Paradox of patriotism: The Amritsar no one talks about
Probably our generation will never know what it is like to unwillingly leave their homes never to come back. To abandon all possessions, memories, families, never to get them back. To get their lands ripped, ties snipped and forced to embrace another world all of a sudden. Probably our generation will never know how the partition of India and Pakistan felt.
After 70 years, the scars of the inhumane incident seem to heal; but is it possible to completely wash off the past? It would not be wrong to submit, that the brunt of partition was majorly borne by the people of Punjab and Bengal. And Punjab, till date, lives to portray the unified culture of both the countries and eternal pathos of separation due to its geographical positioning.
Amritsar, one of the biggest cities of the state is also more socially and economically ahead. The city attracts a lot of tourists throughout the year as it has witnessed some of the most distinguished events of our colonial past and lived through them. Therefore, one feels a spontaneous gush of patriotism the moment he steps in the city. But over the years, our definition of patriotism has drastically changed and converted into an unwarranted hatred for the neighbouring country. An uncomfortable vibe of chest-thumping patriotism can be felt in almost all places connected to Pakistan. People talk about the culture, traditions, folklores, food and brightness of Amritsar, but it’s strange how almost no-one really points out that this very city was home to thousands of people from either sides of the border so it cannot symbolize hatred.
Moreover, our idea of patriotism today, is almost manufactured and molded by movies, media, advertisements etc. Which is the only reason one can think of, after witnessing the present day reality of Amritsar’s Jalianwalla Bagh and Wagah Border. Both of these places are signs of our past and had a game-changing effect on the masses of both the countries. But today, are they really what they are supposed to be?
This is the garden where thousands of unarmed, peaceful Sikh protesters were massacred by General Reginald Dyer in the year 1919. The Jallianwalla Bagh massacre is deemed to be the most heinous carnage done in the name of law, probably at par with the holocaust and and other ghastly genocides. It is said that 379 people were dead and thousands were injured (the actual number of casualties is still unknown) after General Dyer stormed into the garden with his troop, barred the only exit gate and opened fire on innocents. On his commands, the troop kept firing until they were out of ammunition. It is a gut-wrenching feeling to stand inside the premises where thousands of innocent lives were lost, to touch and feel the well where hundreds jumped in, to escape the bullets. As you stand under one of the trees listening to the chirping of birds, you tend to believe that may be this was a garden for kids to play and families to relax with no history of horror or anticipation of aggression.
This garden is the reminder of a great crime done against humanity. Today, thousands of tourists visit this place but its meaning is heart-breakingly lost on them. The present day visitor has reduced Jallianwalla Bagh to just another garden. You can see people littering the place, hooting and shouting, taking selfies with one another, eating in groups, playing, etc. You can also hear things like, “Kuan kuan kya kar raha hai, waha kuch nahi hai!” (Why do you want to see the well? There is nothing there) No, having a good time is not wrong, forgetting the significance of the place is.
A light and sound show narrating and dramatizing the events of 13th April, 1919 is done everyday. It’s only during this period of time the visitors seem to be in touch with the gravity of the place. As soon as the show ends, chaos takes over the garden again. It’s as if, we need a constant reminder of some sort to feel respectful.
It’s as if people do not really care about the somber reality of the Bagh and what it stands for. One can still view and touch the bullet holes on the brick walls of the Bagh and feel transported to that era. But somehow, in today’s reality, Jallianwalla Bagh seemed to have lost its magnitude.
On the other hand, events of the Wagah Border are confusingly contrasting…
Wagah border is named after the Wagha village situated around the Grand Trunk Road between Lahore and Amritsar. In 1947, the Radcliffe line to divide India and Pakistan was drawn from this village. The Wagah Border which is 29 kms from Lahore and 27 kms from Amritsar is a stretch of land that belongs to neither of the countries and serves as a transit road for Lahore-Amritsar or Lahore-Delhi buses. For the unversed, yes, even today there are families living on either side of the borders that commute by this road.
This stretch of land was essentially kept un-owned to maintain harmony between both the nations and allow free passage for people from both sides. A ceremony known as the Beating Retreat to formally close the border and lower the flags was started in the year 1959. Over the years, this ceremony gained popularity on both sides and has almost become an event of unabashed jingoism lately. After you reach Wagah and walk down to the event ground, you will notice that people having army ties are given priority passes and front row seats. Now, this is a disturbing act because the ceremony is a free show.
As it starts, you will find yourself asking this question, is this a patriotic act or an entertainment act. There is constant cheering, patriotic sloganeering, also dancing to Bollywood patriotic songs, as the soldiers from both the nations march towards the border with their fiercest foot and face forward. Cheerleaders with mics, encourage and almost brain-wash you to shout louder than the Pakistani crowd. At this point, you will wonder, what is this for? An overly jingoistic act directed towards the people who were the residents of this very country from time immemorial. A visibly staged and choreographed act that plays for the crowd with not a drop of reverence in it.
As the flag is neatly folded and the crowd starts to disperse, you will end up thinking, is all this booing and shunning really patriotism?
We the masses become patriotic and unpatriotic according to the ambiance and brain-washing and Amritsar is a glaring example of that. We feel nothing for the martyrs of the country but become overly-patriotic when it comes to booing the neighbour because that is the trend.
There are numerous other sides to Amritsar except the colonial past which we will definitely discuss in the future. For now, do tell us if you agree with this perspective. Also, do let us know your experience if you have visited Amritsar.