Theresa May must apologise to India for massacre during British colonial rule, says Indian MP

'I think that will wash away the sense that there are many wrongs that have not been acknowledged'

Gabriel Samuels
Thursday 03 November 2016 13:13 GMT
MP Shashi Tharoor has said up to $3 trillion of reparations should be paid by Britain to India
MP Shashi Tharoor has said up to $3 trillion of reparations should be paid by Britain to India (Reuters)

A prominent Indian politician has said prime minister Theresa May should “bend her knees and beg forgiveness” for the “sins” committed by the British empire in India during 90 years of colonial rule.

Shashi Tharoor, an Indian MP and former minister of state, said he believes Britain did irreparable damage to his country between 1858 and 1947, and should particularly apologise for the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre of hundreds of non-violent protesters by British soldiers in 1919.

With the centenary of the massacre three years away, Mr Tharoor said it was time for the British prime minister to offer a full and satisfactory apology for “the wrongs done by their forebears”.

He also criticised former prime minister David Cameron’s “mealy-mouthed” attempt to apologise for the massacre in 2013, saying it should not be recognised as a formal acknowledgment of the event.

“It is in a sense an entire society apologising to an entire people. You cannot quantify the wrongs done,” Mr Tharoor told PTI news agency. “What is far more important than financial reparation would be an apology.

“People who are not responsible today for the wrongs done by their forebears in the past era should apologise nonetheless to people who are not the ones to whom wrong was done.”

Following the massacre, the British government said 379 protestors were killed, although other sources in India continue to claim the figure was in fact well over 1,000 casualties.

He highlighted German democrat leader Willy Brandt apologising at the Warsaw ghetto for Nazi rule in 1970 and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau recently apologising for the Komagata Maru incident as examples for Mrs May to follow in acknowledging Jallianwala Bagh.

“These two apologies offer a model for the British prime minister on the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre to come to that site, bend her knees and beg forgiveness for all the sins committed in the past,” Mr Tharoor continued.

“That I think will wash away in many ways the sense that there are wrongs that have not been acknowledged. David Cameron’s rather mealy-mouthed description of the massacre in 2013 as a ‘deeply shameful event does not, in my view, constitute an apology.

“Whoever the PM is on the centenary of that awful crime will not have been alive when the atrocity was committed, and certainly no British government of 2019 bears a shred of responsibility for that tragedy, but as a symbol of the nation that once allowed it to happen, the PM could atone for the past sins of his or her nation.”

During a speech to the Oxford Union in July last year, Mr Tharoor called on Britain to pay reparations to India and other former colonies for decades of imperial rule. The speech went viral on YouTube, and focussed on the economic toll British rule took on India.

Mr Tharoor recently published a book entitled ‘An Era of Darkness: The British Empire In India’, detailing the full effects of British rule, and claiming Britain should pay up to $3 trillion dollars in reparations to India at today’s financial rates.

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