British PM regrets "deeply shameful" colonial Indian massacre

Wed Feb 20, 2013 7:09am EST
 

By Andrew Osborn

AMRITSAR, India (Reuters) - David Cameron on Wednesday became the first serving British prime minister to voice regret about one of the bloodiest episodes in colonial India, a massacre of unarmed civilians in the city of Amritsar in 1919.

The killings, known in India as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, were described by Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian independence movement, as having shaken the foundations of the British Empire. A group of soldiers opened fire on an unarmed crowd without warning in the northern Indian city after a period of unrest, killing hundreds in cold blood.

Cameron's visit and expression of regret for what happened stopped short of an apology - but made it clear he considers the episode a stain on Britain's past.

Dressed in a dark suit, Cameron laid a wreath at a memorial to the massacre, a terracotta-colored stone obelisk. He then stood in front of the monument in silence for a few moments.

"This is a deeply shameful event in British history, one that Winston Churchill rightly described at the time as 'monstrous'," Cameron wrote in a visitor book, referring to the former British leader.

The gesture, coming on the third and final day of a visit to India aimed at drumming up trade and investment, is seen as an attempt to improve relations with Britain's former colonial possession and to court around 1.5 million British voters of Indian origin ahead of a 2015 election.

Before his visit, Cameron said there were ties of history between the two countries, "both the good and the bad".

"In Amritsar, I want to take the opportunity to pay my respects at Jallianwala Bagh," he had said ahead of the visit. Cameron also visited Amritsar's Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine.   Continued...

 
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (4th R) walks inside the premises of the holy Sikh shrine of Golden temple in the northern Indian city of Amritsar February 20, 2013. REUTERS/Munish Sharma