UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday said that the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was a "shameful scar on British Indian history", though she stopped short of offering 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 in her statement during her weekly Prime Minister's Questions in the UK Parliament.
This statement by the UK PM comes just three days before the centenary of the Jallianwal Bagh Massacre which occurred on April 13, 1919, when troops of the British Indian Army under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer fired their rifles into a thousand-strong crowd of Indians who had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh in Punjab's Amritsar for a meeting. As there were few exits out of the ground for people to escape, hundreds had perished in the firing, while dozens had also drowned in their attempt to escape by jumping into a well on the premises. Years later, General Dyer had remained unrepentant about his inhuman act, while the then British government also refused to reprimand him.
On their previous visits to Jallianwal Bagh, both the Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms - Elizabeth II and former British PM David Cameroon had expressed deep regrets in 1997 and 2013 respectively.
While the apology has been debated for a very long time, the British Parliament had been firm on not issuing one.
In February 2019, the House of Lords, the place which had exonerated General Reginald Dyer of any wrongdoing, debated the tragedy and demanded an apology.
Previously, in October 2018, the chair of the foreign affairs committee Tom Tugendhat MP had argued with foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, that 2019 may constitute an appropriate moment for the government to formally apologize.
Hunt had responded: “That is a very profound thought; let me reflect on that, but I can understand why that could be a potentially very significant gesture”.
There have been other British Indians demanding for a formal apology like Lord Meghnad Desai and Lord Raj Loomba who had sent a letter to UK PM Theresa May asking whether the UK government would issue an apology. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in 2017 on a visit to Amritsar too called for one.
Indian-origin MP Preet Gill, who took part in Tuesday’s debate, has said: “It is only right that the government apologizes to the Sikh community in the UK.”