Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to apologise for a Raj-era massacre during his visit to Ahmedabad on Thursday, 100 years after as many as 1,200 people were killed protesting against Britain’s rule.
Last month saw the centenary of the Pal-Dadhvav massacre, when Indian historians say around 2,000 tribal people led by social reformer Motilal Tejawat gathered to protest against exploitation, forced labour and high taxes.
According to the Gujarat government, British Major HG Sutton ordered his troops to open fire.
“Like a battlefield, the entire area was filled with corpses,” it said. Two wells, it added, were “overflowing with bodies”.
The state’s official float at this year’s Republic Day parade depicted the killings as the “untold story of bravery and sacrifice of the tribals”, it said.
Johnson is on a two-day visit to India.
“It was the British rule at the time when these killings happened so, if the British PM is coming here, he must apologise,” Tejawat’s grandson Mahendra told AFP.
“My grandfather was only running a campaign for the poor, harmless and illiterate tribals,” added the 77-year-old.
Arun Vaghela, head of Gujarat University’s history department, who has carried out field research at the massacre site, said even 20 years ago residents were still finding old bullets lodged in trees and skeletons in deep wells, into which people had jumped to try and escape.
“The British records only show 40 to 50 deaths – but when does any killer government, British or otherwise, ever truly reveal and acknowledge the number of people it has killed?”
The British authorities put the number of dead at 22.
According to Vaghela, the toll is greater than the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, when between 379 and 1,000 people were killed.
“Tribals are at the bottom of Indian social pyramid,” said Vaghela. “Had something like that happened anywhere else, it would have been highlighted by the mainstream press and politicians for a long time.”