The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan during a recent visit to India called on the British Government to apologize for the massacre in Amritsar by the British troops. Reportedly some 379 Sikhs were killed by the troops in a site known as Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar in 1919.
“It is wrong that successive British governments have fallen short of delivering a formal apology to the families of those who were killed” the Mayor who represents opposition Labour party urged the Conservative government. “I am clear that the government should now apologize, especially as we reach the centenary of the massacre” he added.
While an apology is certainly be welcoming it would be better if Britain could also extend an apology for other crimes in India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, South Africa and the rest of the world.
Of course one may argue that since the colonial rulers have also made some positive contributions to the colonies such as infrastructure development one should forgive and move on. This could have been considered if Britain really regrets its crimes, attempted compensating the victims at least in a nominal way and admitted that the empire was built by what was plundered from the colonies over tens of thousands of civilian deaths.
However, instead of that what we have been witnessing is that a large percentage of the British population still gloating over the fact that they could bring one fifth of the world population and quarter of the land on earth under their control.
A poll carried out last year by UK-based YouGov has found that 44% of the British population is still proud of their colonial history. Only 21% had regretted it while another 23% was not sure of their opinion.
Commenting on colonialism former British Prime Minister David Cameron was once quoted as saying “I think there is an enormous amount to be proud of in what the British Empire did and was responsible for. But of course there were bad events as well as good events. The bad events we should learn from and the good events we should celebrate”.
Amritsar massacre for which the London Mayor now demands an apology is only a tiny drop in the ocean of the British crimes as a colonial ruler. For instance the Bengali famine created by the British Empire killed three million Indians. Instead of an apology Winston Churchill charged “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits”.
The India-Pakistan partition created by the British saw another one to two million people being killed while moving from east to west and vice versa of the subcontinent.
Everyone knows that it is the British concentration camps in Africa that inspired Hitler to have similar ones in the World War II. Hundreds of thousands died in Kenya, South Africa and rest of the continent due to the British cruelty. One also knows how British engaged in slave trade and built Liverpool and Bristol with the money earned though these means. Over a period of two and half centuries millions of innocent Africans were packed into vessels like cattle and sent off to Europe and Americas. It is said some 25% of these slaves died during the journey itself.
In our very own Ceylon, the British turned the then most populated and prosperous region, the Uva-Wellassa to the most sparsely populated and impoverished region in the 1817-1818 period. Nearly 10,000 people were killed, hundreds of thousands were displaced. The rulers also set hundreds of thousands of paddy fields on fire. Wellasa which got its name from being the land with vast paddy fields, ‘wel-laksha’, was the granary of the Kandyan Kingdom. As a result its destruction created a famine in the Kandyan Kingdom.
“Slaughter every man, woman and child” Governor Robert Brownrigg had reportedly ordered his troops.
The degree of the damage was such even after two centuries this region is yet to come back to normalcy. It was during the last decade thanks to a massive development drive that it became somewhat populated. Still to-date Uva-Wellassa is yet to regain the agricultural glory it was once known for.
One also knows how killing of elephants almost became a past time among the British hunters here. The most notorious of them was Samuel Baker who had reportedly killed 11 elephants before his breakfast in a day, and some 104 within three days. One Major Rogers had killed 1300 elephants while a Major Skinner and Captain Gallwey had killed 700 elephants each. There were many more other hunters.
It is high time that someone invited the London Mayor to Sri Lanka and detailed him of the British atrocities here as we observe the 200th anniversary of the Uva Wellassa massacre. It is high time that someone demanded an apology on behalf of the innocent civilians and the elephants as it seems our own politicians are keeping mum on this.