100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre commemorated in House of Lords

Rupanjana Dutta Tuesday 16th April 2019 06:45 EDT

Six years ago, the then British Prime Minister David Cameron had visited India, he became the first serving Prime Minister to pay his respects by visiting Jallianwala Bagh and described the incident as 'deeply shameful'. The current Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday during Prime Minister's Question Time called it as the a 'shameful scar'- but none of them issued a formal apology. However, the government has been criticised for not going far enough to make a formal apology, with the Opposition Labour Party demanding a "full, clear and unequivocal apology."

Hundred years on, the wounds are still raw. The massacre seethed with tyranny and opression broke the trsut between the people and their rulers. Noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood in protest of the Jallianwala Bagh mass killing.

To commemorate the centenary a dinner was hosted at the House of Lords by Indian-origin peers Lord Raj Loomba and Lord Meghnad Desai along with fellow members of the Jallianwala bagh Centenary Commemoration Committee (JBCCC) to conclude a series of events and exhibitions held in the UK to mark the 100th anniversary of the massacre.

Lord Desai speaking at the dinner, said, "India in 2019 is a very different proposition from 1919, and is now a power to be reckoned with". The massacre, he said, "triggered a change in Indian/British relationships, and Ghandi declared that the British cannot be trusted". Lord Desai underlined that it was a crucial event on the road to India's independence.

Lord Loomba added, “I do not understand why the British government has not to this day agreed to say sorry” and called for an investigation into whether Colonel Dyer instigated the "huge atrocity" of his own accord or was following orders from higher authorities when he opened fire on innocent unarmed civilians.

Her Excellency, the High Commissioner of India to UK Mrs Ruchi Ghanashyam remembered those martyred one hundred years ago who were gathered in peace as the Punjab celebrated its new year. She described the praise heaped on General Dyer for his actions by the then members of the House of Lords. =Noting the recent House of Commons debate on the issue, when Mark Field MP, Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth described it as one of the most shameful events in British history, the High Commissioner also spoke about the phenomenal success of India today, and how the UK and India now work closely together on the international stage. She said, “The Jallianwala Bagh massacre shook the very soul of a nation. It will be a long while before it fades away. History will keep reminding successive future generations about it.”

Manjit Singh GK, Patron-in-Chief of the JBCCC said, "The pain remains etched in the memory of Punjabi people. An apology will not bring back the dead or give any real comfort to their family and friends. However, it will help to mitigate the pain and bring closure to us all.”

Vikramjit Singh Sahni, a Patron of the JBCCC, spoke movingly of how the main exits to the park were blocked, and there was no escape for the innocent people trapped in the line of fire, as he described the "carnage of unbelievable proportions". He echoed the High Commissioner's words, that the atrocity "shook the soul of India", as he said General Dyer's intent was to "punish Indians".

Balbir Singh Kakar, chairman of the JBCCC, spoke about the aims of the committee, which came together to raise awareness of the tragic events that unfolded that day and to inform and educate people today about the way "1000's of Indians were brutally murdered" on the orders of one man. Noting how Prime Minister Theresa May spoke in the House of Commons on Wednesday saying "it was a shameful scar on British Indian history", but stopped short of apologising, he said "Gandhi and Mandela have both shown the world the way to resolve conflict, and forge peace; and that peace and forgiveness are more powerful weapons than any military force or acts of violence and oppression."

"One hundred years is a long time," he continued, "but pain and hurt do not have prescribed end dates, and often have long memories," as he called on the British Government "to ask for the Indian peoples' forgiveness by issuing an unreserved apology".

The commemorative event included a screening of a short clip from Richard Attenborough's 1982 epic ''Gandhi'', re-enacting the fateful day.

Lord Jitesh Gadhia, stressed the importance of the tragedy forming part of a compulsory "warts and all" colonial history curriculum to be taught across all British schools.

Contrary to the trend, Lord Suri speaking at the event said, “I was one of the speakers on Jallianwala Bagh debate and I endorse that we must have an apology. But we must not overlook what caused it. Before Jallianwala Bagh, British officers were humiliated and killed- we can’t overlook that.”

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