After a century, as India displays the chilling horror through memorial and museum, Britain has expressed regret for Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
As one enters the narrow gates of Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, now a memorial, one can barely miss the bullet marks etched on the red brick walls. Going near the well, where hundreds were thrown to their death still gives that eerie chill in the spine. No Indian can forget the trauma even after generations where innocent people were mercilessly butchered to death under the British regime, all for a peaceful gathering.
Almost a century has passed since the horrifying massacre of Jallianwala Bagh took place. The centenary is taking place today and as Shashi Tharoor put it, it would be a “good time” for the British to apologise.
Britain’s recent statement
British Prime Minister Theresa May has described the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar as a "shameful scar" on British-Indian history but stopped short of a formal apology sought by a cross-section of parliament in previous debates.
In a statement, marking the 100th anniversary of the massacre, at the start of her weekly Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, she reiterated the “regret” already expressed by the British government.
The British Queen too had taken off her shoes some eight years ago when she visited the memorial.
Meanwhile in India
Amidst the capital in Redfort, a museum has been opened for all in a tribute to the centenary of the historic event. This interactive museum is for the enlightenment of youth about the occurrences in Punjab and the rest of India leading up to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Saurav Bhaik , who has been the back-bone for the project, shares his experience for taking such a project of making “Yaad-e-Jallian Museum”, along with Government Of India. “The entire Yaad-e-Jallian Museum unfolds the real story with different zones created based on precursor to 13th April, the day of Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place and the aftermaths of the incident. To built Yaad-e-Jallian Museum, I personally with my team visited the National Archives of India, Teen Murthy Library, Punjab States Archives, etc. to collect resources and different research materials. We interviewed relatives and families of the victims to get brief detailed insights. Reference from Hunter & Malviya report of the incident increased the significance in the content for providing the actual experience of the story in the museum.
We tried to recreate the horror of 13th April 1919 using immersive installations. Design of the museum is done in such a manner that the visitor gets transported to that era.”
What had happened?
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, took place on this day of 1919 when troops of the British Indian Army under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer fired rifles into a crowd of Indians, who had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab.
The civilians had assembled for a peaceful protest to condemn the arrest and deportation of two national leaders, Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew. The following day Dyer stated in a Report to the General Officer Commanding that “I hear that between 200 and 300 of the crowd were killed. My party fired 1,650 rounds.”
Raja Ram has argued however, that the proclamation was ineffective, the crowd formed in deliberate defiance and the event signals a beginning of Indian nationalism.
Why such a decision?
On Sunday, 13 April 1919, Dyer was won over the idea of an unsettling insurrection and thus banned all gatherings; however this notice was not widely disseminated. That was the day of Baisakhi, the main Sikh festival, and many villagers had gathered at the Bagh.
On hearing that a meeting had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh, Dyer marched with Sikh, Gurkha, Baluchi, Rajput troops from 2-9th Gurkhas, the 54th Sikhs and the 59th Sind Rifles they entered the garden, blocking the main entrance. They took up position on a raised bank, and on Dyer's orders fired on the crowd for about ten minutes, directing their bullets largely towards the few open gates through which people were trying to flee, until the ammunition supply was almost exhausted.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a formal apology in the House of Commons for such an incident which took place more than a century ago. In mid-May 1914, the Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship, arrived in Vancouver after leaving Hong Kong in early April.
On board were 376 passengers, most of whom were Sikh migrants from what was then British India. The ship was not allowed to dock.
A 1908 Canadian law at the time forbade arrivals in the country who did not make a “continuous journey” from their nation of birth or citizenship.
In an era when hundreds of thousands of white European immigrants were settling in Canada, the law was seen as a measure to stymie Indian arrivals because it was practically impossible to travel directly from the Indian mainland to North America.
Pakistan has already demanded that the United Kingdom heads should apologise for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre as well as for the famine in Bengal ahead of the 100th anniversary of the mass killing.
While endorsing the demand for apology over the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on Twitter, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry also said the UK must return the Koh-E-Noor diamond to Lahore museum.