NEW DELHI: Amid allegations the government was “glamourising” the Jallianwala Bagh complex, the Culture Ministry on Wednesday said it has been “restored” by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the agency that has restored World Heritage sites in the country, to conserve it for posterity.
It also said a “poignant” soundtrack has been chosen as part of the sound and light show describing the event on the day of the massacre. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently inaugurated four new galleries and opened the renovated memorial virtually, a year-and-a-half after it was closed for the revamp.
The well into which the people jumped when forces led by Reginald Dyer opened fire on them has been covered with a transparent barrier. The narrow entrance has been adorned with sculptures. A daily sound and light show explaining the events has been started.
Ministry of Culture Secretary Raghvendra Singh argued the complex was in dire need of conservation. “It has been restored by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) which is the agency that restored World Heritage sites in the country. Instead of letting a derelict structure to fall, we have restored it to conserve it for posterity,” he told PTI, but refused to comment on the political storm brewing over the restoration.
On the criticism over the light and sound show, Singh said that the show existed but it became defunct over time. “The soundtrack is so poignant. It has been very sensitively done and is informative as well. Anyone coming to this place will leave better informed. The galleries too have been improved, technology has been improved to bring out the poignancy of the killings of innocents and how the incident influenced other bravehearts,” said Singh.
He said the work has been done with “utmost respect”.
Slamming the revamp, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had said only a person who does not know the “meaning of martyrdom can inflict such an insult on the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh”. “I am the son of a martyr – I will not tolerate the insult of martyrs at any cost. We are against this indecent cruelty,” he had earlier this week.
Some historians have also criticised the work terming it an “insult towards the martyrs”. “This is corporatisation of monuments, where they end up as modern structures, losing the heritage value. Look after them without meddling with the flavours of the period these memorials represent,” tweeted historian S Irfan Habib.
Officials, however, say that these allegations are “untrue”. They said the accusation that the bullet marks have even “hidden” was false. The bullet marks have been conserved, they said. They said the earlier structure was “filthy” with defunct fountains which have now been restored, cleaned and a lily pond installed.
The entire area has been landscaped, officials said, making the place visually appealing. Officials involved in the process said the well was covered with rubbish, now it has been restored and even lit from inside.
Officials said that in terms of tourist footfall too, the restoration will bring rich dividends for the city. Near to the Golden Temple, the renovated complex is expected to draw in tourists with its moesha halls, laser show and galleries, the ministry hopes.
The Golden Temple received a footfall of around one lakh per day during the week and 1.5 lakh during weekends and special day before the coronavirus crisis forced its closure.
Over 1,000 people were killed and hundreds wounded on April 13, 1919 when British troops fired indiscriminately on an unarmed gathering of thousands who had assembled in Jallianwala Bagh in Punjab amid nationwide protests against the Rowlatt Act which had extended wartime repressive measures.