Thursday, 21 February 2013


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

PM criticised for failure to apologise over India atrocity
Prime Minister David Cameron's decision not to apologise for the massacre of hundreds of Indian people in 1919 by troops under the command of a senior officer in the British-Indian Army has been criticised by Leicester's Sikh community.
Ordered by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, the troops shot into a crowd of thousands of protesters, including women, children and elderly people until their ammunition ran out.
Mr Cameron visited the site of the shootings in Amritsar, northern India, yesterday, signing a book of condolence and laying a wreath at the spot of the slaughter.
The first British PM to do so, he described the atrocity as "a deeply shameful event in British history".
However, Mr Cameron stopped short of an official British apology, claiming it would not be right 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," he said.
The decision has sparked debate as to whether he should have issued a formal apology to the people of India.
Raj Mann, of the Leicester Sikh Alliance, had two great-grandfathers who served as British officers in the British-Indian Army.
He said: "It's very positive he acknowledged the 1919 massacre as a shameful and indelible stain on Britain's colonial history, but it doesn't go far enough.
"He needs to look at compensation and reparations for the families of the victims and we're disappointed with the level of apology he's given."
Mr Cameron visited the holy Sikh city, in the state of Punjab, during a visit to India to encourage business links. Before visiting the massacre site, he toured Amritsar's Golden Temple, the holiest site in the Sikh religion.
"Some commentators have argued this was a trade visit and it would have been a cynical apology, but I don't agree – I don't think that's right," said Mr Mann. "He had the perfect opportunity."
Amandeep Rai, also a member of the Leicester Sikh Alliance, said: "It's mixed feelings, to be honest. Mr Cameron didn't have to go to Amritsar and make any kind of statement or sign the book. It was kind of a half-baked sentiment.
"I'm not saying bridge-building is required, just some acknowledgement in the form of an apology."
Rushey Mead councillor Culdipp Bhatti, a former Punjabi national, who had family in the British forces, said: "Sikh soldiers fought and died for a country they had never been to and this is the reward they get.
"I think the Sikh people deserve an apology."
Mr Cameron signed the book of condolence at a permanent plaque in the Jallianwala Bagh public gardens, where the massacre took place.
Mr Cameron wrote: "We must never forget what happened here, and in remembering we must ensure the UK stands up for the right of peaceful protest around the world."
An inquiry commissioned by the Raj colonial authorities found 379 people were killed, though this has been challenged by Indian sources, who put the death toll at 1,000 or more.

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