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Jallianwala Bagh memorial revamp triggers controversy

Jallianwala Bagh memorial revamp triggers controversy


  • GS 2 || History || Modern history 1 || Early British Rule in India

Why in the news?

  • Recently, the Prime Minister of India has inaugurated the revamped Jallianwala Bagh Memorial. It is now a national monument in Amritsar.

The controversy around the renovation

  • The Jallianwala Bagh has undergone several repairs and touch-ups over the years. But the narrow alley leading to the Bagh had remained untouched for almost 100 years.
  • While many other things changed, the constricted entrance made of Nanakshahi bricks, through which Dyer’s soldiers marched into the Bagh, continued to evoke the horrors of that day.
  • In July 2020, it was rebuilt into a gallery with murals, leaving no trace of the old alley. It’s this break from the past that has led many to question the latest makeover of the memorial.
  • 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. Before and after photos of this lane, shared by a historian, have led to a storm on social media, with some netizens calling the revamp a bid to erase history.

The massacre

  • Following unrest in Amritsar following protests against the Rowlatt Act on April 13, 1919, Baisakhi day, Brigadier General (temporary rank) Reginald Dyer led a strike force of 50 rifles and 40 khukri-wielding Gurkhas into an enclosed ground, Jallianwala Bagh, where a peaceful public meeting of 15,000-20,000 was being held. He ordered that fire be opened on the crowd immediately and without warning. The 1,650 rounds fired were deliberate and targeted, with powerful rifles fired at nearly point-blank range.
  • Hundreds of people were killed and many more were injured as a result of the shooting. The atrocities did not stop there; several repressive measures followed, including the infamous crawling order, the salaam order, public floggings, arbitrary arrests, torture, and aeroplane bombings of civilians all behind a veil of strictly enforced censorship.

Significance of the event 

  • Jallianwala Bagh’s importance lies not in the numbers killed but in what preceded it and in what followed.
  • Rowlatt Act, 1919
    • The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, better known as the Rowlatt Act, came into force a month before the massacre in Jallianwala Bagh. Most Indians were taken aback because they had expected to be rewarded, not punished, for fighting alongside the British in the First World War.
    • The act was passed as per recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee chaired by a judge, Sir Sidney Rowlatt.
    • This act authorized the government to imprison for a maximum period of two years, without trial, any person suspected of terrorism.
    • The act provided speedy trial of the offenses by a special cell that consisted of 3 High Court Judges. There was no court of appeal above that panel.
    • This panel could also accept the evidence which were not even acceptable in the Indian Evidences Act.
    • It also placed severe restrictions on the freedom of the press.
    • The act was widely condemned by Indian leaders and the public. The bills came to be known as ‘black bills’.
  • During World War I (1914–18), the British government of India enacted a series of repressive emergency powers to combat subversive activity. By the end of the war, the Indian people had high hopes that those restrictions would be relaxed and that India would be granted more political autonomy.
  • The Montagu-Chelmsford Report, presented to the British Parliament in 1918, advocated for limited local self-government. Instead, in early 1919, the Indian government passed the Rowlatt Acts, which essentially extended the repressive wartime measures.
  • The acts sparked widespread outrage and discontent among Indians, particularly in the Punjab region. Gandhi called for a one-day general strike across the country in early April. The news that prominent Indian leaders had been arrested and expelled from Amritsar sparked mass protests.
  • On April 10, protests erupted in response to the arrest and expulsion of Saifudeen Kitchlew and Satya Pal, during which soldiers opened fire on civilians, buildings were looted and burned, and angry mobs killed several foreign nationals and severely beaten a Christian missionary. Brig. Gen. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer was given command of a force of several dozen troops tasked with restoring order.

Outcomes of the event

  • Proclamation of martial law in Punjab-The shooting was followed by the proclamation of martial law in the Punjab that included public floggings and other humiliations. Indian outrage grew as news of the shooting and subsequent British actions spread throughout the subcontinent.
  • Renouncement of titles
    • The Bengali poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore renounced the knighthood (which he received in 1915).
    • Mahatma Gandhi renounced his ‘Kaiser-i-Hind’ title, bestowed by the British for his work during the Boer War.
  • Hunter Commission:Also known as the ‘disorders Inquiry Committee’, was formed to inquire about the massacre.
  • It censured General Dyer for his actions and was directed to resign from his appointment as Brigade Commander.
  • The Indian National Congress formed its non-official committee to investigate the shootings, which included Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das, Abbas Tyabji, M.R. Jayakar, and Gandhi.
  • Gandhi quickly organized his first large-scale and sustained nonviolent protest (satyagraha) campaign, the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920–22), which proved a step toward ending British rule in India 25 years later.

Impact of Jallianwala bagh incident-A turning point in India’s struggle for Independence

  • The significance of the Jallianwala Bagh largely evaded popular imagination. To most people today, it was another bloody atrocity, the kind one reads about in history lessons. But Jallianwala Bagh was much more. It was the turning point in India’s national movement after the revolt of 1857— the first nail driven into a coffin that was being readied for the British empire.
  • The massacre at Jallianwala Bagh was a moment in history, a turning point in India’s struggle for Independence. It was a crime that stunned the nation by the scale of its brutality; it showed the true face of the Raj to those who still had faith in the ‘mai-baap’ Gandhi called off the satyagraha against the Rowlatt Acts, but a year later, came back with the biggest mass movement yet seen against the government. The die was cast, and the National Movement moved into a different trajectory thereon, acquiring with time an unstoppable momentum.
  • 1915-1918- Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in January 1915, and spent the next year traveling around the country. He did not join the Home Rule Movement (1916-1918) of Lokmanya Tilak and Annie Besant, nor was he convinced of the efficacy of the methods of the Congress Moderates. Based on his work in South Africa and his experience in India, he was convinced that non-violent satyagraha was the only viable and sustainable form of resistance.
  • In 1917 and 1918, Gandhi led movements in Champaran, Ahmedabad, and Kheda related to the economic demands of peasants and industrial workers in those specific areas.
  • 1919 and aftermath – The success of these movements earned him significant goodwill and valuable knowledge of Indian situations and, in February 1919, he felt confident enough to call for a nationwide agitation against the Rowlatt Bills, which aimed to severely curtail the civil liberties of Indians. One of the Acts was pushed through the Legislative Council ignoring objections of elected Indian representatives, wrecking hopes of post-War constitutional concessions, and angering Indians everywhere.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and Contemporary India- Learnings

  • Indian outrage over the Jallianwala Bagh massacre is justified. In the same way, Indians should expect similar accountability from the Indian state, which continues to uphold and implement colonial-era laws that restrict civil liberties in India. There have been many instances of security forces using disproportionate force, sometimes against unarmed protesters.
  • From Partition onwards, India’s history is splattered with violence— often, it is violence between and within communities, where the state is not necessarily the instigator. But equally, there are many examples of state violence against the people, in particular civilians. Sometimes, the state becomes complicit, by doing nothing when one group attacks another—think of mobs massacring in Nellie, Bengal in 1983; the pogrom of Sikhs in Northern India in 1984 after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination; and the Gujarat riots of 2002, after the Godhra incident in which 59 Hindu karsevaks died, among others.
  • The kind of sweeping powers India’s security forces have, the impunity with which they sometimes act, the immunity they end up enjoying, and the sheer number of incidents that have not reached closure is profoundly embarrassing for a democracy.

Mains model Question

  • The Jallianwala Bagh tragedy is a stain on British Indian history. Comment.