On the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury embraced the bold act of prostrating at the site of the Amritsar massacre, as a deeply meaningful symbol of a personal request for forgiveness for the British colonial atrocity. Over 400 were slaughtered and more than 1000 injured on the bloody April day in the state of Punjab, 41 of the victims being infants.
Welby ensured espousing a tone centred on religious and personal forgiveness, choosing to stay clear of hinting at any sign of official government representation, “I cannot speak for the British government … but I can speak in the name of Christ and say this is a place of both sin and redemption, because you have remembered what they have done and their names will live, their memory will live before God”. More emotively, Welby expressed the yearning of the deceased souls, “…crying from these stones warning us about power and about the misuse of power”.
The massacre in Amritsar composed but a small part of wider British pillaging and colonial atrocities undertaken across present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Dyer, the colonel responsible for the shooting, expressed his disappointment in not capitalising upon the opportunity to throw more Indians into the grip of death as if barricading the Bagh’s entrances and preceding to slaughter hundreds wasn’t enough evil. More so, Britain’s campaign in the Punjab region—of which Amritsar remains the regional Indian capital (with Lahore the Pakistani Punjab capital)—was an institutionalized mission of planting fear into the soul of every Sikh, Muslim and Hindu. Every conceivable avenue presented a clinical opportunity for the British imperialists to exercise divide and rule. For example, the Colonization Bill of 1906, in advocating for government appropriation of land if an individual had neither heir nor a will, was wholly against local and regional culture, explicitly pursuing social ferment.
As a silver lining, the grievous atrocities paved the way for a peace movement, namely Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, culminating in independence movements of greater strength and the eventual founding of modern-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. General Dyer’s mission to sew fear into Punjab was met with equal triumph and hope by the Indians. Primarily, the Khilafat movement sought to bridge the differences between Indian Hindus and Muslims to lobby the British Imperialists in numerous policies, including the treatment of the oppressed Sikh Satyagrahis and British policy towards the Ottoman Empire post World War 1.
Undoubtedly, the tainted colonial grudges sparsely spread across the Indian subcontinent remain a primary determinant in the current tensions, politics and diplomacy of the fractured states of India and Pakistan. The present-day Kashmir crises and both India and Pakistan’s inability to reconcile diplomatic rifts depicts this sour friction. More hopefully, Welby’s bold act of prostration symbolizes perhaps a hopeful resurgence in recovering from decades of domestic ignorance and wider global amnesia of the British Empire, and for heads of state to come to terms with reality, paving the way for official state reconciliation decades after the end of colonization.
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