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Valour, deceit and betrayal

Gogera fort, Gushkori, Lork Berkeley and Kharal’s grave are all a part of a day’s journey and glorious past

Valour, deceit and betrayal
Tomb of Ahmad Khan Kharal in Jhamra.

Not so long ago, Googaira was the district headquarters of a district comprising Sahiwal, Okara and Pakpattan. All of these towns are now districts on their own while Googaira, now Gogera, has been reduced to a small town in one of the tehsils in Okara.

What has Gogera done to deserve this fall from glory is a long story which started long before the war of independence in 1857.

Punjab was annexed to the British raj in 1849, after the defeat of Sikhs in the battle of Chillianwala and Gujrat. British residents took over as its board of governors. Henry Lawrence started consolidating the British rule across the Punjab hinterland through appointments of erstwhile deputy commissioners who at that point had a lot of military and para-military forces at their disposal. Declared a district in 1852, Gogera had all the administrative buildings, including courts, jail and treasury.

While the exact location of the district jail is difficult to ascertain today, the administrative offices and courts were housed in a magnificent colonial building surrounded by banyan trees and potato fields.

Later, the building was converted into Gogera Secondary Boys High School. However, once the building became dilapidated, it was abandoned, and a new school building was built around this old colonial relic. Though the building is not used for classes anymore, students still use the spacious verandas for relief from blazing sun.

The building has every potential to be converted into a local museum or arts and crafts centre after some renovation.

Just about 100 metres from this magnificent piece of colonial architecture, is a centuries-old Gogera fort. I was not able to extract the exact history of this fort, however, a migrant family from Indian Punjab, who were allotted this land apparently in 1947, currently occupies it.

During the colonial era, the fort was used both as a treasury for the district as well as ‘Bakhshi Khana’ — a temporary jail for the prisoners brought to the district courts for their cases.

So, what must have happened in Gogera that it lost favour of the British and was slowly relegated to a small grain market in Punjab’s backwaters? Well, at least part reason can be attributed to how the local Kharals treated the British in 1857, during the war of independence.

District Courts Gogera and currently Government High School Gogera.

District Courts Gogera and currently Government High School Gogera.

The first gunshot of the war had already been fired in Meerut and the British were sleepless on how to curtail this rebellion in Punjab. The Deputy Commissioner of Gogera Captain Elphinstone summoned the local tribal chief Rai Ahmad Khan Kharal and other notables and asked for men and horses to defend the colonial rule, as was the custom in those days. Kharal’s response to the British request became unforgettable in the local Punjabi folklore, “We don’t share our women, land and horses”. Sensing rebellion, Kharal and other notables were first taken into custody by the government and later released on ‘Muchlakas’ or guarantees.

Some accounts talk about Ahmad Khan and company attacking the district jail on July 26, 1857 and freeing all the inmates. However Allen’s Indian Mail tells the story of an en masse prisoners’ rebellion overpowering the sentries, when the guards ultimately killed 50 prisoners while 18 fled in the dark.

Later, Kharal, along with some still standing notables from Wattoo and other clans, hatched a conspiracy to resist the East India Company in the ‘Baar’ from Sutlej River to Ravi. As was common in those times, another fellow Kharal from Kamalia, Sarfraz Khan rode to the residence of the deputy commissioner at night on September 16, 1857, and informed Sahib Bahadur of impending rebellion in the ‘Baar’ led by Ahmad Khan.

The Company retaliated by raiding Jhamra, the village of Ahmad Khan as well as other villages, and arrested women and children of all aspiring freedom fighters and locked them in Gogera jail along with other freedom fighters. The whole ‘Baar’ was in rebellion and attacks on the Company forces were taking place in Chichawatni, Harrappa, Sabooka and along Sutlej River.

The crumbling Gogera Fort.

The crumbling Gogera Fort.

Rebels killed one Lieutenant Nivelle while he was taking a country boat down from Ferozepur for his sick ‘furlough’ in Europe. Again Allen’s Indian Mail would not let the sick Lieutenant die without valiantly killing two or three rebels before being sent to heavens!

With the rebellion expanding to the whole district, British ran out of patience. The Deputy Commissioner Elphinstone scrambled forces from Multan and Lahore, and finally, the two sides faced each other in Gushkori forest near a small town presently called Youngpur on Okara-Faislabad road, about six miles short of Gogera. The rag tag locals led by Ahmad Khan Kharal fought valiantly against a superior artillery backed Company forces led by Colonel John Paton and 27-year-old Extra Assistant Commissioner Gogera Leopold Oliver Fitzhardinge Berkeley or simply Lord Berkeley.

