Guru Amar Das is chiefly remembered for having alienated his disciples from the Udasi sect founded by Sri Chand, the elder son of Guru Nanak Dev. Up to the present time, the Udasis are ascetics, pure and simple. The name of Guru Amar Das is associated with the village of Govindwal, close to Khadur Sahib in the Tarn Taran Tahsil, where he lived and died in 1574. At the place, there is a baoli or the artesian well connected with the ground level by a flight of steps, which is its special feature.
Guru Amar Das was succeeded in 1574 by his son-in-law, Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru, who founded the City of Amritsar. The site was marked by a small natural pool. On the margin of the pool, Guru Ram Das erected himself a hut. Soon afterwards, in 1577, he obtained a grant of the site, together with 500 bighas of land, from Emperor Akbar, on the payment of Rs 700 Akbari to the zamindars of the Tung who owned the land. The pool soon acquired a reputation for sanctity, and consequent upon the followers of the Guru migrating to the spot, a small town gradually grew up, known, at first, as Ramdaspur or Guru-Ka-Chak. The pool improved and, formed into a tank, acquired the name of Amritsar, “the tank of nectar or the tank of immortality,” the present city deriving its name from it.
Amritsar District Gazetteer, 1947, pp. 19-20
Guru Amar Das founded the village of Govindwal on the Beas in 1546 under the directions of Guru Angad Dev
The site of the village really belonged to one Govinda Khatri of the Marwaha caste, and he had tried to found a village there, but the site was said to be haunted, and the few daring settlers had been driven away by robbers and dacoits. The spiritual power of the Guru laid the ghost and deterred the robbers, and a flourishing village soon grew up.” (G.C. Narang, Transformation of Sikhism, pp. 55-56)
“The baoli or well with steps” is a fine structure and has altogether 84 steps leading to the surface of the water. Eighty-four represents the traditional chaurasi or the series of 84 hundred thousand lives through which the soul has to pass again and agai until it attains salvation. The belief among some Sikhs is that bathing and reciting the whole of Japji at each of the steps releases them from the bonds of transmigration. The place is still visited by crowds of people, twice a year, on the Hindu New Year’s Day and the death anniversary of Guru Amar Das when large fairs are held and the poor are fed in thousands.” (G.C. Narang, Transformation of Sikhism, p. 56)
The land had hitherto been owned by a mixed community of Sayads, Sheikhs and Ranghars. The tomb of Sayad Fatteh Shah, a former owner of the site, is still extant outside the Fort of Govindgarh to the west. (Amritsar District Gazetteer, 1883-84, p. 61, footnote)
Next came Guru Arjan Dev. He is said to have made Amritsar the headquarters of his pontificate. He completed the digging of the tank, and a new town began to grow up around the sacred pool. In the center of the tank, he built the Hari Mandir, the foundation stone of which was got laid from the Muslim divine, Mian Mir of Lahore. In 1590, he built another temple with a tank at Tarn Taran. Guru Arjan Dev was an administrator par excellence. His predecessors had been content to move about the country with a small band of disciples preaching the doctrines of Guru Nanak Dev and teaching social service. Guru Arjan Dev collected and arranged the writings of the earlier Gurus, introduced a system of customary offerings by his adherents, and appointed agents (masands) to collect the offerings wherever his followers were to be found. Whereas the former Gurus had been content to be devotees, Guru Arjan Dev, according to Cunningham, who quotes what he states to be the ordinary Sikh accounts, encouraged his disciples to visit foreign countries and combine business with religion. We now begin to hear of horse-keeping and banking, carpentry and embroidery among the Sikhs. The Guru was himself a man of fame and wealth, and his influence extended over Hindus and Muslims to such an extent that he incurred the wrath of Emperor Jahangir, who saw in him a man of dangerous ambition. Hearing a report that the Guru had shown sympathy towards Prince Khusru who had rebelled against him, Jahangir ordered him to be thrown into prison and, according to the account given in Tuzak-I-Jahangiri, the Guru’s death was caused directly by the orders of the Emperor in 1606.
