British Prime Minister David Cameron's desperate bids to play PR blitz in India flopped. He regretted the brutality of his colonial ancestors perpetrated in India, admitted that the notorious 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre was a "deeply shameful" episode in British colonial history but stopped short of offering a full apology for the murder of hundreds of unarmed men and women. Cameron, much to the chagrin of not only the Indians but also of the entire global demography which was once colonised by imperial forces, joined the secretary of state for the army who said on 8 July 1920, "Frightfulness is not a remedy known in the British pharmacopeia." In his smugness towards the crimes his forefathers committed, Cameron added a revolting dimension to the traditional British conceits on its destructive colonial legacy.
Britain has still not owned up its colonial crimes. On the contrary, it has always maintained a conspicuous silence on the darkest phase of its national history. And in the post World War II period, as Britain assumed upon itself self-granted righteousness lecturing the world along with the United States on morality, its attitude towards its hideous crimes and horrific legacies changed virtually dramatically.
Noam Schimmel of London School of Economics has drawn a perfect picture of the British attitude. Colonisation and its impact on the colonised is rarely a topic of sustained public conversation in Britain. It is not even a tangential topic. It is simply ignored, elided with very infrequent and brief exceptions such as the one prompted now by the case of Kenyan survivors of torture and other human rights abuses of British rule in Kenya.
In fact, Cameron's half-hearted expression of regret for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre reminds us much like it has reminded noted author Geoffrey Wheatcroft that British politicians never recant their own or their ancestors' transgressions. Britain, in fact, is not known and will probably never be known for undergoing any kind of soul-searches and "self-flagellation over Empire and all the horrors committed in its name."
Instances galore to vindicate this belief. Britain's lack of remorse has recently been conjured up by what its Foreign Secretary, William Hague said: "We have to get out of this post-colonial guilt. Be confident in ourselves." No, Hague isn't the first British politician to appear so blissfully conceited. Way back in 2005, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown asserted: "The days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over".
Sixteen years ago in 1997 visiting India along with Queen Elizabeth II Prince Philip struck a note of incoherence. He was overheard saying that the Indians have "vastly exaggerated" the death toll of Jallianwala Bagh massacre. This exhibition of insensitivity vastly scuttled the reconciliation Queen Elizabeth II offered. She described the massacre as a "difficult episode in our past — but one that was nonetheless part of "history that cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise".
David Cameron has only towed what has been a British tradition — a straw man of English conceits. Therefore, none really expected that he would say sorry and break his nation's insouciance — a deliberate amnesia, rather a hubris of despicable magnitude. England, on the contrary, finds it much easier in berating other foreign nations such as Turkey for failing to own up its alleged role in Armenian genocide while shoving the darkest days of its history under the carpets.
Neither hubris nor advertent silence over its colonial past can wash off the human blood that still stains the British tuxedos. History does not tell lies and it says that everywhere, be it in Asia or Africa the British colonial rule has been chillingly cruel—a blatant saga of human rights violation. Therefore, when Hague claimed that they were committed long time ago and Britain has retreated from its empire we ought to remind him that nothing short of apology will console the souls of millions who it killed to satiate its greed for wealth. The atrocities were all committed within our living memories which are indeed hard to forget and forgive.
In Sudan, Lord Kitchener's campaign was brutal to the extent that we may not find many parallels in human history. Historian Piers Brendon has put it his book, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, "British punitive expeditions in the Sudan" were extremely brutal, "at times amounting almost to genocide". The repression of Mau Mau uprising in Kenya was so vicious that Harvard historian Caroline Elkins described it as "Britain's gulag". Cameron's forefathers had killed at least 100,000 people of Kikuyu tribe.
It had presided over the horrible deaths of four million Bengalis who starved to death in famine of 1943 in India. Four million civilian lives were cruelly snuffed out when Winston Churchill diverted food to feed British soldiers and countries such as Greece.
The horror of the famine still haunts some British souls and one such is that of commentator and columnist Owen Jones. Owen, in one of his recent essays has referred to Churchill who justified the deaths of four million men and women, boys and girls, old and young saying: "The starvation of anyway underfed Bengalis is less serious than that of sturdy Greeks. I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." He said to his Secretary of State for India, Leopold Amery.
Endless is Britain's tale of horror. Britain's political class has indeed succeeded in persuading average Britons that the nation has tortured enough over its empire. But an apology from the nation is still awaited and is overdue. Anything short of that would not console the Indians, the Kenyans, the Sudanese and others. Britain still remains the worst aggressor, the worst violator of human rights and a shameless plunderer.