Ajnala (Punjab), March 3:
Nearly 157 years after they were killed and pushed into a well to die, the remains of 282 Indian soldiers from the 1857 revolt against the British were taken out in Punjab’s Ajnala town.
“The excavation work ended Sunday evening. We have taken out the remains of 282 martyrs from the well,” historian Surendra Kochhar, who was actively engaged in the digging process, said Monday.
After three days of digging, we recovered 90 skulls, 170 jaws, over 5,000 teeth and hundreds of bones, he said.
“Besides, we were able to find coins of the British era, gold items, medals and other items,” Kochhar said.
The digging of the well, located inside the premises of Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj here, 30 km from Amritsar, started Friday, preceded by Sikh, Hindu and Muslim prayers.
Scores of volunteers were involved in digging the well, which was earlier called “kalian wala khu” (well of the blacks). It is now referred to as the “shaheedan wala khu” (well of the martyrs).
Be it members of the gurdwara committee, NGO activists, men and women from this town or even school children — all were involved in the digging and excavation work.
“These were our freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives during the First War of Independence. The British pushed them into the well here and let them die,” said Amarjit Singh Sarkaria, president of Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj.
The gurdwara came up at the site as a tribute to the martyrs.
The dead were Indian soldiers from the 26th Bengal Native Infantry posted at Mian Mir cantonment near Lahore who revolted against the British and were marching towards Ajnala after hearing reports of the mutiny in Meerut and other places in 1857.
These soldiers, numbering about 500, challenged the British Empire by killing two British officers near Lahore.
The then British deputy commissioner of Amritsar, Fredrick Cooper, ordered action against the troops.
While many were killed, 282 were captured and brought to Ajnala. Here, many were killed and thrown into the well while others were pushed into it alive. A 10-foot layer of soil was put on them.
“We will perform their last rites with the respect and honour they deserve,” Sarkaria said.
Kochhar said it was an emotional moment for the people of Ajnala town when the skulls and bones were taken out.
Residents and gurdwara committee members, however, rued that the government never bothered about the martyrs for 157 long years.
The gurdwara committee and others engaged in excavation said a suitable memorial and a museum would be built at the site to honour those who laid down their lives for the country.