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THE Labour manifesto contains two vital pledges: an unequivocal formal apology by a serving Prime Minister for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and a commitment to teaching children about colonialism, injustice and the role of the British empire.
The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919 resulted in the death of over 1,500 Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus. Dead bodies left to rot after being denied medical treatment and drinking water, followed by press censorship, crawling orders and public floggings. This unprovoked attack to silence the protests against the brutal Rowlett Act was meant to strengthen the British empire; instead it provided the spark for the freedom movement that would demand total independence.
The campaign supported by the South Asian diaspora in Britain, from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, has from day one been very clear that for the apology to be meaningful it must offer a remedy for the future. Mere words alone like “deep regret,” which were offered by Theresa May, will not suffice.
In Labour’s view, “Apologies offer opportunities to challenge misconceptions about the past, present and future. In this case, how colonial history is perceived by the British and how it is perceived by those with their roots in the old colonies.”
The second part of the Labour Party commitment, which forms part of the demand for a remedy, is that “children will be taught about colonialism, injustice and the role of the British empire.”
This will create the prerequisite awareness of Britain’s contemporary society and a sound foundation for all our future generations.
Future generations of black and minority ethnic people will be better placed to understand why they are in Britain, as many people from the old colonies were invited to live and work here — resulting in the current rich mix of communities: this is appreciating the past to understand the present. It has the potential to galvanise the links of shared history between the working class in Britain and the former colonies.
To a non-migrant these two matters may appear trivial. For migrants this decision by Labour is a game-changer that will recognise historic wrongs and provide an understanding for the global movement of people. This will end the deliberate manipulation of immigrants to be used as cheap labour, made into scapegoats for the failures of capitalism and deported at will for short-term political gains.
The targeting and abuse of immigrants embedded in the Tory ideology is exemplified with oft-quoted examples of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 , Margaret Thatcher’s fears of being “swamped” by black and Asian migrants and more recently by Theresa May putting vans on the streets of Britain’s inner cities, telling migrants to “go home” — part of creating her “hostile environment.”
The result of these recent Tory policies (at one point in alliance with the Lib Dems) manifested with the Windrush debacle and the lesser known “Test of English for International Communication (Toeic)” scandal.
In the first instance people who had lived here for generations were described as aliens and illegal and in the latter over 48,000 students, mainly from Asia, were falsely charged with criminal fraud and deported by May as home secretary to reduce net immigration numbers.
We believe that it is time to provide a wider perspective and share the reality of colonial history — the good, the bad and the indifferent — with our future generations. The pledge for an apology and the teaching of British colonial history goes beyond any religious, national or cultural barriers: it effects everyone who believes that human life is equal and freedom of speech a fundamental right.
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