Once upon a time, It was said that sun never set on the British empire. They colonised most of the world and plundered all kind of wealth by making the innocent inhabitants their slaves.
India was subjected to this treatment for two centuries. In this process of subjugation, those who tried to oppose, were subjected to heinous crimes.
One such famous incidence in firing on the unarmed and peaceful thousands of people in the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar Punjab.
Another instance of their brutality came to light in the same district at Ajnala. There was a well called Kallianwala Khoo (well) once upon a time. This well was excavation by volunteers.
The digging began on 28th of February 2014 and during three days of digging, skulls, bones, some coins of East India company and jaws were excavated.
It’s believed that it was here, in this khoo or well, that the bodies of 282 Indian soldiers who rebelled against the British during the 1857 war of independence.
Covered in the freshly dug earth were skeletal remains — skulls, bones — coins and pieces of jewellery.
Amritsar based historian Mr.Surinder Kochhar who led the excavation did a lot of research before undertaking this task.
By March 2, the excavators — mostly volunteers — had dug about 23 feet and claimed to have exhumed 90 skulls, 170 “intact jaws”, more than 5,000 teeth, 70 one-rupee gold coins belonging to The East India Company, gold beads, three gold amulets, six finger rings, four karas and two medals dated 1835, before they declared the digging complete.
Standing a few feet away from the well, Amritsar-based historian Surinder Kochhar, who led the group of amateur excavators, says the decision to excavate the well was based on historical research.
He had based his claims on then Amritsar Deputy Commissioner Frederick Cooper’s book, “The Crisis in the Punjab” , published in 1858, which vividly narrates the incident and on the Amritsar District Gazetteers from 1883 to 1947, all four editions of which mentioned the Kallianwala Khoo killings.
According to popular history, the 282 soldiers buried in the Ajnala well were part of a platoon of 500 soldiers of the 26th Native Infantry who had revolted at the Mian Mir Cantonment in Lahore during the 1857 uprising and had swum across Ravi to reach Ajnala town in Amritsar.
Around 218 of their comrades were killed by the British at Dadian Sofian village near Ajnala. Of the remaining 282, many were captured and put in a cage-like room where several died of asphyxiation, while the rest were shot dead. Their bodies were then thrown into the well.
If DNA testing is conducted, it could be another evidence,” he says.
Dr Sukhdev Singh Sohal, professor of history at the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, says there is no unanimous view on how the well got its name.
The popular view, he says, is that Kallianwala khoo means the ‘well of the blacks’, referring to “dark-skinned Indians”.
The villagers want a memorial and a museum in Ajnala in memory of the soldiers. There have also been proposals for DNA- and carbon-dating tests on the exhumed remains. The government has decided to set up a committee of historians to examine these demands.
“We are getting suggestions from various quarters, including from INTACH, saying that the skeletons should be studied to ascertain how the soldiers could have been assassinated. Were they beheaded, shot dead or killed using some other means?” says Randhawa.
Back at the site, Kochhar says, “A lot of research has gone into this. I didn’t dream of the well.” That the reference was to a seer’s dream that triggered a failed gold rush at Unnao in UP, wasn’t lost on anyone.
FROM COOPER’S BOOK
“Ten by ten the sepoys were called forth. Their names having been taken down in succession, they were pinioned, linked together, and marched to execution; a firing party being in readiness.
About 150 having been thus executed, one of the executioners swooned away (he was the oldest of the firing party), and a little respite was allowed. Then proceeding, the number had arrived at two hundred and thirty seven; when the district officer was informed that the remainder refused to come out of the bastion, where they had been imprisoned temporarily a few hours before.
Expecting a rush and resistance, preparations were made against escape; but little expectation was entertained of the real and awful fate which had fallen on the remainder of the mutineers…
The doors were opened, and, behold! They were nearly all dead! Unconsciously, the tragedy of Holwell’s Black Hole had been re-enacted. No cries had been heard during the night, in consequence of the hubbub, tumult and shouting of the crowds of the horsemen, police, tehsil guards and excited villagers.
Forty five bodies, dead from fright, exhaustion, fatigue, heat and partial suffocation, were dragged into light, and consigned, in common with all other bodies, into one common pit, by the hands of village sweepers…
The execution at Ujnalla (read Ajnala) commenced at day break, and the stern spectacle was over in a few hours. Thus, within forty-eight hours from the date of the crime, there fell by law nearly 500 men.”
— Extracted from The Crisis in the Punjab (1858)
As you might have seen in many documentaries on the Discovery Channel, the extraction of the remains of the bodies requires great patience, delicacy and is time consuming. This is because with time the bodies become very fragile and prone to disintegration.
Here, the work was done by volunteers who had no knowledge of such delicate processes. They in their enthusiasm did the work in 3 days and it might have caused deterioration to the quality of the remains.
Now the mortal remains are in the possession of the Punjab Director of Cultural Affairs. A team of two professors from the department of Anthropology from Panjab University for working out the biological profiles and DNA profiles to identify the soldiers. Since there are no records of the names of the soldiers, British government has bee requested to provide the details of the soldiers who were killed in the massacre.