LibLink: Jo Swinson: 100 years after the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, will the UK Government do the right thing and apologise?

Yesterday marked 100 years since the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in Amritsar, India.

A British General ordered his troops to open fire on crowds gathered in a park to celebrate a Spring harvest festival and at the very least estimates, hundreds of people were killed.

In the Independent this week, Lib Dem Deputy Leader Jo Swinson called on the UK Government to apologise for this atrocity:

This centenary year falls at a time when the term ‘Global Britain’ is increasingly being touted by the Conservative Government as they point to the Commonwealth in the wake of the Brexit shambles. But what weight does that term carry if Britain refuses to comprehensively repudiate and recognise its responsibility for such atrocities? Refusal to help heal the wound left by the Amritsar Massacre by not issuing an apology only serves to demonstrate a pig-headed stubbornness that harks of an inward facing island, not a progressive, outward-looking country.

The massacre is a shameful stain on the history of British foreign policy. It is a wrong that continues to mark our foreign policy for as long as the Conservative Government refuse to apologise. Acknowledging what happened, the gross abuse of human rights and the rule of law, and issuing a formal apology is long overdue.

Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned for an apology. Last year my colleague Christine Jardine MP tabled a motion urging the Tory Government to issue one. It attracted support from MPs of all parties, including Conservatives. As we approach the centenary date, I am making the plea again: Theresa May, do the right thing and issue a formal apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

You can read her whole article here. 

I was moved by Lib Dem Councillor Hina Bokhari’s tweet about how this had affected her when she heard about it:

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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21 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Apr '19 - 4:50pm

    As a general practice, though far from being a principle, I rarely favour collective, or retrospective, guilt, however, an apology like that suggested by Jo Swinson does seem appropriate on such an anniversary. This massacre was hideous, but the country has moved on from its subservient patronising by colonial types, thus should be more concerned with its own role now and defeating nationalism in its realm.

  • David Becket 14th Apr '19 - 5:30pm

    I am inclined to agree with Lorenzo. Anyway with the current state of the country of all the issues our deputy leader should be jumping up and down about this is not one of them. This is one of our problems, too much effort spent on minor issues.

  • Joseph Bourke 14th Apr '19 - 6:08pm

    Jo Swinson is right to highlight this issue. The only reason that can be given for not issuing a formal aplology is based on the premise of attaching sole blame to the Officer in Command, General Dyer, for exceeding his authority in firing upon a a peaceful crowd of demonstrators in 1919.
    The killing of unarmed civilians was ultimately a reprisal for resistance to Imperial rule in India, just as the shooting of civilians by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in Croke Park, Dublin the following year in 1920 was a reprisal for IRA killings of British military personnel.
    In the Jallinwala Bagh massacre, a reactionary military officer could be scapegoated. In the Croke Park ‘bloody sunday’ shootings no such individual could be identified among the RIC to take the blame.
    Asquith put forward a motion at the time that the house “condemns the outrages committed on the forces of the crown on ‘Bloody Sunday’, but also deplores and condemns the action of the executive in attempting to repress crime by methods of terroism and reprisals which involve the lives and property of the innocent and are contrary to civilised usage.”
    Ultimately, both the Amritsar massacres and the Croke Park shootings were important milestones in turning the tide of public opinion against Imperial rule in India and Ireland.
    While we cannot change what has happended in the past, we can make today’s generation aware of just how appalling the record of Imperalism was and why people’s around the world continue to call for a recognition and apology for the many atrocities that were committed in the name of the British Empire. This kind of acknowledgement allows us to talk about our shared history without recriminations and look to future based on shared interests.

  • Paul Barker 14th Apr '19 - 6:34pm

    I am all in favour of a strong statement condemning the massacre & expressing regret & solidarity but I can’t see that an apology has any meaning. Who would the apology be on behalf of ? For all sorts of practical & legal reasons we have to pretend that The UK & India are ongoing, continuous bodies that can make promises & keep them but its a convenient fiction. To apologise 20 Years after a crime has some meaning, an apology a Century later has none & actually undermines genuine apologies that actually cost something, if only in shame & embarrassment. I feel no shame for Amritsar, why should I?
    To make things worse, such digging up of ancient crimes is often used to bolster State Power & Repression. A good example would be the way the Chines Dictatorship constantly whips up Nationalist resentment against the Japanese of today for War Crimes committed in the 1930s & early 1940s.
    These sorts of demands for apologies seem to me to have more to do with Virtue Signalling than real feelings.

  • Innocent Bystander 14th Apr '19 - 6:40pm

    Absolutely correct. And we should demand that the Italian Government apologise for feeding all those Christians to the lions.

  • marcstevens 14th Apr '19 - 7:26pm

    I agree with Lorenzo and David. Grandstanding on these esoteric issues does put people off voting for the Party when the Police are under-resourced, transport connectivity is still poor in certain areas and the environment is at threat from fracking and climate change to name but a few.

  • Gesture politics, the priorities of our deputy leader worries me at times.

  • There is no mention in any of the comments here of Prime Ministers questions this week, when Mrs May described the killings at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 as a “shameful scar on British Indian history” saying “We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused,” . Jeremy Corbyn went further, calling for a “full, clear and unequivocal apology for what took place”
    As the Guardian article points out https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/12/the-guardian-view-on-the-amritsar-massacre-centenary-time-to-see-ourselves-as-others-see-us
    “It is rare for a Conservative prime minister to express regrets for any aspect of British imperial history. So the fact that Mrs May said anything at all was noteworthy: first, as a sign of continuing official unease at the highest level about the events of 1919 and, second, as a recognition of the effect the massacre still exerts on the British-Indian relationship to this day.”
    The Guardian goes on to conclude:
    “The reluctance to apologise has many strands. They include concerns about precedent, legal consequences and claims for reparations. But the reluctance to look back dispassionately, understandable in some respects, is a national burden. It means Britain can fail to face historical facts, question ourselves as a modern nation and think about complexity. It can mean we fail to see ourselves as others see us. These are enduring issues, which cannot be brushed aside just because they are sometimes exploited opportunistically.”

