March 05, 2013
By Sumit Ganguly and Jennifer Lind
Many criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron for not apologizing for the Jallianwala massacre. Sumit Ganguly and Jennifer Lind on why they’re wrong.
When David Cameron visited the city of Amritsar last month and paid homage at a shrine commemorating the victims of a 1919 British military massacre, the world spent more time discussing what the British prime minister didn’t do rather than what he did. Coverage of Cameron’s visit buzzed about the fact that he had not apologized, and commentators debated whether or not he should have.
But relative to official apologies, Cameron’s effort to acknowledge and learn from the past offers a better model for countries struggling to move their relations forward.
The Jallianwala massacre, in which British soldiers opened fire on 10,000 Indians engaging in a peaceful protest, was easily one of the most reprehensible moments of British colonial rule in India. Even the hard-headed imperialist, Winston Churchill, declared it “shameful” and a “monstrous” event. In its wake, the great Indian poet and writer and subsequent winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Rabindranath Tagore, renounced the knighthood that he had received from Britain.
At his visit to the monument, Cameron, echoing his Tory predecessor, wrote in the guest book that the massacre was “deeply shameful.” He went on to add that, “We must not forget what happened here. And in remembering we must ensure that the United Kingdom stands up for the right of peaceful protest around the world.”