The recent discovery of remains of over 100 soldiers in a well at Ajnala in Amritsar district is a reflection of panic among British officials in Punjab during the 1857 revolt, according to a Cambridge historian with expertise on nineteenth-century India.
Prof Christopher A Bayly, who has researched and written several field-defining books on nineteenth-century India, told HT on Thursday that the Ajnala discovery "reminds us how panic had spread among British officials in Punjab in 1857 and how they were prepared to use extreme violence".
The excavation at the well called 'Kaalon ka Kuan' in Ajnala is reported to have led to the discovery of remains of nearly 100 soldiers, including 50 skulls, and 40 jaws, 47 one-rupee coins of the East India Company, besides gold jewellery and other goods.
Bayly said: "The (Punjab) province was on a knife-edge because the British had lost most of Uttar Pradesh (known as the Agra province at that time), Bihar and much of central India. If Punjab had also fallen the colonial power would have been pushed back to Bengal and the whole of north India would have been lost."
He said: "It seems likely that most of these troops would have been Biharis or soldiers from Awadh enlisted in the Bengal Army. After 1852, the British had attempted to placate Sikhs and Muslims of Punjab among whom there was serious resistance, but not on the same scale as further east."
The Ajnala incident has been detailed as an "awful tragedy" in an 1858 book titled 'The Crisis in the Punjab: From the 10th of May until the Fall of Delhi' by Frederick Cooper, who was the deputy commissioner of Amritsar at the time.