1919, 1947, 1984 ...Legacies of Empire, Milestones of DestinyDate: Thursday, 04 June, 2009
In his book "Empire" the world renowned historian Niall Ferguson (Professor of History at Harvard University) compares the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre of 1919 to the Bloody Sunday uprising in Ireland. He asserts that both events would set off chain reactions which would leave the destiny of India and Ireland changed forever. News of the massacre in Punjab would reverberate in the Palace of Westminster.
Both Houses of Parliament would condemn and censure the perpetrator Brigadier Reginald Dyer. As Winston Churchill claimed - "The incident in Jallian Wala Bagh was an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation".
There is no doubt that the bloodshed in Amritsar, within a stone's throw of the Golden Temple gave fresh impetus to the Independence movement and accelerated Britain's departure from the "jewel" in it's Imperial crown.
The coming days will see Sikh's throughout the UK dwell upon events 25 years ago when once again Amritsar would be the scene of a massacre. On the 4th of June the Indian Army attacked the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Official casualties were put at 576 killed and 335 wounded. However independent observers estimate that thousands of unarmed Sikh civilians were also killed. The media were banned and Punjab lay in a state of siege.
To see June 1984 as an event unrelated to Anglo Sikh heritage would be a mistake. It was and remains a monumental landmark in Sikh history. It has defined the lives of whole generations. Families have been destroyed, individuals still languish in prison, countless others remain unaccounted for, invaluable and rare sacred manuscripts were destroyed and historic buildings razed. India has never been the same and yet most tellingly many of the grievances that gave rise to the conflict remain unresolved.
Those grievances arose from the partition of India and the subsequent unwillingness of successive Governments to repeatedly honour pledges made in the aftermath of Independence.
"Sikhs were sacrificed on the altars of Muslim ambition and Hindu opportunism." Alan Campbell-Johnson, PA to Lord Mountbatten.
Britain's hasty retreat from India at the end of WW2 proved to be most costly for the Sikh nation. As the pain and grief of 1984 is revisited it is hard to ignore the reality that from the 1809 Treaty of Amritsar, to 1919, 1947, 1984 and beyond Sikh history has been influenced by Britain. It is a deeper understanding and appreciation of these indelible and irreversible links that the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail seeks to achieve.