A Delhi-based pop group has made a music video honouring a freedom fighter who assassinated a British official in revenge for a 1919 massacre, at a time of renewed calls in India for reparations from Britain for the excesses of colonial rule.
The animated video tells the story of Indian freedom fighter Udham Singh, who shot dead Michael O’Dwyer for sanctioning the killing of hundreds of Indian protesters during a festival in Punjab, a massacre that hardened opinion against British rule.
The four-minute video by the group The Ska Vengers takes its title, “Frank Brazil”, from an alias used by Singh during an overseas undercover trip.
It traces the activist’s life between the Amritsar massacre and his shooting of the British official in London.
The video is due to premiere on music channel VH1 India on Friday, 75 years to the day after Singh was executed in London for the assassination of O’Dwyer four months earlier.
O’Dwyer was the British Lieutenant Governor of Punjab when the Jallianwala Bagh killings took place in the city of Amritsar. Singh travelled to England to avenge the atrocity and shot O’Dwyer dead in public in a London hall.
Taru Dalmia, The Ska Vengers’ vocalist, said the group was inspired by American blues singer Bessie Smith’s famous death song “Send me to the ‘lectric chair”.
In the new song, the fiery pro-independence protagonist says he doesn’t care if he spends 99 years in jail or is sent to the electric chair.
India’s 200-year long colonial subjugation ended in 1947 but remains a touchy topic. Earlier this month, opposition lawmaker Shashi Tharoor said Britain owes India reparations for the economic and social torture the South Asian country suffered under British rule.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visits Britain later this year, praised the speech, but he did not say whether he supported Tharoor’s demand for an apology.
Singer Dalmia said he agreed with Tharoor’s sentiment, adding that colonial excesses were too often forgotten in the countries that suffered them.
“Europe has a debt to pay, but more than that (in) the formally colonized countries, the debates have stopped,” he said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron came under criticism for not apologising for the Jallianwala killings when he visited Amritsar in 2013, although he mourned the event.
The band will tour in Britain next year for the first time.