Part 4 | Revisiting Jallianwala 100 years on: Chronicles of visitors to the Bagh
Two visitors books, one old and yellowed, the other new, tell the history of the memorial through the eyes of its visitors for whom the Bagh is a reminder of the follies of subjugation and the sacrifices demanded by the freedom struggle.punjab Updated: Apr 11, 2018 10:37 IST
An apology. It’s one demand that is only growing louder as we enter the 100th year of the Baisakhi bloodbath. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, asked his government to apologise for the act during his visit to the Bagh last December, while Virendra Sharma, a senior Labour MP in the UK, is hoping his signature campaign will force the Theresa May government to apologise on the Bagh’s 100th anniversary. But while successive British governments may have stopped short of an official sorry, one Dorothy Hogg from London apologised on behalf of her countrymen as far back as 1939.
Her heartfelt regrets can be found in the yellowing pages of the brown visitor’s book introduced by Sashti Charan Mukherjee, the first caretaker of the memorial. “We apologise for what was done in our name,” wrote Hogg, who visited the Bagh 20 years after the carnage on January 24, 1939.
Earlier on January 21, 1936, Muriel Lester from Bow, London, wrote, “The name Amritsar always brings deep shame and intense sorrow to my heart...To spend an hour here is a sort of penance.” Two years later in 1938, Donald G Cunningham, also from London, wrote,” In visiting this place, I am filled with a deep shame for my race. I feel that every Indian in the street looks at me and says to himself, ‘Member of a race of murderers’.”
The two visitors books not only chronicle the long list of VIPs from across the globe who’ve paid homage at the memorial, but also the emotions it continues to stir.
Also Read | Part 3: Meet the keeper of memories
The British stiff upper lip was in evidence when Queen Elizabeth I and Prince Philip, who visited the memorial in 1997, simply scribbled their signatures. On reading the plaque, which read, “This place is saturated with the blood of about two thousand Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who were martyred in a non-violent struggle,” Prince Philips remarked, “That’s a bit exaggerated, it must include the wounded.” When asked what made him think so, Philip shot back, “I was told about the killings by General Dyer’s son, I’d met him while I was in the Navy.”
Former prime minister David Cameron, who visited the memorial in 2013, displayed much more empathy. He wrote, “This is a deeply shameful event in the British history that Winston Churchill rightly described at the time as ‘monstrous’. We must never forget what happened here.”
Interestingly, the handful of people who chose only to put their initials include former PM Morarji Desai (1963) and the two men who designed Chandigarh, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret.
FROM AUDITS TO WORLD PEACE
One of the early visitors to the Bagh was Subhas Chandra Bose who came here in October 15, 1929. “I visited the Jallianwala Bagh today for the first time in my life,” he wrote, taking up only a line on a page that had long jottings from three others.
The first entry in the old register dates back to 28 December, 1924. A list of suggestions, the one-page entry is signed by a “well-wisher”, who chose to remain anonymous. A year later, L Carriere, a Dutch visitor, wrote, “I am deeply ashamed to be a European when I hear of this murder made in the name of civilisation.”
The sense of ownership that people had for the Bagh is reflected in the comments before independence. In August 1926, SR Dhende, All India Reporter, Nagpur, suggested that there should be pamphlets in all languages, so that people could learn about the history of the place.
On September 24, 1940, Kahan Singh, an advocate at the Lahore High Court, wrote that he was satisfied with the progress of the Bagh and the accounts. A year later, Gurdayal from the Mehra Book Stall, Ludhiana, “was happy that the accounts had been audited and kept before the general public.”
That finances had begun to pose a challenge was evident in a post left by R Srinivasan on February 3, 1941. “The finances have to be improved and it will be a boon if the well-to-do can keep up the memorial at least till the swaraj is achieved.”
For many, the memorial is a reminder of the importance of peace. “I feel this kind of place will help the world work for peace,” wrote Rudabeh Eslah from the Iranian Red Lion Society in 1966. The same year, Count and Countess B d’ Escaynse wrote, “After this most interesting visit in the company of the enlightened gentlemen of Amritsar, we have all agreed to pray for peace all over the world.”
SOURCE OF INSPIRATION
The memorial has also been inspiring labour leaders across the world. “On this great place of heroic struggle for national independence, our thoughts go to the first victims who died in this movement…we wish the people of India all the best in this fight for peace, freedom and happiness,” wrote representatives of the World Federation of Trade Unions on May 1, 1968.
Many, including Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh (1966) have pointed out how the massacre fast-forwarded India to its freedom. Visiting the Bagh after 40 years, Air Chief Marshal P C Lal (1972) wrote how pleasantly surprised he was to see the beautiful memorial and garden.
Over the years, the names have become more distinguished — the new visitors book is peopled by comments from the who’s who, including prime ministers past and present — but the memorial continues to evoke the same respect and awe.
Of all the comments, one that would have pleased the founders the most is by an unknown gentleman who wrote, “This memorial talks to the visitors, and establishes a personal connection between the past and the posterity.”
Col Josiah Wedgwood was so prophetic when he warned the House of Commons in 1920, “You will have a shrine erected there and every year there will be processions of Indians visiting the tombs of the martyrs, and Englishmen will go there and stand bareheaded before it.”
THE BAGH BASICS
■ The 1919 resolution: We propose that the Jallianwala Bagh be converted into a park whereon a simple memorial be erected with a suitable inscription perpetuating the memory of the dead and commemorating the Hindu-Muslim unity
■ The founders of the memorial were clear about one thing: There will not be a word in it calculated to promote bitterness or ill will against anybody (1921).
■ Bhagat Singh, then 12 years old, visited the Bagh a day after the incident and never forgot the massacre.