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Historians say the new-look Jallianwala Bagh is a distortion of history

In memorium: A view of the renovated Jallianwala Bagh Martyrs' Memorial in Amritsar. | Photo Credit: NARINDER NANU
Damini Nath NEW DELHI 30 August 2021 22:35 IST
Updated: 15 September 2021 19:46 IST

‘This is renovation, not restoration’

The new-look Jallianwala Bagh memorial that Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated to the nation on August 28 was a distortion of history of the site where British troops massacred Indians on April 13, 1919, historians said on Monday.

Mr. Modi virtually inaugurated four new galleries and opened the renovated memorial a year-and-a-half after it was closed for the revamp.

The well into which victims jumped when forces led by Reginald Dyer opened fire has been covered with a transparent barrier. The narrow entrance has been adorned with sculptures. A daily sound and light show explaining the events has been started.

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Watch | The newly renovated Jallianwala Bagh complex

Not a garden

Reacting to the development, historian and former Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Chaman Lal said it was a “distortion of history”. He said the project had tried to “mystify and glamourise history”.

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“People visiting Jallianwala Bagh should go with a sense of pain and anguish. They have now tried to make it a space for enjoying, with a beautiful garden. It was not a beautiful garden,” Prof. Lal said. Rather, Jallianwala Bagh was where Indians gathered as they had on that fateful day when Dyer and his forces entered and fired on a peaceful crowd. Instead of restoration, the government has renovated the place, adding new features, he said.

‘Absolutely gaudy’

Historian S. Irfan Habib said he was not opposed to additions like better toilets or a cafe for visitors, but the changes made had been “at the cost of history, cost of heritage”.

“It is absolutely gaudy...Why should there be murals on the wall? Changes the whole idea of the place from where Dyer entered to kill. Adding glamour to the little corridor changes the whole visual history. History itself is being re-written and renovated. This is the corporatisation of monuments,” he said.

He said the well should not have been covered and the changes were unnecessary and cosmetic in nature. “It is a very sad trend,” he said.

Kim A. Wagner, a London-based professor of history and author of Amritsar 1919 – An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre, said in a tweet on August 28 that the revamping of the site “means that the last traces of the event have effectively been erased”.

The project was carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India and NBCC, and developed by Ahmedabad-based Vama Communications, which has in the past worked on the National Police Museum in Delhi and Mahatma Gandhi Museum in Rajkot.

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