Jallianwala Bagh Revamp: Martyrs' Descendants Say They'll Boycott Functions in Protest

'The alley leading to the Jallianwala Bagh has been completely changed with sculptures on the walls and covered with overhead iron grills, damaging its spirit, which was a testimony to the cruelty of how Colonel Dyer’s soldiers blocked it.'

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Jalandhar: After two years of renovation, the historic Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar was supposed to get a facelift that could be expected to invoke patriotic fervour. Instead the project is drawing flak from all quarters, especially martyrs’ families, who have called it an attempt to erase their ancestors’ history with gaudy lights and murals.

The Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust was set up on May 1, 1951. It was inaugurated by the then President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, in the presence of then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru on April 13, 1961. Since then, the Jallianwala Bagh has undergone many repairs but its essence was never tampered with. In 2019, when the Jallianwala Bagh massacre completed 100 years, the Union government announced its revamp at an estimated cost of Rs 20 crore.

However, ever since the initial photos and videos of Jallianwala Bagh went viral on social media, people have been expressing shock over its renovation, especially the changed entry and exit, the lotus pond and a 28-minute sound and light show in the memory of martyrs. From historians to opposition leaders, writers, locals, Punjabi diaspora and people worldwide, social media has seen an outpouring of outrage over the Disneyfication of the monument.

Also read | ‘Insult to Martyrs’: Politicians, Historians Denounce Jallianwala Bagh Revamp

The descendants of the martyrs have announced that they will boycott all future ‘national and state-level’ programmes in the memory of martyrs till the memorial is not restored in keeping with its real essence. They also targeted Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and other members of the trust for not involving them in the renovation project and ignoring their demand for ‘tamar pattar‘, certificates and other facilities the government provides to freedom fighters.

Talking to The Wire from Amritsar, Sunil Kapoor, the president of Jallianwala Bagh Freedom Fighters Foundation and great grandson of Lala Wasoo Mal, who was martyred at Jallianwala Bagh said that they were strongly opposed to whatever the centre government had done with the memorial.

“The Jallianwala Bagh entrance now looks like a wedding hall. The gaudy lights and ambience remind you of a shopping mall. It does not depict the heritage of our freedom fighters anymore. We have decided to boycott all national and state-level functions in protest against this newly renovated memorial,” he said.

Kapoor said that they were never included in the trust developments, and that they would have protested against these changes if they were. He pointed out three major flaws in the renovation and said, “The alley leading to the Jallianwala Bagh has been completely changed with sculptures on the walls and covered with overhead iron grills, damaging its spirit, which was a testimony to the cruelty of how Colonel Dyer’s soldiers blocked it and killed thousands of people. Secondly, they tampered with the ‘Shaheedi Khoo’ (martyr’s well) and enclosed it in glass. They also removed the photographs of the martyrs, which is such a disgrace. It is a historical fact that among others, it was Punjabis, who sacrificed their lives in the freedom struggle and this government wants to wipe out that history forever,” he added.

Sunil Kapoor noted how after his great grandfather Lala Wasoo Mal was martyred in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, no bride in their family has worn the traditional set of red bangles, as a gesture to remember the horror. Over a century later, the family custom is still intact, signifying their association to the massacre, which changed the course of Indian freedom struggle.

A group of shopkeepers near Jallianwala Bagh also said that as the construction site was closed for public, they too could not protest against the changes. “We were shocked to see the changed alley. It looks like a hotel entrance or that of an amusement park,” a shopkeeper said. “That feel of a sombre and historic past is missing. This is wrong, a blunder,” said another.

Family members of the Martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh pay tribute to them during the inauguration of Jallianwala Bagh Martyrs memorial, in Amritsar, Saturday, Aug 28, 2021. Photo: PTI

Meanwhile, Manish Behal, the president of Jallianwala Bagh Shaheed Parivar Samiti from Amritsar appreciated the Union government’s initiative. However, he pointed out that the alley should not have been changed.

