• Jules Gomes

Indian MP mocks Archbishop Justin Welby’s Amritsar apology as “self-flagellation”


A distinguished member of India’s parliament has derided the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Amritsar apology as “a form of self-flagellation that may appeal to multiculturalism ... but doesn’t alter the way India thinks of contemporary Britain.”

Dr. Swapan Dasgupta, recipient of the Padma Bhushan (India’s third highest civilian award) for literature in 2015, dismissed “the issue of colonial guilt” as “principally a British domestic issue.”

Dasgupta, an influential journalist, also pointed out how almost none of India’s mainstream newspapers thought Archbishop Justin Welby’s “dramatic genuflection all that newsworthy,” even though The Times in Britain “thought his message significant for page one.”

Writing in The Pioneer, one of India’s oldest newspapers which retained journalists like Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling, Dasgupta warned of the dangers of apologising for the past:

Trying to put order into history is tempting but ultimately a self-defeating exercise. Britain has its own issues with its past. It is best to leave it to resolve its existential dilemmas without India adding its one pice contribution to a self-indulgent debate. India is looking forward. It is to be hoped that the UK does likewise. It will be better for both countries.

Dasgupta received an elite Anglophone education in La Martiniere, Calcutta and St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, before earning his PhD in history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Nominated to India’s Rajya Sabha (Upper House) of Parliament, Dasgupta is a vocal Hindu nationalist.

“Indians are not obsessed about the Raj. It was a reality but I don’t think it is seen as a national catastrophe.”

India’s relationship to its colonial past was both complex and ambivalent, and there was “no black and white view,” the historian explained. On one level, some politicians will occasionally “rail against colonial hangovers,” but in civil society on the whole there is “a qualified acceptance of the reality of the British legacy.”

“Indians are not obsessed about the Raj. It was a reality but I don’t think it is seen as a national catastrophe,” he noted, not hesitating to mention the “chuckles over the many Indians who actively propped up the Empire.”

In fact, soon after General Reginald Dyer had ordered the firing on the crowd resulting in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, other Sikhs made Dyer an honorary Sikh at the Golden Temple, Indian historian Zaheer Masani observed.

Writing in The Times, Masani warned that India’s Hindu extremist government could exploit the archbishop’s applause for India’s religious pluralism.

Masani rebuked Welby for his silence on the persecution of Indian Christians:

At the very least, one would have expected the head of the Anglican communion to stand up for fellow Christians who have suffered arson and desecration of their churches, attacks on priests and even the rape of nuns. But that would have involved challenging Hindutva, the wave of militant Hinduism that is transforming the tolerant India of Welby’s imagination into a land where people are lynched on suspicion of eating beef, which is now forbidden by law.

Indian theologian Canon Vinay Samuel and his English colleague Canon Chris Sugden agreed that the archbishop’s Amritsar apology could prove “very dangerous” for the Christian community in India who were his hosts since he had “provided photographic evidence of a Christian leader appearing to take some responsibility for the ‘massacre.’”

“This will reinforce in those opposed to Christian faith in India the idea that Christians were in some way linked with the perpetrators of the events of that day, and therefore can be justly targeted for their collusion then and now with the former colonial powers,” they wrote in Anglican Mainstream.

Sources in India said that attacks from militant Hindus had already started on social media following Welby’s trip. “What begins on social media in virtual space ends up as violence on the street in real space,” Pastor D. Singh from Bangalore told Rebel Priest.

Associating colonialism with Christianity, the Chandigarh-based newspaper The Tribune, called on Welby to “extend the condemnation to all unpardonable crimes committed in the name of the Crown and the Cross.”

The World Hindu News also attributed the “list of colonial atrocities inflicted upon India” to “Anglicans during the time of British Occupied Bharat” (i.e. India).

Hindus went on to attack Archbishop Welby for claiming that “a great number of Sikhs – as well as Hindus, Muslims and Christians – were shot dead by British troops in 1919.”

“This will reinforce in those opposed to Christian faith in India the idea that Christians were in some way linked with the perpetrators of the events of that day.”

“You liar, Justin Welby. No Christians were killed in Jallianwala Bagh in 1919,” K. S. Gandiva tweeted. “There was only one Christian in Jallianwala Bagh that day and he was the one who ordered the firing. “No Christian was there in Jallianwala Bagh massacre except Reginald Dyer ... not a single one harmed even after the massacre,” wrote Aashi.

“Christians? With all due respect archbishop no Christians were among the dead,” added Sheewa. “What Muslims and Christians? It was a religious gathering of Hindus and Sikhs. Having butchered them, don’t water down the realest by pressing a non-existent agenda,” tweeted Uthuni.

Historians record approximately 45 per cent of Amritsar’s population as Muslim, 40 per cent Hindu, and 13 per cent Sikh, and the remainder of religions, including Christian and Buddhist. However, there are no records of Christians killed in the firing.

Meanwhile, Anglican commentators asked if Welby’s India trip was intended to curry favour with the Indian bishops of the Church of North India and Church of South India at a time when the archbishop was losing the support of many of the African bishops over his pansexual agenda.

“The GAFCON archbishops and especially those from Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania will not go to Lambeth. Together they represent about 70% of the Anglican Communion’s practicing Anglicans,” David Virtue, president of Virtue Online told Rebel Priest media.

“The Indian bishops want to remain players in the Communion and Welby won’t call them out as corrupt because he wants them at Canterbury next year. They have to pretend to be orthodox on morals to pacify their people, but ethically they are low. They will do almost anything to stay in the club of Canterbury,” Virtue said.