[op-ed snap] Acknowledging the crime


Mains Paper 1: History | All syllabus

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Jalianwala Bagh Massacre

Mains level:Colonialism, World wars, Imperailism



Apology for Jallianwala Bagh massacre could offer a chance for Britain to atone.


  • . The massacre took place on April 13, 1919: More than 300 unarmed civilians, including a large number of women and children, were gunned down indiscriminately.
  • The protests were sparked off because the colonial state had backtracked from its promises.
  • It had agreed with the Indian National Congress and other leaders of the Indian Independence movement, to accord Dominion Status to India, far short of complete independence, but involving some amount of self-governance.
  • In return, they sought India’s support in fighting World War I. This support included payment of millions of pounds in taxes, and providing men, arms and ammunition for the “glorious empire’s” military. After the war was over, the government reneged on its promises.

British Government’s response to the tragedy

  • However, in 1919, the English government did not severely penalise the cold-blooded murder of innocents. It also rewarded General Dyer.
  • As we head towards the centenary of this great tragedy, it is pertinent to question on what authority did these erstwhile colonial powers impose higher ideas of morality, embedded in notions of the rule of law at the Tokyo Trials.

Two faced attitudes of Imperial Powers

  • While judges from the Allied nations — mainly the US, the Netherlands, and Britain — were all in favour of handing out death sentences to the Japanese war criminals for crimes against humanity, their own governments perpetrated similar atrocities for decades (or centuries) within their “colonies”.
  • it was indefensible to arbitrarily and hypocritically impose newly-created international laws on individuals who could be tried and prosecuted in their own country’s courts, especially when many people across Asia and Africa continued to reel under colonial rule and face similar violence and oppression.

Way Forward

  • While the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy cannot be reversed, an unconditional apology from the British government is long overdue and would demonstrate its recognition and remorse for this dastardly attack.
  • Reparations or an official apology from the British government should not to be viewed as a tool for empowering Indians. Instead, it offers Britons a chance to atone for the wrongs that should never have been committed or celebrated in the first place.
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