David Cameron marks British 1919 Amritsar massacre


The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder says it has not been an easy visit for David Cameron

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David Cameron has become the first serving UK prime minister to pay his respects at the scene of one of the bloodiest massacres in British history.

Mr Cameron is visiting Amritsar in the state of Punjab on Wednesday, at the end of a three-day trade trip to India.

This was where hundreds of people at a public meeting were shot dead by British troops in 1919.

The prime minister described the massacre as "a deeply shameful event in British history".

Writing in the memorial book of condolence, he added: "We must never forget what happened here."

He later defended his decision not to offer a formal apology saying the British government had "rightly condemned" the massacre at the time.

"I don't think the right thing is to reach back into history and to seek out things that we should apologise for. I think the right thing to do is to acknowledge what happened, to recall what happened, to show respect and understanding for what happened," he added.

While Mr Cameron was in India, a Downing Street source told the BBC that the Red Arrows - the RAF's famous display team - was safe as long as he was prime minister.

The RAF has offered its expertise to the Indian military to enable its Surya Kiran display team to conduct similar colourful flypasts.

There has been speculation in the media that the Red Arrows could be axed as part of defence cuts in the UK.

Disputed toll

Start Quote

By making a statement of regret over the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, David Cameron has opened up a can of other questions and grievances over Britain's colonial past.”

End Quote Andrew North South Asia correspondent, BBC News

Thousands of people gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh public gardens in Amritsar on 13 April 1919.

British colonial authorities had banned public meetings and a general was sent in to disperse the crowds.

Without warning, he blocked the exits and ordered his riflemen to open fire. They stopped 10 minutes later when their ammunition ran out.

The death toll is disputed - an inquiry set up by the colonial authorities put the figure at 379 but Indian sources put it nearer to 1,000.

Past prime ministers have expressed their regret, but Mr Cameron is the first to pay his respects at the site in person.

The prime minister laid a wreath at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial, bowing his head and standing in silence.

The killings were condemned by the British at the time - War Secretary Winston Churchill described them as "monstrous" in 1920.

During her visit in 1997, the Queen said it was a "distressing" example of the "moments of sadness" in the history between Britain and India.

Mr Cameron wants his visit to focus on more positive ties of history, particularly by visiting the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the holiest site in the Sikh religion.

The Jallianwala Bagh public gardens in Amritsar, where the massacre took place in 1919

The prime minister, bare-footed and wearing a blue bandanna to cover his head, also visited the kitchens which feed thousands of pilgrims every day and tried his hand at flipping chapatis.

Later he said: "In coming here to Amritsar, we should celebrate the immense contribution that people from the Punjab play in Britain, the role they play, what they give to our country.

"What they contribute to our country is outstanding and it is important to understand that and pay respect to that and to seek a greater understanding of the Sikh religion and that is why this visit to the holy temple, the Golden Temple, was so important."

In 1984 the Golden Temple was invaded by Indian troops seeking to flush out militants who wanted an independent Sikh state in the Punjab.

Operation Blue Star enraged many Sikhs and the Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards.

Retired Lieutenant General Kuldip Singh Brar, who led Operation Blue Star, was attacked in London during a visit in October.

Several people are awaiting trial accused of causing him grievous bodily harm.

On Tuesday, Mr Cameron held talks with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh.

The trade delegation, accompanying the prime minister, includes representatives from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, London Underground and the English Premier League.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 948.

    History can not be wiped out, people who did it also can not show how the felt but people of the country,who did it can regret for what happened and make sure it is not repeated any where in the world.It is nice of the leader to do it.Also Country's people who suffered,their souls will be happy and resting.Still lot of historic actions are to be considered by the generations of those bad doers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 767.

    None of us can be held responsible for something which happened almost 100 years ago. History is history. The best we can ever hope to achieve from history is that we learn something positive from it. For goodness sake, stop all this meaningless apologizing. How far back in history do we have to grovel? The Romans, the Vikings, Ghengis Khan?

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    Talk about two faced approach from this govt - one minute they are laying wreaths to commemorate a British massacre, another they are cutting aid to India. No amount of aid could ever repay the debt UK owes to the lost lives. Seems all this PM is good for is making sorrowful statements about events outside his control. How about apologising to the UK for massacring the UK Economy, by his actions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    There have been many dubious things done by every nation in the world.
    Why are we forever apologising for things we cannot alter?
    Lets worry about the problems of today and DO something about the atrocities occurring now

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Surprise to see so many people are in the state of denial. It is true that no country is prefect, but it is important to accept a mistake as it is, if it is true. Obviously he is doing it for the sake of better relations with India, so that it can improve the trading and hence more jobs and money to Britian.


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