The Punjab government is still not ready to accord martyrs status to the 282 Indian soldiers whose skeletal remains found in a well tell a silent tale of the brutality inflicted by the British on those Indians who challenged their authority during the 1857 uprising, often termed as the first war of independence.
Though the remains of these soldiers have been given the pride of place at the Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj in this sub-divisional town where these are currently on display, the row over the status of these soldiers refuses to die down with the government still unwilling to clear the air.
On Saturday, Mr S S Channy, principal secretary (home, culture and archives) visited the spot to examine the skeletal remains and other items that were dug out from the infamous Kalianwala Khuh. However, he failed to make a concrete announcement on the martyr status issue which could have put to rest the on-going controversy on whether to recognise the sacrifice of these soldiers or to let them fade away in oblivion.
“It is the job of historians to find out the truth and when it comes we will consult the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and others and build a consensus view point. Thereafter, the state government in consultation with the central government will decide on what is to be done here,” said Channy during a meeting with members of Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj, Shaheedawal (or Kalianwala) Khuh Committee. The mediapersons also present in the meeting.
The words coming from a senior government functionary surprised Surinder Kochhar, an eminent researcher who, along with the members of the Shaheed Ganj Committee, was responsible for the recent expose on the gory happenings that took place here 157 years back.
“The evidence of the incident has been provided by none other than the executioner himself, Frederick Cooper, the then deputy commissioner of Amritsar, in a book. So I think no historian can challenge the happenings at Ajnala,” asserted Kochhar while making it clear to the officer that whether someone likes it or not, they were ready to recognise the soldiers as martyrs of the 1857 uprising.
Sensing Kochhar’s tone, the Principal Secretary was quick to utter, “There is no denying the fact that the incident occurred here in Ajnala.”
‘BADAL SHOULD CLEAR THE AIR’
Prior to Channy’s visit, there was a sense of anger among those who visited the site to pay homage to the remains of the soldiers. They criticised Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh and SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar for questioning the sacrifice of the ‘Purbias’ , as the soldiers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were referred to.
Punjab CPM leader, Mangat Ram Pasla during his visit, felt that martyrs did not belong to any religion or to any particular state. How can they be divided on communal lines, he questioned. “Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal is to blame for this controversy as neither the jathedar nor Makkar can utter a single word without his permission,” claimed Pasla.
BJP vice president, Laxmi Kanta Chawla also asked Badal to clear the air. The CM should take the matter in his hand and declare the soldiers as martyrs and announce the construction of a memorial, she said in a statement here.
Members of the Jalandhar based Desh Bhagat Yadgaar Committee and the Indian Workers Association (IWA) of Britain also visited the site. IWA president Kulbir Singh Sanghera, son of freedom fighter Baba Bhagat Singh Bilga, said that they would try to dig out details of the massacre from the archives in England.