condemn or even mention the huge support Dyer enjoyed among other British who thought of him as Rudyard Kipling did as “the man who saved India.” They raised 26,000 pounds sterling for his benefit. A women’s committee presented him a sword of honour as the “Saviour of the Punjab.” Brigadier-General Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab called Dyer’s use of force  “justified.”

Historially, Mr Cameron is the first sitting PM to visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Mr Cameron concluded his visit to India yesterday with a trip to the Golden Temple, the holiest site for Sikhs, and the Jallianwala Bagh gardens – and sure politicians would gloat over the apology made by the British Prime Minister.

You don’t often hear expressions of contrition in politics, but on Wednesday,  quite remarkably, we heard two such – one from a visiting Prime Minister and the other from our home-grown Home Minister. On quite another plane, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde expressed “regret” over his remark of a month ago in which he had claimed sensationally that the BJP and the RSS were organising camps to spawn “Hindu terror”. In a statement issued on Wednesday, in response to the BJP’s threat to disrupt proceedings in Parliament over his remark, Shinde said that his comment “has been understood to mean that I was linking terrorism to a particular religion and was accusing certain political organisations of being involved in organising terror camps.”

‘Sorry’ is the hardest word in the English lexicon for politicians.  But they don’t control the words nor care for them, when it comes to public speaking and denying later. Certainly Cameron sounds a lot more diplomatic than Prince Philip who claimed that he’d heard the death toll had been exaggerated. And he even sounds a little more contrite than Queen Elizabeth who called it a “difficult episode” but then briskly moved on saying “history cannot be rewritten”.

Jallianwalah Bagh  is a stark reminder of the brutal face of colonialism at its most naked. David Cameron with his “apology” has clothed it once again with a sense of basic British decency. Cameron has come to India to do sell the new Britain and its arms.  History has it that on  13 March 1940, at Caxton Hall in London, Udham Singh, a great martyr from Sunam who had witnessed the events in Amritsar and was himself wounded, shot and killed Michael O'Dwyer, the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab at the time of the massacre, who had approved Dyer's action and was believed to be the main planner. (Dyer himself had died in 1927.)

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
21st Feb 2013

Photos courtesy :


  1. Yes Agree with you; Indians do not care to learn their history and British have from the days of colonialism distorted it - John Michael

  2. A great piece of writing flowing of info. Thank you - Vandana