The Archbishop of Canterbury has published remarkable images of himself lying prostrate at the memorial to the victims of the 1919 Amritsar massacre in India.
Writing on Facebook, Justin Welby, the leader of the Church of England and symbolic head of the Anglican Communion worldwide, described his “deep sense of grief” at the “terrible atrocity” committed in Amritsar a century ago.
On April 13, 1919, British troops fired without warning on a peaceful protest of thousands of unarmed Indians in Amritsar, in the northern state of Punjab, in what became known as the Amritsar or Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
While the number of those killed is a matter of dispute. A report by a British-led committee following the massacre put the number of victims at close to 400, with three to four times as many people injured. Indian observers said more than 1,000 people lost their lives.
The bloody event marked a turning point in India’s modern history and was the prelude to Mahatma Gandhi’s commitment to Indian nationalism and the fight for independence.
In 2013, David Cameron became the first serving prime minister to visit the site, while earlier this year his successor Theresa May described the slaughter as “a shameful scar on British-Indian history.” Nevertheless, Britain has never formally apologized.
The archbishop visited the city on Tuesday to pay his respects at the city’s Golden Temple, which is sacred to Sikhs and close to the site of the massacre.
Writing on Facebook, Welby said: “I feel a deep sense of grief having visited the site of the horrific Jallianwala Bagh Massacre today in Amritsar, where a great number of Sikhs, as well as Hindus, Muslims and Christians, were shot dead by British troops in 1919.
“I have no status to apologise on behalf of the UK, its government or its history. But I am personally very sorry for this terrible atrocity.
“Coming here arouses a sense of profound shame at what happened in this place. It is one of a number of deep stains on British history. The pain and grief that has transcended the generations since must never be dismissed or denied.”
He added: “Learning of what happened, I recognise the sins of my British colonial history, the ideology that too often subjugated and dehumanised other races and cultures. Jesus Christ calls us to turn away from sin and to turn to Him as Lord.”
He went on to say that “the past must be learned from so nothing like this ever happens again.”
On Twitter he added: “My first response is to pray to God for healing for those still suffering grief, loss and anger. And prayer means I must also commit to actions that bridge divides of culture and religion – that together we can root out hatred and seek the common good.”