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

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.”


Hong Kong protesters aim for big turnout at rare sanctioned march

Updated 13 min 45 sec ago

Hong Kong protesters aim for big turnout at rare sanctioned march

  • March comes two weeks after pro-establishment parties got a drubbing in local elections
  • Millions have hit the streets in protests fueled by years of growing fears that China is stamping out the city’s liberties

HONG KONG: Hong Kong democracy protesters are hoping for huge crowds later Sunday at a rally they have billed as a “last chance” for the city’s pro-Beijing leaders in a major test for the six-month-old movement.
The march comes two weeks after pro-establishment parties got a drubbing in local elections, shattering government claims that a “silent majority” opposed the protests.
The semi-autonomous financial hub has been battered by increasingly violent demonstrations in the starkest challenge the city has presented to Beijing since its 1997 handover from Britain.
Millions have hit the streets in protests fueled by years of growing fears that authoritarian China is stamping out the city’s liberties.
The last fortnight has seen a marked drop in street battles and protester vandalism after the landslide win by pro-democracy candidates.
But activists say anger is building once more after chief executive Carrie Lam and Beijing ruled out any further concessions despite the election defeat.
The city’s police have taken the unusual step of allowing the Civil Human Rights Front to hold a march through the main island on Sunday — the first time the group has been granted permission since mid-August.
Organizers have called on Lam to meet their demands which include an independent inquiry into the police’s handling of the protests, an amnesty for those arrested, and fully free elections.
“This is the last chance given by the people to Carrie Lam,” CHRF leader Jimmy Sham said on Friday.
Hong Kong’s protests are largely leaderless and organized online. They were initially sparked by a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions to the mainland but have since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule.
The CHRF, which advocates non-violence, has been the main umbrella group behind record-breaking rallies earlier in the summer that saw huge crowds regularly march in searing heat.
Authorities have repeatedly banned major rallies in recent months citing the risk of violence from hardcore protesters.
Large crowds have simply ignored the bans, sparking near-weekly tear gas and petrol bomb clashes that have upended Hong Kong’s reputation for stability and helped tip the city into recession.
Sunday afternoon’s march will follow a well-worn route on the main island from Victoria Park to the heart of the commercial district.
It comes a day before the city marks the six-month anniversary of the protest movement in which some 6,000 people have been arrested and hundreds injured, including police.
Online forums used to organize the movement’s more radical wing have vowed to target the morning commute on Monday if there is no response from Lam.
Years of huge, peaceful democracy marches have made little headway, leading to increased radicalization among some Hong Kong protesters and a greater willingness to embrace violent tactics.
But there is little sign Lam is willing to budge, leading to fears the lull in street clashes will be temporary.
Since the local elections the city’s chief executive has remained steadfast in her opposition to further concessions and Beijing has stuck by her even as she languishes with record low approval ratings.
The police force’s reputation has also taken a hammering.
A new poll released on Friday by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme, which has tracked public sentiment for years, showed record disapproval for the force with 40 percent of respondents now giving the force the lowest mark of zero.
Over the last two days the city’s new police chief Chris Tang has been in Beijing where he met with senior party figures including public security chief Zhao Kezhi who gave his “strongest backing” according to official reports.
Tang, who has continued his predecessor’s policy of rejecting calls for an independent inquiry, said his officers would clamp down on any violence at Sunday’s march.
“If there is arson, petrol bombs or damage to shops, we will take action,” he told reporters in Beijing.
“But for minor issues, we will handle in a flexible and humane manner,” he added.