A 300-crore memorial-museum being built by the Haryana government at Ambala to honour the martyrs of the 1857 uprising is nearing completion. Spread over a 22-acre site off the national highway passing Ambala, the memorial is likely to be inaugurated by early next year.
The Haryana government believes that the Shahid Smarak would highlight that it was Ambala, and not Meerut, from where the 1857 uprising actually began, which culminated in India attaining Independence in 1947.
“The objective of constructing a war memorial in Ambala is to immortalise the bravery of those unsung heroes who never got credit for scripting the first revolt (against the British). It will also highlight Haryana’s contribution to the freedom struggle with a special emphasis on revolt incidents at Ambala,” says a senior Haryana government official.
“The construction work of the project is 90% complete and we are hoping it will be ready for inauguration by March 2022,” the official adds.
While the building has taken shape, tenders have been floated for the design aspect related to the museum, for which bids will be finalised in a month’s time, the official said.
In 2016, the Manohar Lal Khattar government decided to construct the memorial to honour the martyrs of the First War of Independence. The decision was taken during the meeting of a state-level committee on celebration of the 150th anniversary of the uprising.
Thereafter, 22 acres of land was transferred to the government department from the Ambala Municipal Corporation.
Chandigarh-based architect-designer Renu Khanna, who earlier built Ambala Gate and Chhapar Chiri War Memorial near Chandigarh, was commissioned to build the memorial. “The project is in its final stages and is likely to be completed in 2022. Besides the museum of objects related to the unsung heroes from Haryana and their role in 1857, there will be a memorial, a library, an interpretation centre, a huge parking space and a helipad,” Khanna tells the Indian Express.
“We call this mutiny, but that is from the point of view of the Britishers, but from an Indian perspective, it should be called the first War of Independence,” Khanna says.
An impetus to the Haryana government for this memorial project came from old telegrams discovered by historian KC Yadav in the1970s, which he presented as an evidence to claim that the 1857 uprising actually started in Ambala, and not Meerut as popularly believed. He had documented his findings in his book titled The Revolt of 1857 in Haryana.
In June 2010, the then Haryana government had announced the construction of a memorial and sanctioned Rs 17 crore for it, but it did not get off the ground.
After the BJP came to power in the state in 2014, the project was not only revived but elevated to a much bigger scale involving a cost of Rs 300 crore. Significantly, Ambala is the constituency of state home minister Anil Vij, who has been a “driving force” behind the project, sources say.
Vij says, “The first struggle for freedom in 1857 started at the Ambala Cantonment, but it didn’t get mentioned in the history books. The heroes of the first revolt remained unsung. At the memorial, people will be able to get all information about the first revolt and the unsung heroes of the revolt.”
Delhi-based historian Neera Misra, who was taken as an advisor/ consultant for historical and cultural content verification for the project, says, “Ambala’s role in the 1857 uprising is as significant as that of Meerut or other cantonment areas of North and East India of that time. Ambala was among the three places, along with Dum Dum and Sialkot, where the new cartridges containing cow fat and lard had been supplied.”
Misra says many instances of revolt are recorded in Yadav’s book, who states that “In North-western India the first military station to feel the contagion of the mutiny was Ambala”. His surmise is based on telegraphic messages of the British government that speaks of the uprising in Haryana.
She claims that it is unfortunate that the “real history” of our nation has been “under wraps” since Independence.