White man’s burden

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Tomorrow the sub-continent shall remember the fallen of the Jallianwala Bagh at the centenary of the massacre. The British in its 190 years of rule over united India committed unspeakable crimes, plundered its wealth, destroyed its economy and what not. But if there is one thing that epitomizes its criminality it is the indiscriminate killings of innocent people on April 13, 1919, in Amritsar.

While the so-called leader of the first world – still struggling to wriggle out from under the ‘white man’s burden’ invests huge amounts of money under the banner of charity to spread human rights, it is yet to bring itself to utter a sincere apology for the crime that has few parallels in history. It is 100 years and yet their vocal cords are too stiff to sound the seven-lettered word.

The embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May just days before the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre said: “we deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused,” whereas the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn called for “a full, clear and unequivocal apology.”

Former British prime minister David Cameron during his visit to India in 2013 had described the killings as “deeply shameful.” but stopped short of an apology.

Speaking for Pakistan, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said he “fully endorse the demand that British empire must apologise to the nations of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh on Jallianwala Massacre and Bengal famine. These tragedies are the scar on the face of Britain.”

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre in which the British troops opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters remains an enduring tragedy from the British colonial rule.

The records show about 400 people died when soldiers opened fire on men, women and children in an enclosed area but local figures put the toll at closer to 1,000.

Besides, there is the Koh-i-Noor diamond that sits in the crown of the British Queen and a lot more that should be reverted to where these belong.

Indian intellectual and politician Shashi Tharoor has written a book entitled “An Era of Darkness” that summarises the whole argument around the role of colonisers in the sub-continent. While presenting the arguments held dear by both the British apologists as well as the school of thought holding contrary opinion his thesis boils down to two things: an apology by the current UK leaders and payment of a token amount in the way of compensation.

As for the assets including the diamond and other artefacts, someone in the United Kingdom had said if they let go of one thing, their entire museums shall be empty. By the same logic, if a real assessment of the damages were to be carried out and the UK was asked to pay that back in today’s money along with interest, the UK would no longer look like what it is today.

Tharoor argues that when the British landed in India, the latter’s share in the world economy was between 23 and 27 per cent and when it left it was around measly 3 per cent.  That should be enough for the anglophiles who wax lyrical about the Raj’s contribution to this land. Pakistan’s former president Farooq Leghari during the Queen Elizabeth II’s visit in 1997 had said Pakistanis still consider themselves as subjects of the empire. If only it were so. And if only our syllabi had taught the unsuspecting minds the truth. The truth is Jallianwala Bagh. 100 years later, the British can at least relieve themselves of one burden by offering an apology.