US historian Johanna Ogden (35) is stunned by the "evidence of British cruelty" that was buried for 157 years in an Ajnala well near here.
The regional historian of Oregon state was on Wednesday at Kalianwala Khuh (the well of the blacks), from which the skeletal remains of 282 rebel soldiers killed in the first War of Independence in 1857 were exhumed a few days ago.
"The British are known to be cruel. The well is an evidence of the cruelty they inflicted on Indians," Johanna, who is on a four-day visit to the city with her sister, said in her interaction with members of Ajnala's Gurdwara Shaheed Gunj Managing Committee.
Since the excavation, the site now renamed Shaheedan Wala Khuh (martyrs' well) is an object of interest among international historians.
Doing research on the Ghadar Movement, Johanna has good knowledge of India's struggle for freedom, of which Kalianwala Khuh is one of the goriest incidents.
Historian Surinder Kochhar, associated with the research on the Ajnala well and supervising the excavation, found the US woman "well read".
"The sisters spent almost half an hour with the committee at the site, witnessing the artefacts about which they had studied only in the history lessons," he added.
The dark history of Kalianwala Khuh
On July 30, 1857, the disarmed soldiers of the 26th Native Infantry deserted the Mian Mir Cantonment. Sepoy Parkash Singh "Prakash Pandey" led the revolting party, which according to record had nearly 600 soldiers. Before leaving the cantonment, they killed commanding officer major Spencer and another superior. A dust storm helped them escape.
The British intercepted them on the banks of the Ravi. Some drowned after jumping into the swollen river, while the others were caught and brought to Ajnala. In revenge for the Bibighar massacre of Kanpur (then Cawnpore) in which some other mutineers had killed 120 British women and children and thrown their bodies into a well, the British forces shot 218 of the apprehended sepoys at Dadian Sofian village, removed the decorations and necklaces of the remaining 282, and brought them in batches to Ajnala, where they were executed.
The-then deputy commissioner of Amritsar, Frederick Henry Cooper, who supervised the massacre, wrote: "The crime was mutiny, and had there even been no murders to darken the memory of these men, the law was exact. The punishment was death. Political reasons also governed the occasion, and led to the decision as to immediate execution."
Govt seeks details of proposed memorial
The government has named members of the committee to decide on the construction of a memorial at the Kalianwala Khuh site in Ajnala. "I have also received a letter from the chief minister's office seeking details of this project. "I'll respond to the missive in a day or two," said historian Surinder Kochhar.