Also read: ‘Looked Very Nice’: Punjab CM Contradicts Congress Criticism of Jallianwala Renovation

“The government honoured us on this occasion and we were received well. But even I feel that the narrow lane has lost its originality. Earlier, Jallianwala Bagh had ‘Nanak Shahi’ bricks (small, thin bricks) but those too have been done away with. The martyr’s well is still the same but the change in the alley is something which has not gone down well with public,” the 75-year-old said.

Manish Behal’s grandfather Lala Hari Ram Behal was also martyred in the massacre. The family has been at the forefront in the fight for freedom since then.

Even Congress leader Rahul Gandhi criticised the revamp of the Jallianwala Bagh and tweeted this morning, “Those who didn’t struggle for freedom can’t understand those who did.”

Surprisingly, in stark contrast, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said, “To me it looks very nice.” Notably, on August 14, Capt Amarinder Singh also inaugurated Jallianwala Bagh Centenary Memorial Park at Amritsar on August 14.

Reacting to public anger, Amritsar MP Gurjeet Singh Aujla stressed that the entire renovation site was closed to the public. “BJP leader Shwait Malik was a trustee of this project and he was the one who overlooked the entire development, besides maintaining liaisons with the Centre. We were never involved in the trust. It was only on the day of inauguration that we were invited. The fact is that BJP has no association with India’s freedom struggle. They have no contribution to history. That’s why they want to erase it,” he added.

Meanwhile, Rajya Sabha MP and former BJP Punjab President Shwait Malik, who was also a trustee of the Jallianwala Bagh Memorial Trust was not available for comments despite repeated attempts. His number was switched off.


In his book From Pagri Sambhal Jatta to Jallianwala Bagh, author Dr Prem Singh wrote that in early 1919, Punjab became an arena of popular struggle which shook the British Empire.

The Rowlatt Bill had created a stir in the country and after the passage by the Viceroy’s Council on March 18, 1919, it was called the Rowlatt Act.

On that day three Indian members of the council announced their resignation: Madan Mohan Malaviya, Mazhar-ul-Haq and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

This Bill had stated clearly that in order to enable the government to deal with ‘anarchist and revolutionary movements’, it should be given ‘emergency powers.’

The official explanation of the bill made it clear that even a mild expression of criticism of the government policy could be made punishable. On top of this a mere constable of the CID had the authority to charge an individual with sedition and the person so accused did not have the right to approach a court of law. He could not hire a pleader and could not file an appeal. The same was the plight of the press. The police were under no obligation to file a chargesheet.

The massacre

Dr Prem Singh mentions that the strongest opposition to Rowlatt Bill developed in Punjab, where agitation against Rowlatt Bill began in early February, 1919.

Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer left for Amritsar city from Jalandhar Cantonment in the morning of April 13 with a detachment of the military. People were celebrating Baisakhi and had decided to gather at Jallianwala Bagh for a 4 pm meeting to protest against the arrest of Dr Satyapal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew. Both the leaders had been arrested for protesting against the Rowlatt Bill.

By April 13 evening, in a matter of a few minutes, hundreds of dead and wounded lay all round the walled compound of the Bagh. Those who tried to escape through the narrow passages were the ones to be shot first. Colonel Dyer, himself on the spot, ordered that firing should be directed at the spots where the maximum number of people were present. Those who tried to climb up the wall were similarly shot. Many dead bodies were found in the streets adjoining the Bagh.

After the massacre, Dyer had admitted before the Hunter Commission that he had fired 1,650 rounds. He also admitted that if he could take the armoured cars inside the Bagh, he would have taken them and used them for firing. He said that the firing was stopped because his ammunition had been exhausted. He conceded that he wanted to punish the offenders because they had gathered there in defiance of his orders. On April 14, the government gave permission for burial and cremation. But no funeral procession could be taken out.