Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called on the British government yesterday to make a formal apology for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre in which nearly 400 Sikhs were shot dead by British Indian army soldiers.
During a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism, Khan called the massacre one of the most horrific events in Indian history.
On Sunday April 13, 1919, some 50 soldiers led by Brigadier General Reginald Dyer began shooting at unarmed civilians who were taking part in a peaceful protest against oppressive laws enforced in Punjab by British colonial authorities.
At least 379 Sikhs were killed, but the figure is still disputed.
“It is wrong that successive British governments have fallen short of delivering a formal apology to the families of those who were killed,” Khan said.
“I’m clear that the government should now apologise, especially as we reach the centenary of the massacre. This is about properly acknowledging what happened here and giving the people of Amritsar and India the closure they need through a formal apology.”
Khan, who is from the opposition Labour Party, does not speak for Britain’s Conservative government.
Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron visited Amritsar at the end of a trade mission to India four years ago in a show of contrition over the massacre but stopped short of making a formal apology.
Khan, on his maiden visit to Amritsar, paid tributes to those who died at the sprawling ground.
“Some people use the word ‘massacre’,” Khan told reporters after visiting the Jallianwala Bagh complex.
“It was incredibly moving to visit Jallianwala Bagh. The tragedy in 1919 on Baisakhi is one we must never forget. Our thoughts are with all those who died,” Khan wrote in the visitor’s book after paying floral tributes at the memorial.
Khan went around the Jallianwala Bagh complex and saw the Martyr’s Well and the bullet marks on the walls.
“Britain and the world owe a huge debt to the Sikh servicemen and women who fought alongside British troops during the First and Second World Wars,” Khan said.
“These brave individuals sacrificed an enormous amount to defend the freedoms that we enjoy today and it is only right that there is a memorial in our capital city to honour the Sikhs who fought to preserve our freedoms.”
The British Foreign Office said in a statement: “As the former prime minister said when he visited the Jallianwala Bagh in 2013, the massacre was a deeply shameful act in British history and one that we should never forget.
“It is right that we pay respect to those who lost their lives and remember what happened. The British government rightly condemned the events at the time.”
Later yesterday Khan visited the Golden Temple complex, where the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Harmandir Sahib, is located, and offered prayers.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee gave Khan a ‘siropa’ (robe of honour) during the visit.
He also visited the Langar hall, the largest community kitchen in the world, in the shrine complex and partook ‘langar’ sitting on the floor.
“It has been a privilege for me to be in Amritsar for the last 24 hours. The Golden Temple is a spiritual home for tens of thousands of Londoners of the Sikh faith and millions of Sikhs around the world come to Amritsar to pay their respects to worship,” he said .
Also, sharing the same sentiments in the visitors’ book of the Golden Temple, he wrote: “The warmth, hospitality, spirituality are a lesson to us all. Thank you for providing me with memories that will stay with me forever”.
On Tuesday evening, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and others met Khan at a dinner hosted for him.
Khan, who was on a three-city tour of India, visiting Mumbai, New Delhi and Amritsar, later crossed over to Pakistan from the Attari-Wagah land border, about 30km from here.
The mayor, of Pakistani-origin, will visit Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
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