As the Centre continued to face criticism for renovating the Jallianwala Bagh memorial in Amritsar, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday seemed to support the changes, saying “to me it looks very nice”, ANI reported.
Singh’s comment was in sharp contrast to the Congress’ criticism of the memorial’s renovation. On Tuesday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had described the changes as “an insult to the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh”. He said that this could only be done “by those who do not know the meaning of martyrdom”.
“I am the son of a martyr – I will not tolerate the insult of martyrs at any cost,” Gandhi had tweeted. “We are against this indecent cruelty.”
Three days after the revamped Jallianwala Bagh memorial was opened to the public, historians and politicians continued to criticise what they claimed was an attempt by the Narendra Modi-led government to distort India’s history and corporatise historical monuments.
The critics said that the sanctity of the memorial had to be preserved and that the beautification work has tarnished the memory of the sacrifices made during India’s Independence movement.
On August 28, Modi tweeted a video of a sound and light show that has been started at the renovated Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, where thousands had gathered on April 13, 1919, to peacefully protest against the arrest of two nationalist leaders.
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. Hundreds of Indians were killed. The massacre was a significant milestone in India’s freedom struggle.
As part of the Jallianwala Bagh’s makeover, the walls of the narrow lane through which the soldiers led by Dyer accessed the area has gone through a complete transformation. The lane now looks like a partially enclosed tunnel, reported The Indian Express.
The walls on each side of the narrow lane now showcase shiny murals of human figures, portraying the protestors who walked through the lane but were cornered by Dyer and his soldiers.
The “Shahidi Khu” or martyrs well, into which protestors jumped to save themselves from bullets, has now been enclosed with glass walls, according to The Indian Express. The authorities claim the walls were added to provide a “better view” to the visitors.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury was among those who criticised the memorial’s renovation. He said it was as an insult to the martyrs in India’s freedom struggle.
“Jallianwala Bagh massacre of Hindus Muslims Sikhs who gathered together for Baisakhi galvanised our freedom struggle,” the politician added. “Every brick here permeated the horror of British rule. Only those who stayed away from the epic freedom struggle can scandalise thus.”
Historian S Irfan Habib described Jallianwala Bagh’s makeover as the “corporatisation of monuments where they end up as modern structures, losing the heritage value”. “Look after them without meddling with the flavours of the period these memorials represent,” he tweeted.
Former Jawaharlal Nehru University professor and historian Chaman Lal told The Hindu that the renovations distorted history, and tried to “mystify and glamourise” the memorial.
“People visiting Jallianwala Bagh should go with a sense of pain and anguish,” he told the newspaper. “They have now tried to make it a space for enjoying, with a beautiful garden. It was not a beautiful garden.”
Conservationist Gurmeet Sangha Rai told The Indian Express that the changes to the memorial were a disappointment as “drama” has been added to the narrow lane.
“The spirit of the space has been compromised to create a kind of drama by installing sculptures etc,” Rai told the newspaper. “Japan has not converted Hiroshima into a theme park. They have preserved the half-burnt structure to tell its history. When you go to Hiroshima, you come out with a sense that it shouldn’t happen again.”
Rai was referring to August 6, 1945, when a United States B-29 plane had dropped a bomb over Hiroshma in Japan, marking the first use of an atomic weapon. More than 1.4 lakh people had died in the bombing.
Journalist and author Sucheta Dalal criticised the sound and light show in the complex. “How on earth can the music, lights and look of a memorial to one of the most horrific tragedies be made to sound and look like the celebratory finale of maybe Indian Idol,” she asked.
The 28-minute light and sound show at the Jallianwala Bagh will be conducted as a free public event every evening, according to The Indian Express.