Amritsar, Punjab: Several Indian and British historians have claimed that the 282 soldiers, whose remains were dug out from ‘Kalianwala Khu’ in Ajnala, were not Sikhs and belonged to Bengal or Awadh (Purbis).
Book ‘Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten’ claims that some top British officers disapproved Ajnala killings. They even termed these as ‘Ajnala cruelties’.
Author of the book states, “After chasing and capturing 303 out of 400 or so disarmed Hindustani sepoys, who had escaped the previous day from their Lahore internment, Cooper had them shot, in batches of 10 in Ajnala near Amritsar. After 237 bodies were dumped into a well, Cooper ordered his Sikh and Muslim police personnel to produce the remaining 66 prisoners.”
Gandhi further writes that only 21 of the remaining soldiers that were locked into a small room were brought by the police. The rest had suffocated to death.
Cooper sent a report of the proceedings to Lawrence, who called the incident ‘nauseous’. Cooper, however, was proud of the fact that “a single Anglo-Saxon supported by a section of Asiatics had coldly presided over so memorable an execution”.
Historians estimated the number of the deceased to be 282. In the recent excavation, the remains of 282 soldiers were found. This indicates that the 21 soldiers fetched were probably spared.
Gandhi puts the Ajnala killings and other incidents into perspective. He writes that the British were wary of the Sikhs, and Lawrence was aware of the Sikh soldiers’ disdain for the ‘Hindustanis’ (who were part of the British troops that ended Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule).
Smith in his book, ‘Life of Lord Lawrence‘, states that Lawrence exploited these elements. “There was the hatred of the Sikh for the Mohammedan, who had persecuted him. The Punjabi, whatever his caste or creed, were contemptuous of the less manly races of Bengal,” Smith said.
Therefore, the British raised a new regiment, the 25th Punjabi, on June 8, 1857. It comprised of Punjabi Muslims, Sikhs and Hindu Dogras. Lawrance wrote to Brigadier Sydeny Cotton on June 10, 1857 to form a regiment of 10 companies in which four would be of Sikhs, two of hill Rajputs, two of Punjabi Muslims and two of Pathans. These were then distanced from the soldiers from the eastern states and effectively used against them.