'Disneyfication' of History? Outrage Over Modi Government's Revamp of 'Massacre Memorial'
Jallianwala Bagh, which today exists as a memorial park in the Indian state of Punjab, witnessed one of India’s bloodiest massacres under British rule. On 13 April 1919, colonial troops under the command of General R.E.H. Dyer killed more than 1,000 unarmed civilians there.
Opposition leaders and historians have slammed the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government over the renovation
of the Jallianwala Bagh, a memorial to the Indian struggle for independence.
It commemorates the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, which occurred on 13 April 1919, in which British troops fired on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in Amritsar, Punjab region.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the renovated complex for public viewing, saying it is the country's duty to protect its history.
However, soon after Modi's tweet, historians, opposition leaders, and citizens accused the government of erasing and distorting the country's history
Taking to Twitter, historian Kim Wagner called the renovation "part of the general Disneyfication of the old city of Amritsar", adding that the revamping of the site "means that the last traces of the event have effectively been erased".
Another historian, Syed Irfan Habib, called the renovation a "corporatisation of monuments".
In a series of tweets, senior Congress party member Rahul Gandhi called the government's move to revamp the Jallianwala Bagh memorial an "insult to martyrs".
Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury also slammed the Modi government:
On 13 April 1919, the day of the Baisakhi festival, a large number of devotees converged to mark the auspicious occasion at the Golden Temple.
Later, many of them headed to the nearby Jallianwala Bagh, to join a 4 p.m. public meet called by local leaders against the arrest of Dr Satyapal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew, two prominent leaders
The duo had been arrested for organising a peaceful protest against the Rowlatt Act in Amritsar city, as it authorised the government to imprison or confine without a trial anyone linked to seditious activities.
Upon hearing about the large gathering on 13 April, British Brigadier General Reginald Dyer blocked the only exit point. It is said he ordered his troops to fire on the crowd without prior warning. They stopped firing 10 minutes later when their ammunition ran out, leaving over 1,000 people dead.
The massacre was a turning point in India's freedom movement.
The ground of Jallianwala Bagh - with its stone monument, porticos, and pathways - has since served as a reminder of India's freedom struggle and British atrocities.
Museum galleries have been opened and a daily sound and light show has been started in order to display the events of 13 April 1919.
Despite several repairs over the years, the Jallianwala Bagh's narrow alley leading to the main venue had remained untouched for almost 100 years. The constricted entrance, through which Dyer’s soldiers marched into the Bagh, continued to evoke the horrors of that day. Last year, in July, it was rebuilt into a gallery with murals, leaving no trace of the old alley. It is this break from the past that has led many to question the latest makeover of the memorial.
According to The Indian Express, "The narrow lane — which was blocked by British soldiers making it impossible for anyone to escape from the Bagh on that horrific day — now has a shiny new floor. Besides this, it has been partially covered to keep the birds from sitting on the sculptures".