Delving deeper into the Amritsar massacre | Letters

Dr Zareer Masani takes issue with an article by Mihir Bose, Judy Stober says it is a delusion that Britain has been a world leader in establishing a just and tolerant society, but Randhir Singh Bains thinks there is little point in apologising for the 1919 massacre

May I point out several factual errors in Mihir Bose’s article on the 1919 Amritsar massacre (A century on, Amritsar is an atrocity Britain must confront, 13 April)?

Gandhi never described British rule as “satanic” then or ever. The Liberal-led coalition government in London did indeed intend dominion status for India and introduced liberal reforms to that end the same year. The repressive Rowlatt Act never came into force.

It’s a typically emotive myth that 41 women died in the horrendous massacre. Punjabi women of the time, mostly in purdah, never ventured out in the midst of riots and curfew. Nationalist sources record only two female fatalities. Prince Philip’s questioning of the casualty figures now being touted is supported by most historians.

The massacre was condemned at the time as “a monstrosity” and “un-British” by the House of Commons and the Hunter judicial inquiry appointed by the Raj itself. General Dyer’s boss, the secretary of state for war Winston Churchill, led the condemnation and insisted on him being forced out of the army.

Bose doesn’t mention the crucial facts that five British civilians were bludgeoned to death and a British female charity worker was stripped, beaten and left for dead by Indian mobs in the violence leading up to the massacre. That was why so many wrongly saw Dyer as a saviour.

Indians demanding British apologies today might stop to consider that the grandfather of the Sikh maharaja of Patiala, now Congress chief minister of Punjab and leading the chorus, publicly backed Dyer at the time. So did the Sikh Golden Temple, which felicitated him on the massacre and made him an honorary Sikh. If apologies are in order, they should start at home in India.
Dr Zareer Masani

• The articles by Mihir Bose and Myriam François (Why were white people so offended by Jon Snow?, 13 April) could have gone further.

Another of the problems, both in acknowledging our culpability of past actions as happened at Jallianwala Bagh and the response to Jon Snow’s remark, is the fact that we are constantly told that Britain has been a world leader in establishing a just and tolerant society. This is a delusion. The reality is that for centuries every new group of people coming to the UK has been vilified. Just in my living experience this has included the Poles who came during the second world war, Caribbean and Asian people from the late 1940s onwards and now, of course, people from eastern Europe.

Myriam François is also right to point to structural (or institutional) racism, which very few people seem willing to accept as a concept, let alone be prepared to confront and take action to overcome. One of the clearest examples is the Home Office, which we know has been institutionally racist since at least the time of the Windrush generation. Rather than taking action to rectify the problems, Theresa May, when she was home secretary, only exacerbated the situation by introducing the idea of an “hostile environment” – a euphemism if ever there was one – which almost certainly influenced some people into voting for Brexit.
Judy Stober
Bruton, Somerset

• The legacy of Amritsar, Mihir Bose’s claim notwithstanding, is neither ignored nor forgotten. David Cameron expressed regret for it in 2013, as did Theresa May last week. But both refused to apologise – and it is not difficult to see why.

Regret expresses a desire that the event had not taken place, without any acceptance of wrongdoing on one’s part. An apology, on the other hand, amounts to an admission of guilt and unlawful activity. Regret, for example, would not be appropriate for crimes such as Japan’s mistreatment of prisoners of war or the Turkish genocide of Armenians, for in these cases both states not only failed to protect victims, but also failed to punish the guilty.

The British state in 1919, however, did deliver justice. The man responsible for the Amritsar massacre was duly charged and punished. One wishes the massacre had not taken place, but it did, and the culprit was appropriately dealt with. Since Britain neither collaborated in nor wilfully ignored the crime committed by General Dyer – in fact, it paid liberal compensations to the relatives of the victims of the massacre – there is little point in apologising.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

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