A day after the state government promised to construct a memorial-cum-museum in memory of the 282 Indian soldiers who were dumped in a well by the British in the wake of the 1857 uprising, a debate has emerged on whether to preserve their remains or immerse them in a river.
Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj Shaheedanwala Khuh Committee, which spearheaded the exhumation process, is in favour of a “decent funeral” for the martyrs.
The committee members say that keeping in view the religious sentiments of people the remains should be immersed in a river after giving the martyrs a state funeral.
Historian and journalist Surinder Kochhar, who carried research on the issue, is also in favour of immersing the martyrs’ remains.
“In the West, such remains are preserved because people generally bury their dead there. But here, we usually cremate our dead. Keeping this in view, I feel the remains should be immersed,” said Kochhar while talking to HT on Tuesday.
Similar views were expressed by Amarjit Singh Sarkaria, the gurdwara committee president. “Once the government is done with DNA testing, the remains should be immersed. Other items, such as coins and army medals, can be preserved at the proposed museum,” he said.
However, Jalandhar-based Desh Bhagat Yadgaar Committee strongly favoured preservation of the martyrs’ remains along with other recovered items.
Some members of the committee visited the site on Tuesday. BJP national vice-president Laxmi Kanta Chawla was also present when members of the Desh Bhagat Yadgaar Committee expressed their views. She too is in favour of immersing the remains.
“If we lose the remains, how are we going to show to the world the brutality of the British? We have uncovered a hidden, inhuman truth and the world should know about it. We must not erase anything that has been found,” said Raghbir Kaur, general secretary of Desh Bhagat Yadgaar Committee.
Journalist Bhupinder Singh Sandhu, who has authored a book “Lahoo Bhiji Dastaan” on the Kalianwala Khuh tragedy, said, “We must preserve the skeletal remains. Constructing a gurdwara or a temple will not alter history.”
Ajmer Singh, vice-president, Desh Bhagat Yadgaar Committee, and a former GNDU professor Parminder Singh has urged the authorities to take help of the army in locating the descendants of the martyrs, most of whom are believed to have been from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP).
“The army must be having records of the soldiers who were stationed in Lahore at that time and were part of the uprising. The list of the dead with their addresses could be compiled with the army help,” Parminder said.
He also demanded that the Indian government take up the matter with the British in case the identity list of the mutineers is available in Britain.
Tourism director visits site
On the directions of the government, director, tourism, culture and archives, NS Randhawa visited the site and held a meeting with Kochhar and Sarkaria.
“We are gathering the details and a decision will be taken thereafter on whether to erect a memorial or a museum,” he said. He assured that people’s sentiments will be kept in mind.
Officials of theArchaeological Survey of India (ASI) are yet to visit the site. No senior officer of the army visited the site. The land on which the well is located belongs to the army. An army unit is stationed at a short distance from the historic well.