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Explained: The Jallianwala Bagh Makeover Controversy

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On the evening of August 28, Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually inaugurated the revamped Jallianwala Bagh memorial complex. Significant architectural changes have been introduced to the 102 years old historic garden, garnering criticism and concerns regarding history erasure.

Read further to know more about the controversy.

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The Virtual Inauguration Ceremony

While inaugurating the memorial during a virtual conference, PM Modi said,
“It is the responsibility of every nation to preserve its history. Jallianwala Bagh is the place which inspired countless revolutionaries and fighters like Sardar Udham Singh, Sardar Bhagat Singh to die for the freedom of India.” (quote from The Quint)
A two-minute silence was observed in memory of the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh. The infamous massacre had taken place on April 13, 1919.
Punjab CM Amarinder Singh, various union ministers, Jallianwala Bagh trustees, and several MPs and MLAs also attended the occasion. Families of the martyrs of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre were also there.

The PM, who is also the chairperson of the Jallianwala Bagh Memorial Trust, further highlighted that the Centre intends to remodel all other historic sites involved with India’s freedom similar to Jallianwala Bagh. He further added that plans are in motion to build India’s first interactive gallery devoted to Chandra Shekhar Azad in UP’s Prayagraj.

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Key Features of the Makeover

The Central government had allocated around INR 200 crore in 2019 for the renovation project. The garden had been shut since then for the purpose of makeover as per the order issued by government-owned NBCC Ltd.

The Ministry of Culture has performed restoration and conservation, as well as construction of bathrooms, ticketing counters, and drinking water facilities.
The Bagh’s entrance and departure points have been relocated, and a lotus pond has been constructed around the main memorial. The iconic ‘Shahidi Khu’ or Martyrs’ Well, into which many jumped to escape a hail of gunfire, is now encased in a glass shield- a contentious choice that has been criticized for obstructing viewing.

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There has been an addition of a 28-minutes long light and sound show to re-enact events of the gruesome massacre. The show, which is to be conducted every evening, will be free of cost for all visitors. A redemption ground has been developed for visitors to sit and honor the martyrs’ sacrifice in silence.

At the complex entry point, several sculptures have been constructed to represent the people who were present in the garden 102 years ago. Some of the martyrs had been present to celebrate the festival of Baisakhi. Others had been attending a peaceful demonstration against the British arrest of pro-Indian independence leaders. Underutilized buildings have been re-used to construct four galleries which illuminate the historic significance of the massacre. Sculptures of Guru Nanak De and Banda Singh Bahadur and a statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh have been installed as well.

Widespread Backlash and Criticism

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury slammed the new look, claiming it was an insult to the Jallianwala Bagh martyrs. “You’re mocking our martyrs. The killing of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs assembled for Baisakhi at Jallianwala Bagh galvanized our freedom struggle. Every brick in this building was infused with the horrors of British tyranny. Only those who were not present during the great independence movement may be scandalized in this way,” he wrote on Twitter.

The rebuilding of the Jallianwala Bagh memorial complex, according to AICC leader Rahul Gandhi, is a “insult to martyrs”. Gandhi took to Twitter to criticize the renovation.

Kim A. Wagner, professor of global and imperial history at Queen Mary, University of London, and author of “Amritsar 1919: An Empire or Fear and the Making of a Massacre,” expressed his concern over the erasure of history through Twitter:
“Devastated to hear that Jallianwala Bagh, site of the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, has been revamped — which means that the last traces of the event have effectively been erased”. He further termed the renovation as “Disneyfication of the old city of Amritsar”.

The History of Jallianwala Bagh

Recalling the horrors of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, still leaves citizens rattled. The arrest of pro-Indian independence leaders Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlu and Dr. Satya Pal had drawn a large but peaceful crowd to Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab on April 13, 1919. The British Brigadier-General R. E. H. Dyer had surrounded the Bagh with his forces in reaction to the public assembly. Since Jallianwala Bagh was surrounded on three sides by buildings, it could only be exited from one side. After blocking this exit with his men, he ordered his troops to fire at the crowd, even as protestors attempted to flee. The soldiers continued firing while visitors jumped into a well, now known as the “Shahidi Khu”, in order to save their lives only to succumb to the stampede.

Considering the dark history of the site, many citizens have taken to social media to explicitly criticize the renovation.

To read more DU Express, click here.

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