While the United Kingdom has never formally apologised for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre that killed 300 and wounded 1,200 people, the Archbishop of Canterbury Reverend Justin Welby on Tuesday visited Jallianwala Bagh memorial in Amritsar and apologised in personal capacity.
He prostrated himself before the memorial, saying he was “ashamed of the crime committed” there, according to NDTV. He also read out a prayer seeking God’s forgiveness for the terrible atrocity.
In the visitors’ book, according to PTI, Welby wrote, “It is deeply humbling and provokes feelings of profound shame to visit this place that witnessed such atrocities hundred years ago.”
“My first response is to pray for healing of relatives, of descendants, of our relationships with India and its wonderful people. But, that prayer renews in me a desire to pray and act so that together we may learn from history, root out hatred, promote reconciliation and globally seek the common good,” he wrote.
In a Facebook post, Welby said he had “no status to apologise on behalf of the UK, its government or its history. But I am personally very sorry for this terrible atrocity”.
The massacre took place at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in April 1919 when troops under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer opened fire at an unarmed crowd, which was peacefully protesting the arrest of nationalist leaders Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew.
Earlier this year, at the 100th anniversary of the tragic incident, then British Prime Minister Theresa May described the incident as a “shameful scar” on British-Indian history, but fell short of a formal apology.
“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, according to PTI.
Her comments came as a cross section of UK lawmakers sought apology for the massacre in previous debates. Jeremy Corbyn, according to NDTV, had demanded that those who lost their lives in the massacre deserve a “full, clear and unequivocal apology for what took place”.
David Cameron had made a very similar statement during his visit to India in 2013. He said that Jallianwala Bagh was a “deeply shameful event in British history”, according to BBC. He also defended his decision not to offer a formal apology by saying that the British government had “rightly condemned” the massacre at the time, the report added.
In 1997, during her visit to Jallianwala Bagh, Queen Elizabeth II also fell short of a formal apology. “It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past — Jallianwala Bagh... is a distressing example. But history cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise,” The Tribune quoted her as saying a day before her visit.
(With PTI inputs)