The Misplaced Attention – Jallianwala Bagh
The train was halting at almost every station on route escalating my 16 years old self’s exhilaration and exasperation almost equally. The cool wind swaying across my face reminded me of a similar day, three years back, in the same train, when I was eagerly waiting for Amritsar to come.
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, since the time I read about, had had a profound influence on my mind. I just wasn’t able to figure out a stable reason, for a sane human, to take away too guiltless lines and leave thousands in poignant sorrow. I thought poorly of Gen. Reginald dyer.
It was about the time when I exposed my mind to truths, more harsh than the happening of the massacre itself, my incapable brain started to develop as an inventory of unfamiliar facts. I happened to read more and my intellect, consequently, grew steadily, history began intriguing me.
When I stepped out of the train, all I was able to see was absolute chaos at an utterly filthy station, quite indifferent to what was 3 years back. There was no sense of sobriety in the air; rather it felt burdened with a responsibility of mending the city’s irreparable historical dents.
The plat form carried immense crowd, innumerable hawkers whisking and yelling at the top of their voice. The boisterous rail announcements faded as I moved past the exit gates where several autowalas snappily asked me if I wanted to get to golden temple. Hardly, one of them mentioned the Jallianwala Bagh at the first instance, which was indeed disheartening. It was now 100 years since the carnage. And as I recall on evening spent nearly 2 years ago of Auschwitz the hushed silence of its screaming dead. The horror in every brick, the sense of unforgivable outraye still haunts me. But at the jallianwala. It is just another day!
Group of tourists click pictures with all sorts of hats and shades, anywhere they could find a place mercifully, and they don’t stop to look up at the statue of Udham Singh, which also does not have the slighest resemblance to the man. They proceed chattering through the narrow lane, through which dyer brought his soldiers, oblivious of its significance. It’s partially their fault- there is nothing in the lane to induce a sense of solemnity and realization of how more vicious it could have had been if the lane would have then brought in two armoured vehicles to slaughter more men.
Inside, the visitors are not confronted with a stark barren field, enclosed on all sides, with scarcely a structure or tree to hide behind, as the place was in 1919. The government funds have had been so high that they see a park with green trees, flowering bushes, that they see a park with green trees, flowering bushes, dividing hedges and paved walk a ways, along with structures in pink sandstone: a cenotaph, a museum and the appalling well. Hedges shaped like dyer’s crouching soldiers complete the caricature!
Amid all this it is impossible to feel the sense of deprived hope and desperate vulnerability that must have prevailed among those, present at the bagh on that unfortunate day.
Free from any discipline of the memorial to observe decorum, the visitors’ picnic merrily on the lush grass. They pop soft drinks, eat kulche, and stare at their phones and forward jokes. I don’t see any of them reading the inscriptions which are too far and too small.
The cenotaph is yet another selfie spot, which doesn’t even feature an elaborate fountain or a display. It’s standing free and worthless, as people consider.
Somewhere near the bagh is another lane, called the kucha kaurianwala. It was here that Marcella Sherwood, an English missionary was assaulted which led to the infamous crawling order by dyer. This order which dictated Indians to crawl on belly beneath British boots, according to Gandhi deserved more condemnation than the massacre itself yet. There is nothing as a signboard that takes visitors to this next logical stop in the pilgrimage.
Not surprisingly, history is dying in kucha, where new structures are being erected on the debris of the historical buildings. The existence of kucha has confined to just another jam-packed lane in Amritsar, and that should be as saddening as it could be, both for you and for me.
What’s most disturbing about the Bagh’s history is the slightest respect that people refuse to pay to the man who shot Michael O’ Dwyer, the man who stood defenceless but fearless in the British court, abusing the British officials and ready to die for the nation, the man whose ashes are placed most incongruously, even disrespectfully among the sundry newspaper exhibits in one of the glass cases in the museum, as publicized men are more reversed than gallant warriors in this country.
Despite memorials, commemorations and books, a complete list of those martyred at Jallianwala Bagh has been never published or displayed. That’s called negligence. After all, who really cares? It was just a matter of 1650 IBSO bullets!
Dyer, even after giving myriad justification for his actions was suspended from service. One of his statements said, “I fired and continued to fire till the crowd dispersed. If more troops has been at hand, the casualities could have been greater in proportion. It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but of producing a sufficient moral effect on Punjab”. His attitude is quite likely to the attitude of the present British govt. which refuses to apologize for the atrocities carried out in jallianwala, even after a long 100 year wait it’s partly because we don’t indulge in history.
Maybe, that’s how we are! History is just past, meant to be forgotten stones are stones not speaking witnesses. No need for constantly reliving the tragedy or keeping alive what should never die. That small train visit to Amritsar taught me something invaluable; the new generations must grow up unburdened free of memory, nostalgia or pain. Maybe.
Written By – Aditya Shukla