The Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government’s renovation of the Jallianwala Bagh in Punjab’s Amritsar city has raised concerns about the erasure of history. Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the memorial on Saturday.
A crowd of thousands had gathered at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar on April 13, 1919, to peacefully protest against the arrest of two nationalist leaders. Hundreds of Indians were killed that day when British soldiers blocked all exits and started firing on them. General Reginald Dyer had ordered the soldiers not to stop firing until all their ammunition was exhausted.
As part of the Bagh’s makeover, the walls of the narrow lane – through which the soldiers led by Dyer accessed the area – have been embossed with sculptures. The points of entry and exit to the Bagh have also been changed, and a lotus pond has been built around the main structure, according to The Indian Express.
The renovation gain significance ahead of the Punjab Assembly polls scheduled for early next year.
The “Shahidi Khu [Martyrs Well]”, where people cornered by the British soldiers jumped in to to save themselves from the firing, has now been enclosed with a glass shield, The Indian Express reported.
On Saturday, Professor of Global and Imperial History Kim A Wagner first posted on Twitter about the makeover of the walls in the lane connecting to the Bagh.
“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,” Wagner tweeted. “This is sadly just part of the general Disneyfication of the old city of Amritsar.”
After Wagner’s tweet, several social media users criticised the Modi government’s decision to make changes to the historically significant location.
British Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, Preet Kaur Gill, replied to Wagner, saying: “Our history – being erased! Why?”
To this, Wagner posted images of the changes made to the walls of the narrow lane, showing sculptures of men, women and children.
During the virtual inaugural event on Saturday, Modi said that the memorial will inspire the public to learn about our history and India’s journey to Independence, reported The Indian Express.
Here are some of the reactions to the renovation.
Other changes to the memorial
A Salvation Ground has been constructed for visitors to observe silence to honour the martyrs. Four new galleries have been constructed by re-using underutilised buildings inside the premises to display the historical importance of the events that occurred in Jallianwala Bagh.
These galleries portray Punjab’s history, India’s Independence movement, and the Gadar Movement (international political movement as part of India’s freedom movement), reported The Indian Express.
The renovations also include sculptures of Sikh spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev, Sikh warrior Banda Singh Bahadur, and a statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.