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When the Queen Paid Homage to Martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

On this day, 98 years ago, hundreds of men and women had gathered in Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh to protest the suspension of civil rights under the Rowlatt Act when they were fired upon by British troops commanded by Colonel Reginald Dyer. Farmers, children and merchants who had gathered at the spot to take part in a Baisakhi fair were also caught in the crossfire.

Uday Singh Rana | News18.com

Updated:April 13, 2017, 4:06 PM IST
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When the Queen Paid Homage to Martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
Years after the Queen’s visit, British PM David Cameron visited the public park and described the massacre as a “deeply shameful event in British history”. (Getty Images)
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New Delhi: On this day, 98 years ago, hundreds of men and women had gathered in Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh to protest the suspension of civil rights under the Rowlatt Act when they were fired upon by British troops commanded by Colonel Reginald Dyer. Farmers, children and merchants who had gathered at the spot to take part in a Baisakhi fair were also caught in the crossfire.

According to an independent fact-finding team, led by Mahatma Gandhi himself, the total number of dead crossed 1,000. The Amritsar massacre shook the conscience of the nation and it’s regarded as one of the most crucial turning points of the Indian freedom movement. It wasn’t until decades later, in 1997, that Britain even acknowledged the massacre.

England’s Queen Elizabeth II, who was touring both India and Pakistan to mark 50 years of their independence, visited the enclosed park to pay her respects to the men, women and children who died in the massacre.

Addressing a state banquet in Delhi, a day before her visit to Amritsar, she had said, “It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past —Jallianwala Bagh, which I shall visit tomorrow, is a distressing example. But history cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise. It has its moments of sadness, as well as gladness. We must learn from the sadness and build on the gladness.”

When she finally visited the memorial, she took off her shoes before entering the memorial. Clad in a saffron dress, she laid a wreath of flowers at the memorial and observed 30 seconds of silence. According to a New York Times report from the time, British officials agonised for months over the right words.

In the end, however, she fell short of issuing a full-fledged apology. The British monarch’s failure to accept full responsibility for the massacre, which was carried out in the name of her grandfather George V, had antagonised many in India and Pakistan.

It was then-Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujaral who came to her defence and said that she could not be expected to apologise for something that happened “before she was even born”.

Years after the Queen’s visit, British PM David Cameron visited the public park and described the massacre as a “deeply shameful event in British history”. Cameron, too, did not apologise. The Queen’s speech, however, remains the first and only public reference of the massacre by a reigning British monarch.

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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