After 157 Years 200 Bodies of Shaheeds Found


About 157 years after over 200 Indian soldiers were slain in anonymity by British troops here, volunteers have dug out the remains of 22 of them from a well where their bodies were dumped.

Around 500 Indian soldiers had revolted at Mian Mir Cantonment in Lahore during the 1857 mutiny and swam across the Ravi river to reach Ajnala town of Amritsar.

A view of the outer wall of ‘Kalianwala Khu’ (where Indian soldiers were reportedly buried) at Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj in Ajnala. Photo: Vishal Kumar

A view of the outer wall of ‘Kalianwala Khu’ (where Indian soldiers were reportedly buried) at Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj in Ajnala. Photo: Vishal Kumar

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Indian States in Revolt During 1857 Rebellion against British

Of them, 218 were killed by British soldiers at Dadian Sofian village near here, local NGOs said.

The remaining 282 were incarcerated in a cage-like room. While many of them died of asphyxiation, the rest were shot dead and their bodies thrown into a well, which later came to be known as ‘Kalianwala Khu’.

Local NGOs and Gurdwara management committees, which are involved in the digging work, have claimed that they have pulled out the mortal remains of 22 Indian soldiers.

They also claimed that neither the central government nor the Punjab government attempted to extricate the remains of martyrs and perform their last rites.

People from nearby villages too joined the digging work during which heap of skeletons were found.

After extrication of skeletons, police force has been deployed and work of digging will continue by the locals without interruption, said police.

According to local Gurdwara management committee head Amarjit Singh Sarkaria and NGOs led by historian Surinder Kochar, gurdwara panel excavated historic well where Indian soldiers who revolted against the British are buried.
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Ajnala gurdwara panel excavates historic well where Indian soldiers who revolted against the British were buried.

The committee members claim that around 500 soldiers had raised a banner of revolt at Mian Mir Cantonment in Lahore as part of the 1857 uprising and swam across Ravi to reach Ajnala. Of them, 218 were killed by the British colonialists at Dadian Sofian village near here. The remaining 282 were incarcerated in a cage-like room. While many of them died of asphyxiation, the rest were shot dead and their bodies thrown in a well, which later came to be known as ‘Kalianwala Khu’. While ‘khu’ means a well, the word ‘kalianwala’ has been derived from ‘kale’ (Blacks), as the British colonialists used to call the Indians.Ajnala, January 20

Members of the local Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj management committee claim to have unearthed ‘Kalianwala Khu’, a significant chapter related to the country’s first war of independence that so far had remained confined only to history books.

Excavation began in December 2012

Committee chief Amarjit Singh Sarkaria says, “We decided to excavate the area around the gurdwara in December last year. The aim was to zero in on the location of the well. We discovered the outer structure of the well at the very first spot where we began the excavation work. As we continued digging deep, we found the well was situated exactly beneath the spot where the Guru Granth Sahib had been installed inside the gurdwara building.”

Sarkaria says the locals were aware that the well was somewhere on the gurdwara premises, spread over 2 kanals and 8 marlas of land, but nobody had an idea about its exact location. He says even the elderly in the town were asked, but they were clueless.

Digging work put on hold temporarily

However, the committee has stopped the excavation work now as it intends to have a new gurdwara building constructed prior to resuming the digging work. “We will first build a multi-storeyed gurdwara complex worth Rs 1.5 crore as our priority is to have an alternative place for the gurdwara, the building of which will have to be demolished to take the excavation work to its logical end. We may shift the gurdwara once the basic structure of the new building comes up,” he says. The existing gurdwara was constructed around 40 years ago.

The committee plans to unearth the entire ‘Kalianwala Khu’ and also construct a memorial so that the countrymen could pay tributes to the martyrs.

Plan to connect the site with main road

Sarkaria says they are also planning to connect the historical site with the main road. “We will like to have a proper road leading to the premises, for which we have already purchased adjoining land and buildings from private parties,” he says.

At present, a narrow lane adjacent to the main road leads to the site.

Well renamed as ‘Shaheedan da Khu’

The committee says it has renamed the site as ‘Shaheedan da Khu’ (Well of Martyrs). The committee also claims to have found the remains of the buried soldiers which, it says, will be immersed in the Ganga once the excavation is complete. The committee reached a unanimous decision in this regard as most of the martyrs were Hindu. It says the remains of the martyrs will be taken for immersion in the form of a procession so that the people can pay homage to the martyrs.

District Tourism Officer Balraj Singh says he has already written to the higher authorities to promote the place as a major tourist spot as it is probably the only memory of the 1857 uprising in Punjab.

Historians skeptical

Guru Nanak Dev University Professor Harish Sharma, who is also the former head of the university history department, says there is no documentation of the incident associated with ‘Kalianwala Khu’. “It is a popular belief, but there is no proper account of what exactly happened. Also, there is nothing to authenticate whether the well in question is actually the ‘Kalianwala Khu’. Even the state government has not included the episode in the freedom struggle memorial, which it plans to construct in Jalandhar,” he says.

Sharma, who is part of the government project and has prepared its concept paper, says, “A committee of high-profile historians had unanimously resolved not to include it in the memorial.”

About ‘Kalianwala Khu’

While ‘khu’ means a well, the word ‘kalianwala’ has been derived from ‘kale’ (Blacks), as the British colonialists used to call the Indians. It is said that during the 1857 uprising, at least 500 soldiers had revolted at Mian Mir Cantonment in Lahore. They swam across the Ravi to reach Ajnala. Of them, 218 were killed by the British colonialists at Dadian Sofian village near Ajnala. The remaining 282 were incarcerated in a cage-like room. While many of them died of asphyxiation, the rest were shot dead and their bodies thrown into a well, which later came to be known as ‘Kalianwala Khu’.

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