Googaira: The story of valour, deceit and betrayal

Long ago, not so very long ago, Googaira was the District Head quarters 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 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 1857 war of independence.

Punjab was annexed in 1849 after the defeat of Sikhs in battle of Chillianwala and Gujrat with British residents taking over as Board of Governors. Henry Lawrence started consolidating British rule across the Punjab hinterland through appointment of erstwhile Deputy Commissioners who at that point in time had a lot of military and para military forces at their disposal. Gogera being declared District in 1852 had all the administrative buildings including courts, jail and treasury. While the exact location of 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 crop fields. The building was later converted into Gogera secondary boys high school however once the building became too 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 hundred meters 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 it is currently occupied by a migrant family from Indian Punjab who were allotted this land apparently in 1947. During the colonial era, the fort was used both as a treasury for the District as well as ‘Bakhshi Khana’ i.e. a temporary jail for the prisoners brought to the District courts for their cases. A serious archeological study of the area may reveal other stories of historical significance. Hope someone is listening or reading.

So what happened in Gogera that it lost favor of British and slowly was relegated to a small grain market in Punjab’s backwaters? Well, atleast part reason can be attributed to how the local Kharals treated British in 1857 during the war of independence. The first gun shot of war of independence had already been fired at Meeruth and 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 colonial rule, as was the custom in those by gone days. Kharal’s answer would over generations become 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 however later released on ‘Muchlakas’ or guarantees. Some accounts tell about Ahmad Khan and company attacking the District jail on 26th July 1857 and freeing all the inmates. However ‘Allen’s Indian Mail’ tells the story of an en masse prisoners rebellion overpowering the sentries however the guards ultimately killed fifty of the prisoners while eighteen were able to flee taking benefit of the dark.

Later Kharal along with some still standing notables from Wattoo and other clans hatched a conspiracy to resist East India Company in the ‘Baar’ from Sutlej River to Ravi. As was common in those time, another fellow Kharal from Kamalia, Sarfraz Khan rode to the residence of the Deputy Commissioner in the dark of night on 16th September 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 the women and children of all aspiring freedom fighters and put those up in Gogera jail along with other freedom fighters. The whole ‘Baar’ was in rebellion and attacks on Company forces were taking place in Chichawatni, Harrappa, Sabooka and along Sutlej River. One, Lieutenant Nivelle was killed by rebels while the young man 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 rebellion expanding into the whole District, the British ran out of their patience and a decisive action was imminent. The Deputy Commissioner Elphinstone scrambled forces from Multan and Lahore and finally the two sides faced each other in Gushkori forest near todays’ small town of Youngpur on Okara Faislabad road, about six miles short of Gogera. The rag tag locals led by Ahmad Khan Kharal fought valiantly against a very superior artillery backed Company forces which were led by Colonel John Paton and 27 year old Extra Assistant Commissioner Gogera Leopold Oliver Fitzhardinge Berkeley or simply Lord Berkeley. The locals were able to push back the company forces considerably however in the afternoon, Ahmad Khan was spotted by a company soldier. Lord Berkley immediately ordered Kharal to be fired upon and one Gulab Singh shot Kharal down while he was saying his prayers. The battle was over. We have seldom heard of Battle of Gushkori however this relatively small battle in Punjab hinterland went a long way in strengthening colonial rule in Punjab. Most of the Punjabi chieftains like Gardezis, Qureshis, Khakwanis, Dahas, etc sided with 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 in 1857 war of independence 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 the able bodied freedom fighters hanged. The head of Ahmad Khan Kharal was put up on a lance and displayed publically in Gogera. According to the local legend, later 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 the humiliation and the treatment they and their beloved leader was subjected to and the 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.

However my friend John O’ Brien from India office library, 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 8th November 1829, and baptised on the 16th October 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 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 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 kilometers 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 seems being encroached upon not only by surrounding farmers but also by new graves. There are a couple of very 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 however apparently no one looks after the cemetery anymore.

Come 1947 and Pakistan comes into being. During 1960s, the grandson of Ahmad Khan Kharal decides to build a befitting tomb for the great man. Construction and digging starts and lo and behold, the pitcher with Ahmad Khan Kharal severed head is also found and later buried with the main body. Ahmad Khan tomb is near his native village Jhamra about one hour drive from Gogera. From Gogera on to Faislabad road, you have to take a right after crossing Ravi and you can reach the tomb after travelling on deteriorated village roads. The tomb however in itself is magnificent with some resemblance to Multani architecture and is surrounded by centuries old Kharal graves with exquisite architecture, something more common in dynastic graveyards of South Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan.

Colonial Buildings, Gogera fort, Gushkori, Lord Berkeley’s grave or Kharal’s tomb, these are part of our heritage and if this was visible to a casual traveler in one day, a bit of exploration and work can reveal the history of Gogera in much more depth and detail. Tourism and especially domestic tourism is a way to boost local economy even when Gogera continues to be punished for its role in 1857 war of independence.

The writer is based in Lahore and can be reached at omarmukhtar16@gmail.com. He also blogs at www.countryroads.pk.

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