What David Cameron did not apologise for

 
Indian famine victims in 1943 The Bengal Famine is one of the most controversial episodes in the history of the Raj

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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.

What about the British museum returning all the treasures looted from India during the Raj? What about sending back the Kohinoor diamond still embedded in Queen Elizabeth's crown?

And many commenting on this blog say it shouldn't stop at India - what about the many casualties of Britain's wars in Afghanistan?

But if Britain is in the mood to say sorry in India, there is one episode which stands out more than the Jallianwala Bagh massacre - the 1943 Bengal famine, when over 3 million people may have died, four years before the end of British rule.

If it gets any attention in the UK, it's seen as one more tragic consequence of World War II, with British India at the time focused on the war against Japan.

But British actions and opposition towards Gandhi's Quit India movement are now seen to have played a key role in the disaster.

While Winston Churchill condemned the Jallianwala Bagh massacre as "monstrous", he took a very different attitude to Indian suffering 24 years later as prime minister.

His only reply to a telegram reporting how many Bengalis were perishing was to ask "why Gandhi hadn't died yet."

Mr Cameron should have apologised for the famine says Madhusree Mukherjee, who has written a widely praised history of the Bengali famine.

And why not? Tony Blair expressed regret for the Irish potato famine and for Britain's role in the slave trade.

British officials say the motivation for going to Jallianwala Bagh was not to apologise for the Raj.

"He wanted to express his condolences for that particular incident because he was visiting Amritsar," said a Downing Street spokesperson.

Madhusree Mukherjee says the prime minister may have wanted to avoid going further because "any admission of wrongdoing could facilitate a legal claim for reparations".

The chief reason Mr Cameron went to Amritsar was because of the large numbers of voters of Punjabi origin back in the UK. So he had to say something about Jallianwala Bagh, officials say.

Many dismiss the practice of political apologies for past events as meaningless. Mr Blair, critics say, could easily say sorry for the Irish famine, but was never going to apologise for the Iraq war.

But David Cameron has set a precedent now in India, with his desire for "a special relationship". If he plans a trip to Calcutta while he's still prime minister, he won't be able to avoid the Bengal famine.

 
Andrew North Article written by Andrew North Andrew North South Asia correspondent

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 119.

    jay--you are right but you can't compare tiny islands like srilanka or england with very small populations to take care of , to india when you have one fifth of humanity to take care of and when you have to start again from scratch .it will take us total 80 years since 1947 though we could have done that till know.its like comparing mumbai, delhi (or other large indian cities )to whole of india.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 118.

    Yes, every country has history. So does individuals. Does that or should that truth absolves anyone, any county to accepting responsibility for what it did in the past?

    If I (obviously more powerful) kill ur near & dear one then evade justice, how long would you give me to come back & say "sorry, lets forgive & forget" (that too when I need u)? UK is reluctant to do even that!

    Want to be Jesus?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 117.

    actually india is not stagnating its growth in every field is exponential..all these statistics have improved even further in 1 years from last consensus .With 9.2% ( 2001-2011 decadal literacy growth) we have added more educated people than whole of britain working population in one year .its interesting time in indian history where you can feel the changes around in any field.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 116.

    Quoting (link #114):
    "With a literacy rate of 75.6%, India compares poorly with not just industrialized nations, but also several much poorer economies such as Iraq (78.1%), Congo (81.1%), Kenya (84.2%), Vietnam (92.8%), Sri Lanka (94.2%) & Mongolia (97.5%). India now ranks 78th out of 123 countries, in terms of literacy. India’s human development index is now ranked 134th out of 187 countries."

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 115.

    Every country has a history. Why should we apologise for the British empire, it made the modern world and pretty much every modern invention. It brought many benefits to India and the world. India has committed massacres during wars in the past. India would still be a back water if it weren't for us. We gave them education, sport, civilisation

  • rate this
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    Comment number 114.

    @ dev, amcbeast.
    Situation in literacy, education & research is worrying too. That has more in stake than just business/industrial competitiveness.
    Check this one -
    "Primary and secondary education reform should be the top priority for India"- http://cs-test.ias.ac.in/cs/Volumes/103/04/0356.pdf

    I'm not sure if India can ever be a developed country, again, if things do not change drastically.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 113.

    acmbeast----population of england 55 million take all literate 55million people.population of only women in india 600 million(say exact half) and 65.46% are literate that makes 393 million . ONLY our literate women are 7 times of your whole population. our women are far-far enough for you.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 112.

