Jallianwala Bagh, which now exists as a memorial park in the Indian state of Punjab, witnessed one of India’s bloodiest massacres under British rule. On April 13, 1919, colonial troops under the command of General REH Dyer killed over 1,000 unarmed civilians there.
Opposition leaders and historians have criticized the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Narendra Modi for renovating the Jallianwala Bagh, a memorial to India’s struggle for independence.
It commemorates the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which took place on April 13, 1919, in which British troops fired on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in Amritsar, in the Punjab region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday opened the renovated complex to the public, saying it is the country’s duty to protect its history.
Join me to inaugurate the renovated Jallianwala Bagh Smarak complex today at 6:25 pm. I also invite you to attend the sound and light show. It would show the horrific massacre of April 1919 and instill a spirit of gratitude and respect for the martyrs. pic.twitter.com/p2BDHUbXAJ
– Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 28, 2021
However, soon after Modi’s tweet, historians, opposition leaders and citizens accused the government of erasing and distorting the country’s history.
Speaking to Twitter, historian Kim Wagner called the renovation “part of the overall Disneyfication of Old Amritsar,” adding that the site’s redesign “means the last traces of the event have indeed been erased “.
Devastated to learn that Jallianwala Bagh, site of the 1919 Amritsar massacre, has been redeveloped – meaning the last traces of the event have indeed been erased. This is what I wrote about the memorial in my book, describing a space that has now itself become history. pic.twitter.com/GypQfrOulq
– Kim A. Wagner (@KimAtiWagner) August 28, 2021
Another historian, Syed Irfan Habib, called the renovation the “corporatization of monuments”.
It is the corporatization of monuments, where they end up becoming modern structures, losing their heritage value. Take care of it without getting involved in the flavors of the time represented by these monuments. https://t.co/H1dXQMmft7
– S lrfan Habib (@irfhabib) August 30, 2021
In a series of tweets, Congress party member Rahul Gandhi called the government’s decision to reorganize the Jallianwala Bagh memorial “an insult to the martyrs”.
बाग़ के शहीदों का ऐसा अपमान वही कर सकता है जो शहादत का मतलब नहीं जानता।
एक शहीद का बेटा हूँ- शहीदों का अपमान किसी क़ीमत पर सहन नहीं करूँगा।
इस अभद्र क्रूरता के ख़िलाफ़ हैं। pic.twitter.com/3tWgsqc7Lx
– Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 31, 2021
Those who did not fight for freedom cannot understand those who did.
– Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 31, 2021
The leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sitaram Yechury, also criticized the Modi government:
Insult our martyrs.
Jallianwala Bagh massacre of Hindu Muslim Sikhs who gathered for Baisakhi galvanized our struggle for freedom.
Every brick here imbued with the horror of British rule.
Only those who have stayed away from the epic struggle for freedom can scandalize in this way. https://t.co/KvYbl840qE
– Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) August 30, 2021
On April 13, 1919, the feast day of Baisakhi, a large number of devotees converged to mark the auspicious occasion at the Golden Temple.
Many of them later traveled to nearby Jallianwala Bagh to participate in a 4 p.m. public meeting called by local leaders against the arrest of two prominent leaders Dr Satyapal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew.
The duo had been arrested for staging a peaceful protest against Rowlatt’s Law in the town of Amritsar because it allowed the government to jail or confine without trial anyone linked to seditious activity.
After hearing about the large rally on April 13, British Brigadier General Reginald Dyer blocked the only exit point. He is said to have ordered his troops to shoot at the crowd without warning. They stopped firing 10 minutes later when their ammunition ran out, killing more than 1,000.
The massacre was a turning point in the Indian liberation movement.
The floor of Jallianwala Bagh – with its stone monument, porticoes and footpaths – has since served as a reminder of India’s freedom struggle and British atrocities.
Galleries in the museum were opened and a daily sound and light show was launched to show the events of April 13, 1919.
Despite several repairs over the years, the narrow alley from Jallianwala Bagh leading to the main venue had remained intact for almost 100 years. The narrow entrance, through which Dyer’s soldiers marched into the Bagh, continued to evoke the horrors of that day. Last year, in July, it was reconstructed as a gallery with wall paintings, leaving no trace of the old alley. It is this break with the past that has led many to question the memorial’s latest makeover.
According to The Indian Express, “The narrow alley – which was blocked off by British soldiers, preventing anyone from escaping the Bagh on that horrific day – now has shiny new ground. On top of that, it has been partially covered to keep the birds from sitting on the sculptures ”.