India marks 100th anniversary of Amritsar massacre

The Amritsar massacre, 100 years ago this April 13 in which British troops opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters, remains one of the darkest hours of British colonial rule in India. (AFP)
Updated 13 April 2019
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India marks 100th anniversary of Amritsar massacre

  • The Jallianwala Bagh massacre saw British troops fire on thousands of unarmed people in the northern city of Amritsar on the afternoon of April 13, 1919
  • Even 100 years on, Britain has still made no official apology

AMRITSAR: Britain’s high commissioner to India laid a wreath on Saturday on the 100th anniversary of the Amritsar massacre, one of the worst atrocities of colonial rule for which London is still to apologize.
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, as it is known in India, saw British troops fire on thousands of unarmed people in the northern city of Amritsar on the afternoon of April 13, 1919.
The number of casualties from the event, which hardened opposition to colonial rule, is unclear, with colonial-era records showing about 400 deaths, while Indian figures put the number of fatalities closer to 1,000.
Even 100 years on, Britain has still made no official apology and Dominic Asquith, high commissioner, on Saturday followed suit at the Jallianwala Bagh walled garden where the massacre happened and where bullet marks are still visible.
“You might want to re-write history, as the Queen said, but you can’t,” Asquith said.
“What you can do, as the Queen said, is to learn the lessons of history. I believe strongly we are. There is no question that we will always remember this. We will never forget what happened here.”
Former British prime minister David Cameron described what happened as “deeply shameful” during a 2013 visit but stopped short of an apology.
In 1997, Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath at the site but her gaffe-prone husband Prince Philip stole the headlines by reportedly saying that Indian estimates for the death count were “vastly exaggerated.”
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that the massacre was “a shameful scar on British Indian history.”
“We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused,” May said, but she, too, avoided saying she was sorry.
Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Punjab state, said May’s words were not enough.
He said “an unequivocal official apology” is needed for the “monumental barbarity.” Singh made his comments on Twitter, where pictures showed him greeting opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi in Amritsar on the eve of the centenary.
Singh said thousands attended a candlelight march Friday in memory of the victims ahead of a commemoration ceremony later on Saturday.


Around 10,000 unarmed men, women and children had gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh walled public garden in Amritsar on the afternoon of April 13, 1919.
Many were angry about the recent extension of repressive measures and the arrest of two local leaders that had sparked violent protests three days before.
The 13th of April was also a big spring festival, and the crowd — estimated by some at 20,000 — included pilgrims visiting the nearby Golden Temple sacred to Sikhs.
Brig. Gen. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer arrived with dozens of troops, sealed off the exit and without warning ordered the soldiers to open fire.
Many tried to escape by scaling the high walls surrounding the area. Others jumped into a deep, open well at the site as the troops fired.
One of several eyewitness accounts compiled by two historians and published in the Indian Express newspaper this week described the horror.
“Heaps of dead bodies lay there, some on their backs and some with their faces upturned. A number of them were poor innocent children. I shall never forget the sight,” said Ratan Devi, whose husband was killed.

“I was all alone the whole night in that solitary jungle. Nothing but the barking of dogs, or the braying of donkeys was audible. Amidst hundreds of corpses, I passed my night, crying and watching,” she said.
Dyer, dubbed “The Butcher of Amritsar,” said later it was a necessary measure, and that the firing was “not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience.”
Indian newspapers this week repeated their calls for an apology for a massacre that Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, called “monstrous.”
“Over the years, there has been a growing demand from many, including several British historians, and parliamentarians, and Indian political parties, for the British government to formally apologize in parliament and commemorate the Jallianwala Bagh massacre with a memorial day,” the Hindustan Times said in an editorial.
“But even in the centenary year of the massacre, Britain has refused to... take that important step,” it said. May’s statement was “perhaps qualitatively a notch stronger... but is far from enough.”


Women's temple ban debate rages in India flashpoint vote

Updated 32 min 14 sec ago
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Women's temple ban debate rages in India flashpoint vote

  • Indian Supreme Court ruled the ban on women from entering a Hindu temple as unconstitutional
  • Two of the three candidates for presidency support the ban

PATHANAMTHITTA, India: Voters in a flashpoint constituency in southern India went to the polls Tuesday after a campaign dominated by the fallout from the controversial decision to allow women to enter a Hindu temple.
The district of Pathanamthitta in the state of Kerala includes the Sabarimala Hindu temple, where two women finally defied a longstanding ban on women of menstruating age last year.
Traditionalists were outraged and many women remain divided over the move, which has overshadowed the campaign with candidates staging election parades on the issue.
Kanaka Durga and Bindu Ammini made history in December when police guided them into the hilltop shrine, after the Supreme Court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional.
Days of pitched battles erupted between traditionalists and activists. The anger has not died down and core issues such as unemployment, health and education have been pushed aside during the campaign.
The whole country is expected to follow the result when it is announced on May 23 after India’s marathon election.
Two of the three main candidates in the election are men who support the ban, while the third is a woman who has tried to dodge the topic.
Veena George, who is standing for the alliance of left wing parties that runs Kerala’s state government cited an election commission advisory to avoid using the temple to get votes.
“We need a revival of job opportunities, agriculture and infrastructure. Educated women need jobs,” she told AFP on the last day of campaigning before Tuesday’s vote.
India’s main opposition Congress party has fielded Anto Antony, who won the last two elections and has backed the traditionalists.
The Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brandished its pro-Hindu credentials as it seeks to make an impact in a state where it has always struggled.
The BJP has fielded K. Surendran, who became the symbol of the massive temple protests across Kerala. He now faces more than 200 police cases related to violence during last year’s Sabarimala protests.
“The Communists have an issue with our prayers and religion but they can’t crush believers’ rights,” Modi told a rally in Kerala last week.
“We won’t tolerate any attack on a tradition that has lasted thousands of years,” Modi added to wild cheers.
Many women have backed the traditionalist cause.
“Local men and women agree. There is only one issue in this election — our faith. And the court shouldn’t have intervened,” Lakshmi, who works at a local hospital, and only uses one name, told AFP.
“I feel hurt as a Hindu when I see things going against our culture and tradition,” added Bindhu, a housewife.
“The temple has always been a place where women could not go. It is not acceptable to see people coming and fighting to enter now,” she added.
Tens of thousands of people, including many women, took part in street marches and protests in support of the ban.
However, uncertainty remains over how many women will vote for their right to enter Sabarimala.
“Women should be free to choose whether to enter or not. To me, women’s safety, here and all over India, is the only issue that is important,” said Ansa S., a medical student.