Jallianwala Bagh Renovation: Well-Meaning Restoration or Mockery of Tragedy?
The renovation of Jallianwala Bagh had many of us asking, 'don't our martyrs deserve better?'
On 28 August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the renovated Jallianwala Bagh Complex in Amritsar, with fancy murals, glass covers, and a light and sound show to display the “horrific massacre”. This had many of us asking,
'Don't the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh deserve better?'
The Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar has undergone major changes as part of the revamp of the monument complex.
The site stood for more than 100 years as a somber reminder of the 'Bloodiest Baisakhi', the fateful day of 13 April 1919 when British troops opened fire, without any warning, at unarmed protesters, killing more than 1,000 innocent Indians within minutes and leaving many more injured. It was one of the most tragic chapters in India's freedom struggle.
What Has Changed?
Today, what has replaced the solemnity of the site is a daily 28-minute light and sound show explaining the horrific massacre – free of cost every evening.
The narrow lane or the Sankra Galiyara through which the British soldiers entered, and which was then blocked by them making it impossible for protesters to escape, now has shiny murals and sculptures depicting the martyrs.
The famous ’Shahidi Khu’ or the ‘Martyrs well’ into which people jumped to escape the bullets, is now enclosed in a glass shield, which restricts the view of the visitors.
"There is an increasing corporatisation of monuments and memorials... these places are pilgrimages to us. This is something which again is a part of the broader, larger divisive politics, where you keep people enraged and remind them of violence. This is what happens across the border, they do it all the time. But we are different. We are a democracy.”S Irfan Habib, Historian
Celebration of Horrors?
While this is not the first time that the history of the Bagh has been tampered with, what is particularly striking is the celebration of the tragedy and its glorification through fancy murals, a sound and light show, and other sculptures.
Earlier, in August, when the government made an announcement in the same vein saying that 14 August every year will now be commemorated as the ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’, it faced criticism from not just historians but also from children of the Partition families.
“This subject concerns more than just historians. I think everything well-meaning India should be worried about what the government is doing to Jallianwala Bagh or what it has already done, I saw a clip, and it is shocking. People should realise that it was place for somber mourning and reflecting on past and not celebrating something. I think it’s crazy, this kind of event management to do anything to erase the memories of the past.”Pushpesh Pant, Historian
The history of India’s freedom struggle is complex. It’s preserved in books, memories and as generational wealth, knowledge, and trauma.
Countries and civilisations across the world work to preserve their heritage and build memorials to remember mass massacres, for these memorials are meant to be somber reminders of ‘never again.’ Which is why, high-end light and sound shows, which sensationalise the pain and suffering of our own, have not gone down well with many.
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