Children who visited Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar all these years would have returned with pieces of history they gathered from the blood-soaked soil, the bullet-riddled walls, the memory-thickened air and the solemn ambience there.
Vignettes of India’s Independence movement, horrors of colonial rule and the sacrifices lakhs of patriots made for the cause would have been etched in their memory which they would pass on to the next generation with a grim face and hardened voice. The emotional quotient those stories have added to every Indian’s collective consciousness would have been invaluable. But no more.
Several historians, conservationists and people who have an idea of India’s Independence struggle are appalled by the new-look Jallianwala Bagh where even the British admit about 400 unarmed civilians fell to the bullets of the colonial guns which were fired until they were exhausted on April 13, 1919. They were there to protest the arrest of two nationalist leaders, and General Reginald Dyer, the British officer, could not stand the ordinary Indian’s irreverence. It continues to be one of the most blood-oozing memories of freedom struggle.
The Archaeological Survey of India, vested with the responsibility of maintaining historical sites in India, has now renovated the complex with a garden and a light and sound show. The walls of the entry corridor which many visitors confess to have evoked an eerie feeling triggered by descriptions of the troops entering the ground has got a new look with sculptures, erasing their historicity forever.
It is understood that the Gujarat government is going ahead with a massive plan to “renovate” the Sabarmati Ashram, the symbol of Gandhian leadership of the freedom struggle. World over, nations make no compromise on the integrity of historical sites, lest they fail in their very purpose. Welding the present with its technological innovations and mercantile calculations into a monument of immense significance in the nation’s history is a mistake of monumental proportions. The government may revise its policy of “renovation” of historical sites, especially related to India’s Independence struggle, unless it wants to erase those memories forever.