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May 'regrets' Jallianwala Bagh, a 'shameful scar in our history'
April 11, 2019
NEW DELHI: On the eve of the hundredth anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the British Prime Minister Theresa May has expressed regret over the incident. Calling it a shameful scar in British-Indian history, May hoped that the UK's ties with India grow stronger.

The tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh of 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history. As Her Majesty the Queen (Elizabeth II) said before visiting Jallianwala Bagh in 1997, it is a distressing example of our past history with India," she said in her statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday.

"We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused. I am pleased that today the UK-India relationship is one of collaboration, partnership, prosperity and security. Indian diaspora make an enormous contribution to British society and I am sure the whole House wishes to see the UK''s relationship with India continue to flourish," she said.

(On April 13, 1919, British General Dyer ordered his soldiers to open fire on about 20,000 people who had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar for Baisakhi festival. The firing that continued for about 20 minutes claimed 1,000 lives. Dyer later defended himself stating that the gathering was part of a rebellion againt the British.)

Foreign Minister Mark Field had told MPs, "I feel that we perhaps need to go further... I have now been persuaded - not just by this debate - to take a different approach." The Government had to also consider the "financial implications" of any apology, he said.

The minister on Wednesday received a letter signed by 80 MPs to consider their call for an "apology anew".

Conservative Party MP Bob Blackman, who tabled the debate, concluded that children in British schools should be taught about the tragedy because people should know what happened in Britain's name. He wanted an apology.

Opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn demanded the victims deserve a "full, clear and unequivocal apology for what took place".

Earlier, the House of Lords debated the issue. It seemed then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt was "reflecting" on the demands.

A fresh statement is still not ruled out from the Government.

HISTORY: The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, took place on April 13, 1919. British Indian Army Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer marched Gorkha and Baluch soldiers into the ground and ordered 50 of them armed with rifles to open fire into a crowd of thousands of Indians who had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in Punjab on Baisakhi festival. Rifles were loaded and re-loaded, again and again and shooting went on at an unarmed huge gathering of men, women and children, without warning. There were also two armoured cars loaded with rifles waiting outside the ground, unable to enter as the gate was narrow. Over 1000 people died on the spot. Approximately 1,650 rounds were fired in all, and that was until ammunition was almost exhausted. The firing lasted about 20 minutes. A number of deaths occurred as people running to escape were trampled in stampedes and many jumped into a well there. The gate was narrow and closed. It was a gathering of 20,000 people - Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, who had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh (garden) near the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar on the festival day. A plaque at the site says 120 bodies were found in the well.

Dyer was commander of a brigade in nearby Jalandhar. The Lt Governor of Punjab was Michael O'Dwyer. The British authorities feared an imminent mutiny in Punjab like that of 1857. Because of the violence that preceded, Gen Dyer arrived in Amritsar and took charge of law and order. On 12 April he issued an order prohibiting all meetings and gatherings. On Baisakhi on 13 April a large number of people streamed into the city from the villages. Some leaders called the people for a meeting in Jallianwala Bagh at 4.30. On information, Gen Dyer rushed to the venue with the soldiers and the non-stop firing started.

The Hunter Committee set up to probe the firing found Dyer guilty of mistaken notion of duty and was relieved of his duties.

Udham Singh , a Sikh, who was witness to the massacre, avenged the killings by killing O'Dwyer, who had described Gen Dyer's action as "correct," in Caxton Hall of London on March 13, 1940. On July 31, 1940 Udham Singh was hanged at Pentonville jail, London.

Jallianwala Bagh has become a national centre of pilgrimage, and a monument to the martyrs was erected there after Independence. It consists of a central 30-ft high pylon, a four-sided red stone, a tank, national emblem Ashoka Chakra, stone lanterns, inscription "In memory of martyrs, 13 April 1919" in Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and English, a verandah, a children's swimming pool.

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