Jallianwala Bagh a century ago, the historian Kim A Wagner wrote in his 2019 book of the same name, was a right trapezoid about 200 yards long and 150 yards wide, “entirely enclosed by the backs of houses and brick walls”, the main entrance to which was “a long narrow passage, wide enough for people to pass in both directions, though not so wide as to accommodate vehicles”.
From the time schoolchildren first learn about the massacre that took place at the Bagh on Baisakhi day, 1919, they are told about this lane — by blocking which the troops of Gen REH Dyer cut off escape for the crowd assembled inside, and mowed down hundreds at practically pointblank range.
On Saturday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the revamped Jallianwala Bagh, the narrow lane with stark brick walls had transformed into something unrecognisable — a tunnel partially closed to the sky, complete with a new floor, and with the walls on either side crowded with a shiny mural of dozens of human figures, symbolising the common people who fell to Dyer’s bullets that day.
“Devastated to hear that Jallianwala Bagh…has been revamped — which means that the last traces of the event have effectively been erased,” Wagner posted on Twitter on Saturday. He called it a “part of the general Disneyfication of the old city of Amritsar”.
Wagner’s tweet set off a storm of outrage from historians, culture aficionados, and ordinary tourists who had visited Jallianwala Bagh before…