Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw open to the public the renovated Jallianwala Bagh complex in Amritsar on August 28.
The monument, originally inaugurated by President Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1961, was the nation’s tribute to victims of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre that killed hundreds when British troops led by Col. Reginald Dyer opened fire at a large gathering to protest against the arrest of freedom fighters Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlu.
In 2019, the Centre had earmarked around Rs 20 crore to commemorate 100 years of the massacre.
The Union Ministry of Culture has undertaken work on restoration and conservation, as well as building ticket counters, toilets, and drinking water fountains. Government-owned NBCC carried out the renovation at the memorial, which had been shut since February 2019.
As part of the renovations, the entry and exit points have been repositioned, while a lotus pond has been constructed around the memorial. The government has also enclosed in a glass shield the ‘Shahidi Khu’ or Martyrs’ Well, into which people jumped to save themselves from the barrage of bullets. The decision has sparked controversy as it might restrict the view.
The complex has a new Salvation Ground for visitors where they can sit in silence and honour the martyrs. A 28-minute light and sound show re-enacting the events of that fateful day will also be shown for free every evening.
The high walls on the narrow lane that visitors use to enter the complex are now lined with new sculptures of martyrs. The sculptures represent the ordinary Punjabis who walked into the park that day, never to return.
The government has also created four new galleries through the adaptive re-use of underutilised buildings to showcase the historical value of events in Punjab during that period. The galleries depict Punjab’s history and that of the freedom movement, as well as the Gadar movement.
Sculptures of Guru Nanak, Sikh warrior Banda Singh Bahadur, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh have also come up.
Politics of nationalism
As elections of the Punjab Legislative Assembly in 2022 nears, the politics of nationalism has once again taken centrestage. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh last week inaugurated the Jallianwala Bagh Centenary Memorial Park, dedicated to the unknown martyrs. He said the memorial at the original site only commemorate the martyrs who had been identified.
The second memorial has come up around 3 km from the original site on 1.5 acres at Amrit Anand Park.