What is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and why is Britain facing renewed calls to apologise?

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Juliet Bremner

The British government is under renewed pressure to apologise for its role in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.

The House of Commons discussed the incident, also known as the Amritsar massacre, on Tuesday after the issue was raised by Bob Blackman MP.

During the hearing, MPs discussed the tragic event where at least 379 Indians were gunned down by British troops.

What exactly happened in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre?

The massacre took place on April 13, 1919 when troops of the British Indian Army fired their rifles into a crowd of Indians gathered in Jallianwala Bagh.

Under the instruction of Colonel Reginald Dyer, the British army were convinced a major insurrection was mounting, and meetings were banned on that day.

The ban fell on the same day many surrounding villages were gathering to celebrate and attend the city's traditional fairs.

Many of those gathered were not aware of Colonel Dyer's instructions, but that did not stop troops from opening fire on those gathered in the Jallianwalla Bagh, as the exits were blocked off to stop people from escaping.

The death toll figure is highly disputed, with estimates between 379 to 1,600. At least 1,000 others were injured.

What is the likelihood of an apology now?

A debate, initiated by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, discussed the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, just days before its 100th year anniversary.

Mr Blackman called on the government to formally apologise ahead of the centenary this Saturday, adding that the "time was right".

Mark Field, a Minister of State at the Foreign Office, hinted to MPs that he would formally recommend to Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to issue an apology for Britain's role in the tragedy.

During the debate, Mr Field said the government "perhaps need to do a little bit more" that issuing its deep regrets on the issue.

In a statement to ITV News, a Foreign and Commonwealth spokesperson said: "The Government rightly condemned the incident at the time: Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill called it 'a monstrous event… which stands in singular and sinister isolation'.

"HM the Queen and Prime Minister David Cameron both expressed our deep regret on visits to Jallianwala Bagh."

Former Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley looks at bullet marks on a wall of the Jallianwala Bagh in 2014. Credit: AP

What was the reaction at the time?

The shooting sparked widespread outcry among Indians and fuelled nationalism among ordinary citizens, with some historians believing the incident marked a significant step in India's road to independence.

In parliament, Dyer's orders split the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The Lords hailed Dyer, but the Commons denounced the killings. Winston Churchill, who was Secretary of State for War at the time, described the attack as "monstrous".

Prime Minister Herbert Asquith called it “one of the worst outrages in the whole of our history”.

David Cameron refused to issue a formal apology when he visited the site of the incident. Credit: PA

What have the implications been?

Indians have long demanded a formal apology from Britain for its involvement in the incident.

In 1997, the Queen and Prince Philip stopped by a plaque commemorating the 1919 massacre.

Prince Philip is alleged to have passed comment on the plaque which asserted 2,000 people died, with Philip allegedly saying the number of those killed was fewer.

In 2013, David Cameron became the first British Prime Minister to visit the scene of the Amritsar massacre but stopped short of issuing a formal apology.

As he prepared to leave Amritsar, Mr Cameron explained why he had decided against issuing an apology.

Mr Cameron said at the time: "In my view we are dealing with something here that happened a good 40 years before I was even born, and which Winston Churchill described as 'monstrous' at the time and the British government rightly condemned at the time.

"So I don't think the right thing is to reach back into history and to seek out things you can apologise for."

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called on the government to issue a formal apology for the massacre during a visit to India in 2017.

MPs debated the issue in the House of Commons. Credit: PA