British MPs on Tuesday discussed demands for the United Kingdom to tender a formal apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, but the government expressed reluctance to do so. April 13 marks the centenary of the massacre, which took place in Amritsar in the erstwhile British India.
“I feel a little reluctant to make apologies for things that happened in the past,” said Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field. “There are concerns that any government department has to make about any apology, given there may well be financial implications to making an apology.”
Field said apologising for “many, many events” from the past would “debase the currency of apologies”.
“It was a shameful episode in our history and one that we deeply regret to this day,” Field said. “In the intervening years, we have learnt lessons. Everything that we do today is in order to try to prevent such tragedies occurring again elsewhere in the world.”
Field said the UK’s present-day relationship with India is focused on the future – “on pooling our strengths, sharing our skills and knowledge, and enhancing the prosperity and security of our people”. “We are working together to deal with some of the greatest challenges of our age, such as climate change and infectious disease,” he said.
Field said the matter is a “work in progress” and an active debate was taking place among ministers and senior officials.
“I believe that the best way to honour the memory of the people who suffered and died in Jallianwala Bagh 100 years ago is for us all to do our best to build a new partnership between the UK and India that will work for both our countries, and to recognise that such a partnership can be an important force for good in the world at large,” Field said.
Conservative Party MP Bob Blackman had started the debate, and several others from across parties called for a formal apology by Prime Minister Theresa May. Blackman said children should be taught about the massacre, “because people should know what happened in our name”.