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The 13 April 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre (also known as the Amritsar massacre) was a notorious episode in the history of British colonialism in India. Britannica provides this overview:

British troops fired on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in an open space known as the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in the Punjab region (now in Punjab state) of India, killing several hundred people and wounding many hundreds more. It marked a turning point in India’s modern history, in that it left a permanent scar on Indo-British relations and was the prelude to Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi’s full commitment to the cause of Indian nationalism and independence from Britain.

The number of people killed remains disputed. An official inquiry came up with a figure of 379. Other sources claim it was much higher.

Centenary events are planned for 13 April 2019.

During a visit to India in 2013, former PM David Cameron described the massacre as a “shameful episode in British history”.

In 2017, during a visit to India, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, called on the UK Government to issue an formal apology for the massacre. A number of parliamentarians have been making the same call in recent times – for example, in a Lords debate about the Centenary on 19 February. Wrapping up the debate, FCO Minister Baroness Goldie said:

I have noted the number of noble Lords who have raised the matter of an apology from the Government. […] I know how passionately that issue is felt. The Government at the time, as we know, roundly condemned the atrocity, but it is the case that no subsequent Government have apologised. I understand that the reason is that Governments have considered that history cannot be rewritten and it is important that we do not get trapped by the past. We must also look forward to the future and do all we can to prevent atrocities happening. Having said that, during oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 31 October 2018, the chair of that committee argued that this year may constitute an appropriate moment for Her Majesty’s Government to formally apologise. The Foreign Secretary responded by saying:

“That is a very profound thought; let me reflect on that, but I can understand why that could be a potentially very significant gesture”.

The Foreign Secretary is currently doing that—reflecting on the situation—and I can say that the views expressed in this debate are certainly noted and will be conveyed back to the department.

Shashi Tharoor, author of Inglorious Empire: What The British Did to India, has called on the UK Government to use the occasion to issue a broader apology for the “evils of British colonialism” in India.

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