Amritsar: It’s emotions that pour out of the martyr’s well at the Jallianwala Bagh — a remembrance of the British era massacre. “We won’t allow losing its identity with this intensive makeover,” say kins of those who lost their lives on Baisakhi 1919, as the government takes up renovation of the site.
Stories associated with the Jallianwala Bagh massacre are still fresh in ‘our’ minds — these were the emotional outbursts of a handful of local octogenarians who daily visit the 6.5-acre garden site, where on April 13, 1919, Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer of the occupying British forces opened fire on a peaceful congregation on the occasion of the Punjabi New Year.
Located in the vicinity of Golden Temple complex the massacre ignited the first spark of the Indian freedom movement.
Gazing at the ongoing reconstruction through pale eyes, octogenarian Madan Lal Taneja said: “We have lost many of our near and dear ones in this well. They jumped into the well not for saving their lives but for country’s dignity.”
Taneja’s uncle fell into the well after a stampede as General Dyer’s armed soldiers marched in and opened fire on the peaceful congregation of men, women and children without any alarm and blcking the only exit.
Taneja, who spent his entire life in the holy city of Amritsar in Punjab, said the martyr’s well is a remembrance of that stark reality.
His friend Lala Amarnath, a regular visitor to the Jallianwala Bagh, said the brick-lined well should be restored in its original style and the structure should never be altered.
Over a century-old the well stands testimony to the brutal killings of innocent and reminds the younger generation of the supreme sacrifices made during the freedom movement.
“This place is saturated with the blood of thousands of Indian patriots who were martyred for their non-violent struggle to free India from British domination,” reads a plaque.
The number of deaths due to the shooting, stampede and suffocation is still disputed.
British Prime Minister David Cameron paid respect at the Jallianwala Bagh on February 20, 2013.
Authorities say the renovation and restoration of the Jallianwala Bagh began this month under the supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India.
For this, the Centre through the Ministry of Culture has allocated Rs 20 crore in the first phase.
“We are going to fix a dome-shaped see-through fibre canopy over the martyr’s well to offer a better view inside the well,” Shwait Malik, a trustee with the Prime Minister-headed Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust, told IANS.
He said the bricked wall around the well where bullets pierced in would be restored in its original style, keeping in mind its historical relevance. Also the well would be restored in its original style.
Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Malik, who inspected the ongoing renovation on Saturday, said the Jallianwala Bagh’s history would be showcased through a laser light-and-sound show for the benefit of tourists.
“Now the Jallianwala Bagh officially closes at 5 p.m. for the tourists. But we are planning to make it operational till 9 p.m. once the makeover is over,” he said.
Seeing the restoration exercise posing more a threat to the monument, Amritsar West legislator Raj Kumar Verka said the way the renovation was going on the main portion of the well crumbled.
Claiming disrespect was being shown to the martyrs, Verka, who is the chairman of the Jallianwala Bagh Shaheed Sanman Committee, has filed a complaint with the police against the Ministry of Culture and the construction company for demolishing the heritage structure.
A visit to the Jallianwala Bagh reveals that a light and sound show with Amitabh Bachchan’s voiceover of the massacre episode has been lying defunct for many years. The museum needs to be refurbished as a place of national integration. So are broken pathways and the entrance.
In the second phase, the government has plans to acquire public properties around the Jallianwala Bagh to transform into ‘galliara’ just on the lines of one that existed around the Golden Temple, say officials.
(By Vishal Gulati, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)