Locals were able to push back the Company forces considerably until a company soldier spotted Ahmad Khan in the afternoon. Lord Berkley immediately ordered Kharal to be fired on. One Gulab Singh shot Kharal down while he was saying his prayers. The battle was over.

We have seldom heard of Battle of Gushkori, a relatively small battle in Punjab hinterland that went a long way in strengthening the colonial rule in Punjab. Most of the Punjabi chieftains like Gardezis, Qureshis, Khakwanis, Dahas, etc. sided with the British during this war and later awarded lands and titles in recognition of their loyalties or more appropriately misplaced loyalties. Nawab of Bahawalpur also played it safe and refused to support the freedom fighters despite their desperate requests. There was no significant resistance to the war of independence in 1857 in Punjab once this last Punjabi standing had fallen.

As was common in the era, once the British had won in Gogera, they had to make an example of the rebels. The villages were torched and able-bodied freedom fighters hanged. The head of Ahmad Khan Kharal was put up on a lance and displayed publically in Gogera.

According to a local legend, a ‘Musalli’, servant of the Kharal, sneaked into the place at night and ran away with the head of his master. The servant put the head in a pitcher and crossed the Ravi in the night and buried the pitcher near the grave of Ahmad Khan Kharal in Jhamra.

Meanwhile, Lord Berkeley, immersed in the glory of winning a significant battle for the Crown, was busy torching villages and hanging freedom fighters. The locals were raging with anger for treatment they and their beloved leader was subjected to — and revenge was due.

Lord Berkeley was returning to Gogera after his punitive campaign and was crossing Ravi River on his horseback when suddenly the horse stalled. Before he could understand it, Murad Fatiana, a dear friend of Kharal sprung from his hiding in water and stabbed Berkley to death.

The last resting place of Lord Berkeley

The last resting place of Lord Berkeley

However my friend John O’ Brien from India Office Records in London quotes from reference OIR.929.5 at the library, “On 18th September he (Berkeley) was sent to Kaurishah in order to re-open communications with Multan, and to assist Harappa. On the 21st with a body of 60 horse he dispersed a large gathering of the enemy, and on the next day, as he was marching along the Ravi, going towards Muhammadpur, he was suddenly attacked in a riverside jungle near Kaurishah and cut off, his horse, it is said, getting into a quicksand, and was killed after a gallant single-handed resistance”.

Similarly, Allen’s Indian Mail claims Lord Berkley to have cut six men before he was killed.

Two sides and two different histories, one saved in manuscripts and the other in ballads and folk songs.

Leopold Oliver Fitzhardinge Berkeley was born on November 8, 1829, and baptised on the October 16, 1830 at Bareilly. He was the son of Henry James Fitzharding, Head Clerk in the Collector’s Office at Bareilly, and his wife Jane.

The battle of Gushkori and the Delhi siege almost happened together in the third week of that fateful September 1857. The East India Company decisively won both these wars though local tribes continued to fight till 1858 and the British continued with their hangings and canon blowing of young men besides dispatching many local leaders including Murad Fatiana to Andaman Islands or ‘Kala Pani’.

Lord Berkeley is buried a few kilometres out of Gogera town in a small Christian cemetery on Gogera-Shiekhu Sharif road. The cemetery is in a very dilapidated condition and though protected by a boundary wall, it is encroached upon not only by surrounding farmers but also by new graves. There are some old graves in the far end, one of which belongs to Berkeley or ‘Burkalli’ as locals remember him. The British also awarded two hectares of land to the caretaker of the cemetery but apparently no one looks after it anymore.

Well after the partition, during 1960s, the grandson of Ahmad Khan Kharal decides to build a tomb for the great man. Construction and digging starts and lo and behold, the pitcher with Ahmad Khan Kharal’s severed head is found. It was later buried with the main body.

Ahmad Khan’s tomb is near his native village Jhamra, about an hour’s drive from Gogera. From Gogera, on Faislabad road, you have to take a right after crossing Ravi to reach the tomb.

This magnificent tomb is in Multani architecture style. It is surrounded by centuries-old Kharal graves with exquisite architecture, more common in dynastic graveyards of South Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.

Gogera fort, Gushkori, Lord Berkeley and Kharal’s grave are part of our heritage. A casual traveller may visit them in a day. These sites could well boost local economy and tourism — even when Gogera continues to be punished for its role in 1857.

Omar Mukhtar Khan

Omar Mukhtar Khan
The author is a development professional with a passion for travelling. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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