Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Revisited: David Cameron is First British PM to Pay Respects at Shooting Site

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February 20, 2013 7:25 PM EST

David Cameron has become the first serving British prime minister to pay respects at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre site where hundreds of Indians were shot dead nearly a century ago.

The British PM, who is on a three-day visit to India, visited the site in Amritsar, Punjab on Wednesday and laid a wreath at the memorial of one of the most brutal massacres in British history.

Cameron described the Jallianwala Bagh massacre as "a deeply shameful act in British history" in his write-up in a visitor's book at the site.

"This was a deeply shameful act in British history, one that Winston Churchill rightly described at that time as monstrous. We must never forget what happened here and we must ensure that the UK stands up for the right of peaceful protests," he wrote.

The massacre happened on April 13, 1919 when Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer ordered the shooting of thousands of Indians who had peacefully gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh public gardens.

Dyer was sent to Jallianwala Bagh by British authorities to disperse the huge gathering, but he blocked the exits and ordered the army personnel to open fire at the crowd. The shooting went on for almost ten minutes till the army ran out of ammunition.

The estimate death toll of the massacre is believed to be about 1,000 though the colonial government put it at 379. The incident also injured over 1500 people.

Many historians are of the opinion that the incident led to the end of British rule in India. Mahatma Gandhi described the incident as something that rattled the foundation of the British Empire.

Winston Churchill, who was the secretary of state for war, described the massacre as "monstrous" in 1920.

Queen Elizabeth had visited Amritsar in 1961 and 1983 but didn't make any comment on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. She did visit the memorial site and paid her  respects by laying a wreath during her visit in 1997. She described the massacre as a "distressing example" but said "history cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise. It has its moments of sadness, as well as gladness. We must learn from the sadness and build on the gladness."

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