April 13, 1919. A day that went down in history with an event that shook the nation to its core with the sheer brutality it exhibited. General Dyre’s spot was reserved in every history textbook after the barbaric Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The Bagh has now been revamped and it is making news with many upset over the significance of the event being lost with this renovation.
What is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre?
The Freedom struggle saw India in the process of coming together unitedly and opposing British rule. With prominent Indian leaders being arrested for their dissent, the British laid a ban on public gatherings as these were spaces where opposition grew and plans were charted out to drive the foreign rule out of the country. During this phase of a ban on public gatherings, on the afternoon of April 13 1919 in Amritsar, men, women and children gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh to express solidarity with the motherland and dissent against the opposition.
A humungous crowd of 10,000 had gathered to celebrate the traditional Baisakhi. This irked the British who had clearly foreboded this kind of gathering for any purpose.
To help you have an idea of the Jallianwala Bagh, there is a sole exit and the space is enclosed in walls.
General Dyre ordered for the exit to be sealed off and troops began opening fire, with repeated gunshots until they had run out of ammunition. The massacre was bloodshed and while the exact number of casualties was not known, an official report gave an estimated figure of 379 as the deaths that had taken place and said around 1200 to have sustained injuries. A vicious act that history has not been able to forget.
What is the revamping that has been done at the Jallianwala Bagh?
The Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust was set up on May 1, 1951. The Bagh has undergone several repairs from then on until 2019, however, the essence of it had never been changed. In 2019, as the Bagh completed its 100 years history of the fateful day, the Union Government announced that it would be revamped and set aside Rs 20 crores for the project.
Revamping a historic structure is a sensitive matter as however much the appearance and externals are worked upon, the aesthetic and the core message of the place is attempted to be preserved.
This is what sent shock waves across the Internet when the pictures of the revamped Bagh went viral. Owing to the history that takes root in this space, the exit was revamped and how? Many questioned if the attempt of the revamp was a makeover or a way to erase history completely.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually inaugurated the renovated complex, which now has a light and sound show that can let people be informed as to what happened on that fateful day.
How have the descendants of the martyrs reacted?
While netizens are shocked at the exuberant renovations in a place that is a souvenir of martyrdom, the people who are heartbroken are the descendants of the martyrs who were massacred.
The nostalgic remembrance now being transformed has put them off. Some of these have claimed that they will boycott all future national and state-level programs until the memorial is restored.
Rahul Gandhi too criticised the revamp that has been done. Whereas, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said “To me, it looks very nice.”
Sunil Kapoor, the president of Jallianwala Bagh Freedom Fighters Foundation and great-grandson of Lala Wasoo Mal, one of the martyrs, said to The Wire that “The Jallianwala Bagh entrance now looks like a wedding hall. The gaudy lights and ambience remind you of a shopping mall. It does not depict the heritage of our freedom fighters anymore. We have decided to boycott all national and state-level functions in protest against this newly renovated memorial.”
He also said “The alley leading to the Jallianwala Bagh has been completely changed with sculptures on the walls and covered with overhead iron grills, damaging its spirit, which was a testimony to the cruelty of how Colonel Dyer’s soldiers blocked it and killed thousands of people. Secondly, they tampered with the ‘Shaheedi Khoo’ (martyr’s well) and enclosed it in a glass. They also removed the photographs of the martyrs, which is such a disgrace. It is a historical fact that among others, it was Punjabis, who sacrificed their lives in the freedom struggle and this government wants to wipe out that history forever.”