Jallianwala Bagh acquiring new look amid row of tampering with its historical character
When the visitors enter the premises of the garden, they find historic narrow street plastered with modern cement. The British army troops entered the garden through this street to shoot the peaceful unarmed protesters on Vaisakhi in 1919. Centenary of the massacre was observed last yearUpdated: Jan 20, 2020 23:39 IST
Although Jallianwala Bagh has seen several changes over the years since 1919, however, it is acquiring entirely new look under the redevelopment project dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the massacre. The development comes amid row over compromising bagh’s heritage character and historic significance.
When the visitors enter the premises of the garden, they find historic narrow street plastered with modern cement. The British army troops entered the garden through this street to shoot the peaceful unarmed protesters on Vaisakhi in 1919. Centenary of the massacre was observed last year.
A slope has been constructed on the premises for landscaping under this project. The new see-through structure has replaced old structure on ‘Shaheedi Khooh’ (martyrs well).
In 2000, the then petroleum minister Ram Nayak had lighted the ‘Amar Jyoti’ to commemorate those killed in the massacre. It has been removed now. Boundary of the garden is being decorated with small red bricks in order to give them heritage look. Work on preservation of the bullet marks is going on.
Historians and people have raised objection over the changes over some aspects of the project.
“We have seen old structure of martyrs’ well for decades in text books and our children are familiar with it, however, if the same is changed, it will be difficult for the younger generation to recognise it,” said Raj Kumar Verka, Congress MLA from Amritsar west.
“Till 1988, there was an arch on entrance reading ‘Jallianwala Bagh’ in red colour. I still has photo of this arch. After damaging its originality, the entrance was re-designed with small bricks. The bagh should be a historical garden. It must not look like a recreated garden. Historical character of this garden should be preserved,” said professor Balvinder Singh, a heritage conservation expert.
He said stakeholders, including local experts, nearby residents and kin of martyrs, should also have been taken into consideration before making the changes.
Balvinder Singh recalls the time when the surface of the garden, which was a desolate land at the time of massacre, was uneven and the British soldiers shot at the protesters from higher surface, but later the surface was made plane. “We have an old painting which depicts this odd surface. If we want to redevelop it, it should be done as per this painting to retain it originality,” he said.
Noted archeologist and former official of directorate cultural affairs, archaeology and museums, Punjab, Rajinder Singh Batth said, “I feel the ASI is redeveloping the historical monument without taking any advice from heritage conservation expert.”
“They have plastered the historic narrow street with modern material. As per archeological norms, they cannot do so,” he said, adding, “If we know the original look of any old heritage structure that has changed with the passage of time, we should redevelop it by using same construction materialelse we must preserve it in its present form ,” he said.
“As far as laying small bricks for giving heritage look is concerned, it is of no use in context of heritage conservation. We must preserve everything that came into existence in old times,” he added.
Kulwant Singh Ankhi, patron of Amritsar Vikas Manch (AVM), said this is the fate of entire city which is losing its heritage character while hoteliers are reaping benefits by demolishing old structures for their own benefits. “If you do not have anything original to show, then we are losing our connection with the past,” he added.
Mahesh Behal, whose grandfather Hari Ram was killed in the massacre, equates the changes to erasing the history.
“The project is being implemented under the supervision of the ASI. How could we doubt the changes made by it?”, said former MP Tarlochan Singh.
Rajya Sabha member Shwait Malik also ruled out that the heritage value is being compromised.
“The well remains intact and only its see-through canopy has been replaced by a new one, which is better and safe. Bullet marks are also being preserved properly,” he added.