Foreign Office Minister Mark Field. Money Sharma—AFP
Foreign Office lawmaker admits the 1919 incident was a ‘shameful’ episode in British history
A British minister said on Tuesday there was an “active debate” in government about apologizing for the killing of hundreds of Indian civilians, as India prepared to mark the 100th anniversary of the atrocity.
The April 13, 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in which British troops opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters, remains an enduring scar of British colonial rule in India.
Colonial-era records show about 400 people died in the northern city of Amritsar when soldiers opened fire on men, women and children in an enclosed area, but Indian figures put the toll at closer to 1,000. Former British prime minister David Cameron described it as “deeply shameful” during a visit in 2013 but stopped short of an apology.
In a debate on the subject in London on Tuesday, Foreign Office Minister Mark Field said the massacre was a “shameful episode in our history and one that we deeply regret to this day.” He said: “It would not be appropriate for me, in the context of this particular debate, to apologize today, but I have found many of the speeches very, very compelling and I will take up with the foreign secretary and number 10 Downing Street a sense that we perhaps need to do a little more than the very deep regrets that I have set out today.”
He said representatives from the British High Commission would visit the site to lay a wreath and that the government would also publicly acknowledge the centenary in Britain. A ceremony was due to take place at the site of the massacre on Saturday.
Earlier Bob Blackman, the Conservative M.P. who organized the debate, also called for the British government to say sorry, “not just explaining away what happened, but apologizing for our involvement and what was done in our name.”