Indian group calls off protest, accepts queen's regrets
October 14, 1997
Web posted at: 2:41 p.m. EDT (1841 GMT)
AMRITSAR, India (CNN) -- Through her actions and her words,
Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday salved some emotional wounds
left over from one of the worst acts of violence of Britain's
colonial rule, a 1919 massacre in the Punjab city of Amritsar
that galvanized the Indian independence movement.
Almost 80 years ago, within the walled garden the queen
visited Tuesday, hundreds of unarmed civilians attending an
illegal, but peaceful, independence rally were gunned down by
Officially, 379 people died in the garden that day. As many
as 120 of them drowned as they jumped into a well in the
garden to escape the soldiers' bullets. Contradicting the
official death toll, a sign in the garden said 1,200 died in
The incident has remained a contentious point for Indian
groups, which had long sought an official apology from the
British government. Protesters, shouting "Killer Queen, go
back," were dispersed about four hours before the queen
arrived at the memorial site.
But a protest planned by another Punjab group was canceled
after relatives of the victims heard remarks from Queen
Elizabeth which they called tantamount to the apology they
In a state dinner Monday evening in New Delhi, the queen
referred to the massacre as a "distressing" episode in
relations between Britain and India.
"History cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes
wish otherwise," she told the gathering. British-India
relations have had their share of sadness and gladness, she
said; the point is to learn from the sadness and build on the
In the spirit of building amicable relations, Amritsar wore a
festive look for the queen's visit. People lined the streets
to wave flags and cheer Elizabeth and her husband, Prince
Philip, who accompanied her on the visit.
The queen wore an orange dress, a color with religious
significance in India. It is a symbol of sacrifice. Then,
she removed her white pumps and walked in her stocking feet
to the obelisk marking the massacre spot, laying a wreath of
marigolds and leaves at the monument.
For some Sikhs, her visit alone was taken as an apology.
But others still find it hard to forgive, or forget. "The
British army killed my father even before I was born," said
one man. "My pregnant mother became a helpless widow. This
massacre is one of the worst incidents in Indian history."
Punjab's reaction to the queen symbolizes the ambivalence of
British-Indian relations. On the one hand, she was showered
. On the other, protests marked her visit.
The contrast served to demonstrate that even after 50 years
of Indian independence, Britain and India maintain a
New Delhi Bureau Chief Anita Pratap and Reuters contributed to this report.