Chandigarh: It’s the centenary year of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the bloodbath on 13 April 1919, which marked a dramatic turning point in India’s freedom struggle.
Not that you would know if you were at the national memorial in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, built to commemorate the 379 people who died and the thousands injured when British troops opened fire on unarmed protesters.
If anything, the memorial is a picture of apathy, lacks regular maintenance while its most popular attraction — a 52-minute sound and light show — was last conducted in 2014. There is not a whiff of a commemorative event in this the centenary year.
Amritsar-based advocate and activist P.C. Sharma told ThePrint that there have been other issues at the memorial.
“Apart from the light and sound show which has been discontinued, the memorial also used to give small booklets to the visitors to read which too has been discontinued, apparently due to lack of funds,” he said.
“We have been fighting for the past several years demanding proper audits of the donations that are given to the memorial but nobody is bothered.”
The memorial, established in 1951 by the Government of India, is managed by the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust that has the prime minister as its chairman. Its members include the Congress president, the minister in charge of culture, the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Punjab governor and the Punjab chief minister.
The scrapped sound and light show
While the memorial, located next to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, continues to be popular — it sees almost 30,000 people on an average every day — its trademark sound and light show, called ‘Son-et-Lumiere’, hasn’t been held for nearly five years.
Recorded by Amitabh Bachchan, the show was held for 500 visitors every day.
“Sometimes the number of visitors would go up to 600 every day. It was the finest attraction at the memorial,” Sukumar Mukherjee, the secretary of the Trust, told ThePrint.
“It was started in 2010 but was shut down after a few years following a technical glitch. Now the entire system is completely obsolete. I am not sure if a new system is being put in place, it is for the ministry of culture to answer.”
Mukherjee added that he had heard that the ministry was in the process of inviting tenders to revive the show but he has not been officially informed about it.
CPI (M) MP M.B. Rajesh said he recently visited the Jallianwala Bagh memorial and has written to the Prime Minister about the sound and light show not functioning.
“I recently took my family to Jallianwala Bagh to let my two daughters learn about the sacrifices of people in this historic land. I was told by the staff that the sound and light show has been cancelled due to a paucity of funds,” Rajesh has written in his letter to the PM. “This shocked, ashamed and saddened me… I strongly feel that citing a lack of funds for maintaining such a living memorial of our freedom struggle is unpardonable.”
The Punjab Minister for Culture Navjot Singh Sidhu had recently claimed that he had managed to get Rs 8 crore sanctioned from the central government for the revival of the light and sound show but added that things were still stuck.
Arun Goel, Secretary, the Ministry of Culture, could not be contacted despite repeated attempts. This report will be updated when he responds.
A tussle between warring parties
The composition of the trust has over the years become a tussle between rival parties.
In October last year, the Modi government appointed three additional members to the trust — former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, former INLD MP and vice-chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities, Tarlochan Singh, and the Punjab BJP chief Shwait Malik.
The names of the trustees are proposed by the Ministry for Culture and approved by the prime minister. It was seen as a move to bring the trust under SAD-BJP leaders. Before them, the trust was filled with Congress nominees Virendra Kataria, Ambika Soni and Harvendra Singh Hanspal. They were nominated for a period of five years in May 2013.
A media report on October 2018 quoted Tarlochan Singh and Shwait Malik as saying that the earlier members of the trust need not bother about what was happening at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial anymore and that they were now taking care of everything.
Malik and Tarlochan Singh could not be contacted despite repeated attempts. This report will be updated they respond.
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