India marks 100th anniversary of Amritsar massacre

The Amritsar massacre, 100 years ago this April 13 in which British troops opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters, remains one of the darkest hours of British colonial rule in India. (AFP)
Updated 13 April 2019
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India marks 100th anniversary of Amritsar massacre

  • The Jallianwala Bagh massacre saw British troops fire on thousands of unarmed people in the northern city of Amritsar on the afternoon of April 13, 1919
  • Even 100 years on, Britain has still made no official apology

AMRITSAR: Britain’s high commissioner to India laid a wreath on Saturday on the 100th anniversary of the Amritsar massacre, one of the worst atrocities of colonial rule for which London is still to apologize.
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, as it is known in India, saw British troops fire on thousands of unarmed people in the northern city of Amritsar on the afternoon of April 13, 1919.
The number of casualties from the event, which hardened opposition to colonial rule, is unclear, with colonial-era records showing about 400 deaths, while Indian figures put the number of fatalities closer to 1,000.
Even 100 years on, Britain has still made no official apology and Dominic Asquith, high commissioner, on Saturday followed suit at the Jallianwala Bagh walled garden where the massacre happened and where bullet marks are still visible.
“You might want to re-write history, as the Queen said, but you can’t,” Asquith said.
“What you can do, as the Queen said, is to learn the lessons of history. I believe strongly we are. There is no question that we will always remember this. We will never forget what happened here.”
Former British prime minister David Cameron described what happened as “deeply shameful” during a 2013 visit but stopped short of an apology.
In 1997, Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath at the site but her gaffe-prone husband Prince Philip stole the headlines by reportedly saying that Indian estimates for the death count were “vastly exaggerated.”
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that the massacre was “a shameful scar on British Indian history.”
“We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused,” May said, but she, too, avoided saying she was sorry.
Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Punjab state, said May’s words were not enough.
He said “an unequivocal official apology” is needed for the “monumental barbarity.” Singh made his comments on Twitter, where pictures showed him greeting opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi in Amritsar on the eve of the centenary.
Singh said thousands attended a candlelight march Friday in memory of the victims ahead of a commemoration ceremony later on Saturday.


Around 10,000 unarmed men, women and children had gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh walled public garden in Amritsar on the afternoon of April 13, 1919.
Many were angry about the recent extension of repressive measures and the arrest of two local leaders that had sparked violent protests three days before.
The 13th of April was also a big spring festival, and the crowd — estimated by some at 20,000 — included pilgrims visiting the nearby Golden Temple sacred to Sikhs.
Brig. Gen. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer arrived with dozens of troops, sealed off the exit and without warning ordered the soldiers to open fire.
Many tried to escape by scaling the high walls surrounding the area. Others jumped into a deep, open well at the site as the troops fired.
One of several eyewitness accounts compiled by two historians and published in the Indian Express newspaper this week described the horror.
“Heaps of dead bodies lay there, some on their backs and some with their faces upturned. A number of them were poor innocent children. I shall never forget the sight,” said Ratan Devi, whose husband was killed.

“I was all alone the whole night in that solitary jungle. Nothing but the barking of dogs, or the braying of donkeys was audible. Amidst hundreds of corpses, I passed my night, crying and watching,” she said.
Dyer, dubbed “The Butcher of Amritsar,” said later it was a necessary measure, and that the firing was “not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience.”
Indian newspapers this week repeated their calls for an apology for a massacre that Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, called “monstrous.”
“Over the years, there has been a growing demand from many, including several British historians, and parliamentarians, and Indian political parties, for the British government to formally apologize in parliament and commemorate the Jallianwala Bagh massacre with a memorial day,” the Hindustan Times said in an editorial.
“But even in the centenary year of the massacre, Britain has refused to... take that important step,” it said. May’s statement was “perhaps qualitatively a notch stronger... but is far from enough.”


UN: Pro-government forces kill more Afghans than insurgents

Updated 27 min 8 sec ago
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UN: Pro-government forces kill more Afghans than insurgents

  • The report says 1,773 civilians were hurt or died in the first three months
  • This is a significant drop from the same period last year when 2,305 civilians were killed or wounded

KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghan and international forces had killed more civilians than insurgents in the first three months of the year, the UN announced Wednesday, the first time the deaths caused by the government and its allies exceeded their enemies.
Still it was insurgents who were responsible for the majority of dead and wounded civilians combined, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s report, which was released in Kabul.
The report said 1,773 civilians were hurt or died in the first three months, which is a significant drop from the same period last year when 2,305 civilians were killed or wounded. Last year, many brutal suicide bombings were blamed for the high casualties.
Between Jan. 1 and March 31, the report said 581 civilians were killed and 1,192 were hurt. While insurgents caused a significant majority of the injuries, it was pro-government forces, including NATO, whch killed the majority of civilians. They were responsible for 305 civilian deaths, nearly half of them in airstrikes. The other heavy death toll took place during searches, according to the report.
At the same time, the government and international forces injured 303 civilians, compared to insurgent attacks that injured 736, the report said.
It’s the first time since 2009, when the UN began compiling statistics on civilian casualties, that the deaths as a result of actions by the government and its allies exceeded their enemies.
Most of the deaths were the result of aerial attacks, which were most often carried out by international forces. While the report does not identify the United States, it is the US that carries out airstrikes when called in to assist Afghan forces. It also follows a trend reported in last year’s UN annual report on civilian casualties, which showed a dramatic hike in civilian deaths by pro-government forces including more than 1,000 civilian casualties from airstrikes, the highest since the UN began keeping track 10 years ago.
In September last year, Masih Rahman’s entire family of 11 __ his wife, four daughters, three sons and four nephews __ were killed when a bomb flattened their home in Mullah Hafiz village in the Jaghatu district of Afghanistan’s central Maidan Wardak province.
“It’s not just my family, there are dozens of families just like mine who have been lost in bombings,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
Rahman was working in Iran when he was told his entire family had been killed in an airstrike on his village, which is controlled by the Taliban. Rahman has sought redress from the United Nations. He has taken his case to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, which put out its own report on civilian casualties on Tuesday.
In that report, the commission said 11,212 civilians were hurt or wounded between March 31, 2018, and March 31 this year. In just the last 10 years of Afghanistan’s 17-year war, the commission said 75,316 Afghan civilians had died.
“A shocking number of civilians continue to be killed and maimed each day,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan.
He said that anti-government elements need to stop deliberately targeting civilians and using improvised bombs, which cause indiscriminate harm, while pro-government forces are called upon “to take immediate measures to mitigate the rising death toll and suffering caused by airstrikes and search operations.”