Archbishop of Canterbury Reverend Justin Welby visited the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar on Tuesday, a century after the British colonial era massacre that had left thousands dead, and said that the experience had been “deeply humbling and provoked feelings of profound shame”.
The massacre had taken place during the Baisakhi festival in April 1919 when the British Indian Army under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer had opened fire at a crowd staging a pro-independence demonstration.
“I cannot speak for British government. But but I can speak in the name of Christ. It is place for sin and redemption. Because you have remembered what they have done and their name will live, their memory will live,” Reverend Welby said on Tuesday during his visit, which was part of a tour of India.
“I am so shamed and sorry for the impact of this crime committed here. I am a religious leader not a politician. As religious leader I mourn the tragedy I see here,” he added.
The archbishop read a prayer seeking forgiveness and lay face down on the floor in front of the memorial to pay his respects.
In the visitors’ book, he wrote, “It is deeply humbling and provokes feelings of profound shame to visit this place that witnessed such atrocities a hundred years ago. My first response is to pray for the healing of relatives, of descendents, of our relationships with India and its wonderful people. But that prayer renews in me a desire to pray and act so that together we may learn from history, root out hatred, promote reconciliation and globally seek the common good.”
Asked if he would ask the British government to seek an apology for the massacre, he said, “I think have been very clear about what I feel and that will be broadcast in England.”
In a Twitter post, he wrote: I feel a deep sense of grief, humility and profound shame having visited the site of the horrific #JallianwalaBagh massacre in Amritsar today. Here, a great number of Sikhs – as well as Hindus, Muslims and Christians – were shot dead by British troops in 1919.”
He said, “…I have no status to apologise on behalf of the UK, its government or its history. But I am personally very sorry for this terrible atrocity. Coming here arouses a sense of profound shame at what happened in this place. It is one of a number of deep stains on British history. The pain and grief that has transcended the generations since must never be dismissed or denied.”
“To say sorry as a Christian is to turn around and take a new direction alongside voicing words of apology. When there is something on the scale and horror of this massacre, and done so many years ago, words can be cheaply bandied around, as if a simple apology would ever be enough,” he added.
He further said, “Learning of what happened, I recognise the sins of my British colonial history, the ideology that too often subjugated and dehumanised other races and cultures…A true repentance involves me listening and learning to the voices of Indians, celebrating their cultures, and determining to work for the common good in ways that enable the flourishing of all people. The past must be learned from so nothing like this ever happens again,” said Welby.
Asked about his experience in India, the archbishop said, “It has been a pilgrimage. It has been for prayer. It has been for me a lesson of profound learning and privilege that I will never forget. I admire all the potential and hope that this country offers to the world.” He also visited the Golden Temple.
Asked about hate crimes against Sikhs, he said, “We have to resist hate crime wherever we find it. It is best resisted when citizens see examples of hate crime happening around us then immediately confront the person involved.”