India: The Legacy of British Colonialism — Historic Injustice and Impunity

[Old and new imperialist powers have never accepted responsibility for their numerous horrifying crimes against their victims, and for the historical legacies of their enslavement, colonization, and their unending forms of subjugation, dehumanization, ethnic cleansing and genocide.  Some, when pressed to some level of admission, have made token amends.  But advocates of reparations, world-wide,  have kept collective memory, resistance, and demands for historical justice alive, and have fueled new movements with a strong historic sense of their revolutionary mission.  Among these are the advocates of British reparations to people in India. — Frontlines ed.]

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Apologies and reparations to India

It started a few months after the end of the first world war when an Englishwoman, a missionary, reported that she had been molested on a street in the Punjab city of Amritsar. The Raj's local commander, Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, issued an order requiring all Indians using that street to crawl its length on their hands and knees. He also authorized the indiscriminate, public whipping of natives who came within lathi length of British policemen. On April 13, 1919, a multitude of Punjabis  gathered in Amritsar's Jallian wala Bagh as part of the Sikh Festival "Baisakhi fair" and to protest at these extraordinary measures. The throng, penned in a narrow space smaller than Trafalgar Square, had been peacefully listening to the testimony of victims when Dyer appeared at the head of a contingent of British troops. Giving no word of warning, he ordered 50 soldiers to fire into the gathering, and for 10 to 15 minutes 1,650 rounds of ammunition were unloaded into the screaming, terrified crowd, some of whom were trampled by those desperately trying to escape. Amritsar Massacre "The Indians were 'packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies'; the people 'ran madly this way and the other. When fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed to the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, and the fire was then directed on the ground. This was continued for eight or ten minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion".....Winston Churchill Dyer then marched away, leaving 379 dead and over 1,500 wounded. Back in his headquarters, he reported to his superiors that he had been 'confronted by a revolutionary army,' and had been obliged 'to teach a moral lesson to the Punjab.' In the storm of outrage which followed, the brigadier was promoted to major general, retired, and placed on the inactive list. ''I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself.'' ......Dyer's response to the Hunter Commission Enquiry General Dyer said he would have used his machine guns if he could have got them into the enclosure, but these were mounted on armoured cars. He said he did not stop firing when the crowd began to disperse because he thought it was his duty to keep firing until the crowd dispersed, and that a little firing would do no good. He confessed he did not take any steps to attend to the wounded after the firing. ''Certainly not. It was not my job. Hospitals were open and they could have gone there,'' came his pathetic response. However, the misery suffered by the people was reflected in Rattan Devi's account. She was forced to keep a nightlong vigil, armed with a bamboo stick to protect her husband's body from jackals and vultures. Curfew with shoot-at-sight orders had been imposed from 2000 hours that night. Rattan Devi stated, ''I saw three men writhing in great pain and a boy of about 12. I could not leave the place. The boy asked me for water but there was no water in that place. At 2 am, a Jat who was lying entangled on the wall asked me to raise his leg. I went up to him and took hold of his clothes drenched in blood and raised him up. Heaps of bodies lay there, a number of them innocent children. I shall never forget the sight. I spent the night crying and watching..." General Dyer admitted before the commission that he came to know about the meeting at Jallianwala Bagh at 1240 hours that day, but took no steps to prevent it. He also admitted in his deposition that the gathering at the Bagh was not a concentration only of rebels, but people who had covered long distances to participate in the Baisakhi fair. This incredibly, made him a martyr to millions of Englishmen. Senior British officers applauded his suppression of 'another Indian Mutiny.' The Guardians of the Golden Temple enrolled him in the Brotherhood of Sikhs. The House of Lords passed a measure commending him. The Conservatives presented him with a jewelled sword inscribed "Saviour of the Punjab." A young Sikh teenager who was being raised at Khalsa Orphanage named Udham Singh (aka Mohammad Singh Azad) saw the happening with his own eyes. He vowed to avenge the Amritsar massacre.  On 13 March 1940 at 4.30 p.m. in the Caxton Hall, London, where a meeting of the East India Association was being held in conjunction with the Royal Central Asian Society, Udham Singh fired five to six shots from his pistol at Sir Michael O'Dwyer, who was governor of the Punjab when the Amritsar Massacre had taken place, to avenge the massacre. On the 31st July, 1940, Udham Singh was hanged at Pentonville jail, London "He was the real culprit. He deserved it. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I [had to] crush him." Udham Singh, telling the trial court why he killed Michael O'Dwyer.

