Do India need a formal apology from Britain for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre?
The massacre of Jallianwala bagh took out on 13 April 1919, when local leaders of the Indian National Congress and hundreds of others gathered to peacefully protest against the arrest of Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew. It was also the occasion of Baisakhi and hundreds of people joined to celebrate. Colonel Reginald Dyer with his troops entered the area and closed all the exit gates and opened fire on the unaware protesters. The firing was initiated without any warning. Over 350 people died that day including kids. It was one of the deadliest massacres ever recorded in Indian History.
Colonel Reginald Dyer or the then governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer have never shown remorse on the act and deemed it as necessary to control the crowd. However, even more than 100 years after the incident, India is yet to receive a formal apology from Britain for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.
Queen Elizabeth II visited the memorial of Jallianwala Bagh in 1997 and showed respect carefully avoiding any apology. Former Prime Minister David Cameron also visited in 2013 but avoided apology. In December 2017, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan urged the British government to work on the matter and stated-
“I am clear that the government should now apologize, especially as we reach the centenary of the massacre. This is about properly acknowledging what happened here and giving the people of Amritsar and India the closure they need through a formal apology.”
What happened on 13 April 1919?
The actual details remain unclear as it was forged by the British and many reports were published suggesting different information each time. The factual inaccuracies of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre had people divided from both Britain as well as India.
On 13 April 1919, Dyer was convinced of the possible gathering of people at the Jallianwala Bagh protesting against the Rowlatt Act and Defence of India Act. In the morning, thousands of people gathered at the bagh, few of them were farmers, traders, and local merchants. Some after praying at the Golden Temple decided to stop by. And others joined to celebrate the traditional annual Baisakhi festival. The place had five narrow passages and many of these passages were locked. In the center of the Bagh was the Samadhi, a large well about 20 feet in Diameter.
Dyer entered the ground with a group of 50 troops, who were armed with 303 Lee–Enfield bolt-action rifles. Dyer without any warning closed all the gates and opened fire on the unaware crowd. The troops continued shooting for ten minutes and the people were running for life. He purposely told the soldiers to shoot at the areas with the thickest crowd and when some of them tried shooting in the air avoiding killing, Dyer shouted ‘Shoot lower!’.
The number of casualties was disputed. The initial number reported 379 deaths and hundreds injured whereas in reality more than a thousand people died in the unfaithful incident. The crowd comprises 6,000–20,000 people, thus it is absurd to conclude that a mere 300 died when all the exit gates were closed and the shooting continued for ten minutes.
The curfew was not lifted until 8 am the next morning, thus the injured people didn’t receive any treatment and died of their wounds the same night. The youngest death reported was of a six-month-old baby.
Coming back to the initial question- does India need an apology? Yes, India needs a formal apology from Britain for the acts of Jallianwala Bagh. It was one of the most dreadful massacres in Indian history where thousands of innocents were slaughtered. The crude firing on the peaceful protestors by General Reginal Dyer was in all sense brutal and monstrous.
Though more than 100 years have passed and the people involved in the massacre are all dead. But on behalf of what they did or just as solidarity, giving an apology won’t harm anyone but it would definitely give India the closure they need.