Skeletons of Indian soldiers of 1857

Mortal remains of 1857 Heroes tell a tale of British brutality
The exhumation of over 280 skeletons of Indian soldiers from a well in Ajnala in Amritsar district on March 2 has unearthed another brutality of British Government.

These unarmed soldiers of 26 Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry who were part of the India’s first war of Independence in 1857 revolted at Mian Meer Cantonment in Lahore along with their 218 comrades and reached Ajnala after crossing the river Ravi.

Amritsar based historian Surinder Kochhar claims that the 218 were shot dead soon after they crossed over. The remaining 282 incarcerated in a small room by the then Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar Frederick Henry Cooper. Out of them 237 were killed due to asphyxiation or shot dead in cold blood and rest 45 were buried alive with them in the well. The British named the well as ‘Kaleyan Wala Khooh’ meaning ‘A well of Black people’. However, later the well was rechristened as ‘Shaheedan wala Khooh’.

Though the people of the area were aware of such a well around the Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj but were not sure where it exists. The Gurdwara Management Committee lead by its President Amarjit Singh Sarkaria decided to excavate the area in the year 2012 with an aim to zero in on the exact location of the well. The committee discovered the outer structure of the well.As the digging continued, it was found that the well was situated exactly beneath the spot where the Guru Granth Sahib had been installed inside the gurdwara building.

The committee decided to first construct another building for the Gurdwara before starting the excavation.

Finally the excavation started on February 28th amidst chanting of hymns and within three days all the skeletons were exhumed by digging deep up to 14 feet.

Although there is no parallel between this incident and Jallianwala Bagh episode but the killing of unarmed Indian soldiers is as macabre as the killing of unarmed civilians in 1919.

Many of the remains of the soldiers which were found in standing position depict the picture of brutality with which they were buried alive.

Historian Surinder Kochhar claimed that around 90 skulls, 170 intact jaws, 26 skeletons joined with skulls and more than 5,000 teeth were recovered from the historic well.

Besides this, two Victoria Army medals, coins of East India Company, some gold beads and other things have also been recovered from the well.

As of now there is no list of the martyrs with anyone. So it is still uncertain whether their identity would ever be established after 157 years.

However, Punjab government has decided to construct their memorial after performing their last rites with full state honours so that people could come and pay homage to the heroes of the 1857 uprising against the British.

By: Rajesh Chander Bali, AIR Correspondent, Jalandhar

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