Several commentaries in recent weeks have reminded Indians that repressive colonial-era laws are still in use, police and armed forces remain as brutal, peaceful assemblies continue to be targeted and the attitude of rulers have not changed. The ‘master-servant’ relationship between the ruling elite and citizens have endured.
“Even the Rowlatt Act lives on as the Unlawful Activities (prevention) Act,” reminded a comment by Amrit Wilson in The Guardian.
Indeed, while ‘Brigadier’ Dyer is remembered in India with revulsion, immediately after the massacre he was felicitated at the Golden Temple and was offered ‘Saropas’ and honoured. On the day of the massacre he was invited to dinner by an influential citizen of Amritsar related to the Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal.
A section of the Sikhs wanted to honour Dyer as an ‘Honorary Sikh’ and when he set off to join the Anglo-Afghan war, influential Sikhs in Amritsar and Jalandhar offered to raise 10,000 Sikhs to fight alongside.
The Shimla and Solan Connection
Historians believe British rulers were alarmed at the prospect of Hindu-Muslim unity and the massacre was the precursor of attempts to drive wedges between the two communities. The formation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925, they say, was no accident. “RSS had the blessings of the colonial rulers and remained pro-British throughout the struggle for freedom. It was the RSS leader Savarkar who first demanded the partition of India,” reminds one of them.
Britain has not yet tendered an apology for the massacre, though there is consensus that it is the right thing to do. UK’s Foreign Office minister Mark Field recently told a debate on “Jallianwala Bagh massacre” in the House of Commons complex that while it was important to draw a line under the past over the “shameful episode” in history, repeatedly issuing apologies for events related to the British Raj came with their own problems.
“I have slightly orthodox views on Britain’s colonial past. I feel little reluctant to make apologies for things that have happened in the past,” the minister said.