    Average literacy rates across India are very distorted by Kerala also.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 111.

    Current situation in India is far worse than portrayed in media for many reasons. It makes many Indian 'elites' more desperate to glorify it.
    Check it.
    "Our legacy, our liability, our future"-http://jaychatterjee.blogspot.com/2011/12/our-legacy-our-liability-our-future.html and
    "our fight against corruption"-
    http://jaychatterjee.blogspot.com/2011/06/our-fight-against-corruption-and-anna.html

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 110.

    Yes dev literacy is very important. But The key to the future health and wealth of a country is FEMALE literacy. Read a little further down the Wikipedia page you just looked at and you'll get to the root of the problem.

    For a country as great as you say India is an average (male and female) literacy rate 10 points below the world average is a bit disappointing though isn't it?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 109.

    I'm not sure what Brit history says abt Bose. But the history I read (not "discovery of India' by Nehru which was made history text books for many schools) indicate that Bose was far more pragmatic policy maker & leader. He was a far brilliant student & 4th in civil service exam (ICS) in whole UK (from Cambridge). Almost all his predictions abt India (if ruled by Congress) now seems to be true.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 108.

    for blow the whistle----actually india started producing literature 5000 years back but even take the distorted history its 3500 (1500 bc rigveda) and i acknowledge you make sense here ok you can wear some animal fur for 10 months and banana leaves or other leaves for 2 months cool.or google" clothing in india" and there is nothing interesting to read in your history that far.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 107.

    Why only India? What about the rest of the South Asian countries that Brits looted for centuries. I know this is going to hurt Brits, but the Truth is Truth and always bitter. A simple apology by words not going to work, make it practical and return all the treasure to where they were looted from...

    History isn't just for books... what Brits did centuries ago wasn't right, JUST PAY THEM BACK !

  • rate this
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    Comment number 106.

    Yes, I think (as an Indian), Bose was far better leader than Nehru or even Gandhi (although I admire him). Cronyism in Congress (still a major political force & current ruling party) started the day when Bose opposed Gandhi & had to leave the party.
    Bose's prescription for sustainable peace, religious/caste freedom, building a country with ~1000 yrs history of slavery was/is more appropriate.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 105.

    Both Nehru and Bose were socialists, but Bose supported the Nazis. There was no such intellectual confusion in Nehru. Read his letters and you'll find no 'infatuation' with Britain, but an incredibly powerful mind and a determination to do the right thing in a pragmatic way. Bose, on the other hand, was a buffoon.

    Not sure why you brought secularism up, enjoy it while it lasts in your country.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 104.

    History is a set of lies that everyone can agree on. (Roughly, N.Bonaparte). A nod to the past, in order not to repeat it (or at least to learn from it), & let's all move on to a better tomorrow.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 103.

    amcbeast91--- Literacy in India is key for progress,and the Indian literacy rate grew to 74.04% in 2011 from 12% at the end of British rule in 1947.that account for 800 million people(small % of those already taking up your jobs) i accept effect of british plunder is enormous and to compensate loot of 300 years it will take india another 10-15 years to pull its whole population out of poverty.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 102.

    @ amcbeast (99).
    My experience in India tells me that Gandhi & Nehru's (hardly experienced India till returned frm UK as an adult) infatuation with Brit culture, perception abt religion, caste, economic policies created more problem in free India.
    Indian secularism mean right to do anything even in public places based on one's religious faith- NOT a uniform law to follow irrespective of religion.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 101.

    Ha! Bose an able leader? The Japanese gave up supporting him because they saw him for the incompetent coward he was! Are you just basing your views on the film...? You know it was fiction don't you?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 100.

    Cont. #97. Supporting Brits during WW2 & last days of Brit empire was a blunder. It not only lengthen the Raj but also helped Congress to get monopoly over power for long & also disappearance of able leaders like Netaji.

    @ dev (95) Probably that time the Brits decided that they can not afford allowing cows, sheep to roam freely (on streets & elsewhere)! Indians had no such obligations. ha ha ha..

 

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