On April 13, 1919, on the orders of General Reginald Dyer, British troops opened fire on thousands of unarmed protestors who had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar to discuss two resolutions, killing over 500 people. A hundred years on, Britain has still not apologised.
The world today is united in sorrow over the demise of Queen Elizabeth II, the world’s oldest monarch, who passed away on September 8 at the age of 96. Following her accession to the throne in 1952, the Queen made three visits to India – 1961, 1983, and 1997.
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However, it was only during her third visit in 1997 that the Queen talked about the “difficult episodes” of colonial history.
In 1961, Queen Elizabeth and her late husband Prince Philip, had come on a visit to India and toured Bombay (now Mumbai), Madras (now Chennai) and Calcutta (now Kolkata). They were the Guests of Honour at the Republic Day parade and had attended the event on the invitation of then President Dr Rajendra Prasad. The Queen had addressed a massive crowd at the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi. In her 1983 visit to India, she had presented Mother Teresa with an honorary Order of the Merit.
It was during her final visit to India in 1997, which also marked India’s 50th Independence Day celebrations, that the Queen made a reference to “difficult episodes” of India’s colonial history, and called the Jallianwala Bagh massacre “a distressing example”.
“It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past. Jallianwala Bagh is a distressing example,” the longest-reigning sovereign noted in her banquet address.
While she called Jallianwala Bagh a distressing example, there was no formal apology from Britain of the cold-blooded murder in 1919.
The Queen and Prince Philip, who was the Duke of Edinburgh, had later paid a visit to the scene of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and placed wreaths at the memorial. This came in the backdrop of calls for an official apology for the Jallianwala killings during the British Raj.
In that year, Prince Philip also hit the headlines with him questioning the number of deaths in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. That was considered one of his many gaffes.
At the Jallianwala Bagh massacre memorial, on his way out, Prince Philip had asked an official the number of deaths, saying, “Two thousand? It wasn’t, was it? That’s wrong. I was in the navy with Dyer’s son. That’s a bit exaggerated…it must include the wounded,” PTI reported.