  • Richard Underhill 15th Apr '19 - 8:17am

    Human Rights have been proclaimed as universal.
    Here in Europe human rights have a court.
    Progress has often been partial and patchy.
    Denying them within our own jurisdiction amounts to double standards.

  • clive englisjh 15th Apr '19 - 10:17am

    Actually there in relation to innocent bystander there is no evidence any Christians were ever fed to the Lions.. it appears to have been made up by the Church centuries later.
    On the main point it is difficult to hold the Government of the day responsible for an act carried out without instructions and which action was taken over at the time (although not sufficiently vigorously). Although it was clearly responsible for the policies in India as a whole.
    However it should be noted that many Conservatives campaigned to have Dyer cleared and to put up a statue of him, and treated him as the victim. The Conservative Party needs to apologise for the actions of its members, but does the British Government need to apologise?. That’s a little less clear..

  • David Becket 15th Apr '19 - 11:05am

    @ David Raw
    Why did Jo, or somebody else, join the other leaders in the house in condemning the actions of 100 years ago. I agree with Chris Cory, this is not the first time we have seen gesture politics, not good for the party!

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Apr '19 - 12:13pm

    This is very much a living issue for Sikhs who are still caught up in its repercussions. It was one hundred years earlier in 1819 that the Peterloo massacre occurred in Manchester and that act of violence against unarmed protesters is being commemorated by an exhibition which will run for a year.
    Oppressors should not have the final decision as to whether to give an apology because it should be decided through International Law. There is a myth that British Imperialism did a lot of good even though it also involved killing those who resented having their countries taken over by people who thought they were superior. This takeover was also bolstered by all the cultural mechanisms which still blight our own society like racism and classism, if that is a word.
    Apologies are needed to heal the wounds inflicted by our behaviour in the past and in the present and this should extend to accepting and admitting that we were wrong to behave towards other countries in the way that we did.

  • David Becket 15th Apr '19 - 12:31pm

    @ David Raw

    No I do not think we should stop remembering the Great War, in fact as Chair of a local history group I have just completed some Great War Research in my village.

    Had Jo joined others in the house in raising this issue she would have been justified, as Corbyn did, in asking for an apology.
    What we got was a newspaper article, and nothing in the house. This smacks of gesture politics with one objective being to promote the Lib Dems as more concerned than other parties. There is too much of this, it wont wash.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Apr '19 - 1:45pm

    David Raw and David Becket

    The common sense, as well as sense of priorities you both show reveals you have much in common though here you part company.

    Jo Swinson, unlike most on the extremes of indentity politics, she not being one, as she is by and large a moderate, is not guilty of , what people refer to, as virtue signalling , as she is honest and intelligent and genuine.

    But this article is partisan, not apolitical, it is mainly a go at Theresa May.

    I would like Theresa May to apologise, for the hostile environment, for Brexit shambolic crisis.

    I would like Jeremy Corbyn to apologise for the antisemitism in his party not dealt with, for the alienation he caused by years of cavorting with those who choose the bullet and bomb over the ballot box, rather than claiming peacemaker.

    Yet it is May who oowes no apology for this massacre , Corbyn who has received the Ghandi peace prize.

    Politics is a farce.

    Today the liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi, visits politicians in the UK, and has met Change UK. Has she met with Jo, foreign affaairs spokesperson and Liberal Democrat?!!!!

  • Any person who refuses to apologise for a crime because of fear of “claims” is lacking in basic common decency and empathy. That kind of issue shouldn’t even cross anyone’s mind.

    The crime was committed on behalf of the government of the U.K. by an officer of that government, and therefore it is incumbent upon the government to apologise for it.

  • David Becket 16th Apr '19 - 12:10pm

    Has Nancy met Lib Dems? Possibly not
    Has the leader of the Lib Dems contacted her office requesting a meeting????

  • Venkat Krishnan 16th Apr '19 - 11:02pm

    I agree with the efforts made by Ms Jo Swinson – there are 2 viewpoints to consider; one is, how Indians will and should remember this heinous event that we have all studied in our history books. In this matter, year after year, on this day, the country pays homage to the victims, with great sadness and prayer. However, the country therefore has its own destiny and should move on – and folks should not continue to harbor ill-feelings towards UK, as that regime has long gone. What PM May has said in parliament is therefore appreciated. There is that thought, and that counts.

    The Question is how should Britain view this. Is this event, and the colonial regime that went with it, being taught to the younger generation? If not, this is the information age – all info is available via google. Are folks willing to spend a few minutes of their time to examine the horrors of colonization perpetrated by their ancestors? When folks are exhorted so much to respect the holocaust, the Hillsboro tragedy victims, the deaths of the soldiers in WWI and WWII, the injustice for the Windrush generation, THEN, why not spare a moment – and contemplate this terrible tragedy of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre. Many of you folks have South Asian neighbours, eat South Asian cuisine, and your country was made rich from the spoils of South Asia – therefore, small gesture of gratitude and respect would be that on the 100th anniversary of the Amritsar massacre, learn about it, remember it, pay homage to the victims – will this not better your relationship with the diverse country that the UK is becoming? To that end, an apology from the UK Govt may set the tone – for better relations with the global community within the country and outside it.

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Apr '19 - 9:11am

    @ Sue Sutherland,
    Spot on and beautifully put Sue.

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