It started a few months after the end of the first world war when an Englishwoman, a missionary, reported that she had been molested on a street in the Punjab city of Amritsar. The Raj’s local commander, Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, issued an order requiring all Indians using that street to crawl its length on their hands and knees. He also authorized the indiscriminate, public whipping of natives who came within lathi length of British policemen.
On April 13, 1919, a multitude of Punjabis gathered in Amritsar’s Jallian wala Bagh as part of the Sikh Festival “Baisakhi fair” and to protest at these extraordinary measures. The throng, penned in a narrow space smaller than Trafalgar Square, had been peacefully listening to the testimony of victims when Dyer appeared at the head of a contingent of British troops. Giving no word of warning, he ordered 50 soldiers to fire into the gathering, and for 10 to 15 minutes 1,650 rounds of ammunition were unloaded into the screaming, terrified crowd, some of whom were trampled by those desperately trying to escape.
Amritsar Massacre
“The Indians were ‘packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies’; the people ‘ran madly this way and the other. When fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed to the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, and the fire was then directed on the ground. This was continued for eight or ten minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion”…..Winston Churchill
Dyer then marched away, leaving 379 dead and over 1,500 wounded.
Back in his headquarters, he reported to his superiors that he had been ‘confronted by a revolutionary army,’ and had been obliged ‘to teach a moral lesson to the Punjab.’ In the storm of outrage which followed, the brigadier was promoted to major general, retired, and placed on the inactive list.
 Senior British officers applauded his suppression of ‘another Indian Mutiny.’ The Guardians of the Golden Temple enrolled him in the Brotherhood of Sikhs. The House of Lords passed a measure commending him. The Conservatives presented him with a jewelled sword inscribed “Saviour of the Punjab.”
A young Sikh teenager who was being raised at Khalsa Orphanage named Udham Singh (aka Mohammad Singh Azad) saw the happening with his own eyes. He vowed to avenge the Amritsar massacre.
On 13 March 1940 at 4.30 p.m. in the Caxton Hall, London, where a meeting of the East India Association was being held in conjunction with the Royal Central Asian Society, Udham Singh fired five to six shots from his pistol at Sir Michael O’Dwyer, who was governor of the Punjab when the Amritsar Massacre had taken place, to avenge the massacre.
On the 31st July, 1940, Udham Singh was hanged at Pentonville jail, London
“He was the real culprit. He deserved it. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I [had to] crush him.” Udham Singh, telling the trial court why he killed Michael O’Dwyer.                             —  from the account by Jallian Wala Bagh

Thursday, 11 April 2013
Press Release: Colonialism Reparation

Colonialism Reparation calls on the UK to apologize and pay reparations to India for the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh and for the whole period of British colonial rule.

On April 13, 1919, hundreds of Indians were massacred by the British colonial troops under General Reginald Dyer, the “Butcher of Amritsar”. Considering the need to cause terror to prevent any rebellions in Punjab, General Dyer gave orders to shoot on the crowd gathered to attend a rally in Jallianwala Bagh, a narrow square of the city, without firing warning shots and until exhaustion of the ammunition. The troops then withdrew without providing any medical assistance to the wounded.

During the disciplinary proceedings against the general Dyer by the “Disorders Inquiry Committee”, specially constituted by the British Government in India, no measures were taken against him because his actions were tolerated by his superiors even if, as a result of the investigation, the officer was relieved of command on March 23, 1920 and retired on July 17, 1920 retaining the rank of colonel.

On February 20, 2013 the British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the memorial of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, describing it as “a deeply shameful event in British history,” but avoiding to condemn it, to present an official apology and to offer reparations to the relatives of the victims. Furthermore, the visit of the British Prime Minister took place during a trip that had as its main purpose the development of trade relations, including the promotion of the multi-role fighter Eurofighter Typhoon.

On February 21, 2013, the British Prime Minister David Cameron also said that the United Kingdom does not intend to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond, even if India already demanded its return on several occasions.

Colonialism Reparation calls on the UK to apologize and pay reparations to India for the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh and for the whole period of British colonial rule, also returning the cultural property stolen during the colonial period.

Colonialism Reparation is an international movement for the acknowledgement, the reconciliation, the apologies and the reparations of colonialism. It develops nonviolent activities at a personal and institutional level to create awareness of the situation and to make sure that the colonizing nations which have given rise to situations of inhumane injustice and suffering condemn their colonial actions recognizing their behavior as criminal, they reconcile with their past, apologize and finally pay reparations to the colonized countries.

www.colonialismreparation.org

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