Navdeep Suri, Indian Ambassador to the UAE during the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute highlights centennial anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh with reading of Khooni Vaisakhi,marking one hundred years since the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place in Amritsar, Punjab. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Britain should apologise for its role in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which marked its 100th anniversary last week, said the Indian ambassador to the UAE during a talk at New York University in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

The massacre took place in 1919 when British troops fired on unarmed Indians leaving hundreds dead in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab, India.

For ambassador Navdeep Suri, the massacre has personal significance because his grandfather — Nanak Singh — was present during the incident and went on to write about it in his famous poetic works Khooni Vaisakhi.

“There isn’t much joy in an apology that is wrenched out of somebody, an apology should be voluntary and be coming from within. I think at some point Britain, to redeem their own name, should do a kind of apology,” said Suri.

The ambassador also spoke about how he had recently translated Khooni Vaisakhi into English for the first time. He explained that although previously lost and then republished to little fanfare in 1980, its translation into English would revive the work.

“Today, because it is in English, and because it’s come on the centenary it has actually put the spotlight back on a forgotten aspect of my grandfather’s work,” he added.

BBC South Asia correspondent Justin Rowlatt was also present at the discussion. Rowlatt is the great grandson of Sir Sidney Rowlatt, who in 1917 was appointed head of the sedition’s Rowlatt Committee, tasked with investigating political terrorism in India.

“Britain feels terribly conflicted about Amristar and horribly embarrassed,” he said. “They realise it’s a terrible, terrible thing, and I think partly there is a kind of political aspect for this, because if Britain apologises for Amristar where does it stop?

“I think what Britain needs to do is come to terms with its history, it needs to engage with its own history and its responsibility more generally for imperial crimes and imperialism in general. It has to come from the heart and there needs to be a discussion within Britain about this, which isn’t happening,” he added.

Commenting on his great grandfather’s role in India, Rowlatt said there was a failure to try and understand the Indian populace and their motivations against the British at the time, which he said accelerated the problem.

“There’s no analysis of what is motivating the people to protest against the British. At no point does he sit and engage with why these people are doing what they’re doing.

“Clearly that was, I suspect, part of the British agenda, they didn’t want to think too deeply about the right and wrongs of the nationalist cause. If you don’t think about why people are doing what they’re doing you’re never going to be able to come up with appropriate legislation, and history has absolutely proved the legislation was wholly inappropriate,” he added.