With the exception of the period of his confinement in the Gwalior fort, Guru Hargobind remained at Amritsar from his succession in 1606 up to the battle of Amritsar in 1628. During this period, he got constructed the Akal Takht, the Lohgarh fort and a wall around Amritsar.
Ibid., pp. 9, 61
The relevant passage from Tuzak-I-Jahangiri, reproduced below, will be of interest :
“At Goindwal, situated on the river Beas, there lived a Hindu named Arjun in the garb of saints and holy men. He had attracted many Hindus and even some ignorant and low-class Mussalmans and had ensnared them to follow the practices of his cult. He had been loudly blowing the trumpet of his saintliness and spiritual leadership. He was known as ‘Guru’ and people from all sides resorted to him and made declarations of faith in him. This ‘shop’ of his had been running briskly since three or four generations. I had been wishing for a long time either to abolish this emporium of falsehood or convert him to Islam till Khusru happened to pass this way. The foolish prince thought of attaching himself to his cortage. He repaired to the Guru’s residence and had an interview with him. The Guru discussed some old cases with him and with his finger put on the forehead of the prince a saffron mark which is called ‘Tilak’ by the Hindus and is considered an auspicious omen. This incident was reported to me. I was already fully aware of the Guru’s false cult. I ordered him to be arrested and made over his household and family to Murtaza Khan. I confiscated all his property and issued orders that he should be imprisoned, tortured and executed.” (Tuzak-I-Jahangiri, p. 35; Nawal Kishore Press, Lucknow)
Guru Tegh Bahadur had not much to do with Amritsar proper, probably on account of the undue importance and independence assumed by the masands, the local ministrants appointed for the collection of offerings. The masands of Amritsar were said to have become so overbearing as not to allow Guru Tegh Bahadur to visit the Hari Mandir. Perhaps their temerity prompted by the objectionable practices, indulged in by the local masands, had earned the Guru’s condemnation that those belonging to Amritsar were actually Andarsarias-people with charred minds.
Like Guru Tegh Bahadur, his son, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last of the Gurus, could not maintain active contact with Amritsar on account of the religio-political role assumed by him. His life-long exertions to fulfil the twofold mission-to avenge the death of his father and to rid the people of the bigotry and tyranny of the Muslim rule-had obliged him to confine his activities to the comparatively inaccessible area along the Shiwalik mountains. To facilitate his military campaigns and afford him a safer place, he had made Anandpur Sahib, the newly founded fortified town, his headquarters. It was, therefore neither feasible nor desirable to visit Amritsar, situated at a considerable distance from his new abode at Anandpur Sahib. Hemmed in between the hostile hill rajas and the mounting Mughal military pressure, Guru Gobind Singh remained too heavily preoccupied with the organization of the Khalsa and the military campaigns to have any direct dealings with the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar.
II. Situation after the Death of the Tenth Guru.-While at nanded (in Maharashtra), Guru Gobind Singh deputed Bairagi Madho Das to the Punjab to avenge the death of his sons. Madhor Das, as Banda, became the Guru’s chosen disciple, round whom the Sikhs again gathered. Banda established himself in the Gurdaspur District and for a time held his own against the Muhammadan forces, but was finally overcome by Abdul Samad Khan, the Governor of Lahore, and, being taken prisoner, was tortured and put to death at Delhi in 1716.
Amritsar District Gazetteer, 1947, pp. 22-23
The situation of the Sikhs of the death of Banda is thus summed up by Cunningham : “After the death of Banda an active persecution was kept up against the Sikhs, whose losses in battle had been great and depressing. All who could be seized had to suffer death, or to renounce their faith. A price, indeed, was put upon their heads, and so vigorously were the measures of prudence, or of vengeance, followed up, that many conformed to Hinduism; others abandoned the outward signs of their belief, and the more sincere had to seek a refuge among the recesses of the hills, or in the woods to the south of the Satluj, scarcely again head of in history for the period of a generation.
“Thus, at the end of two centuries, had the Sikh faith become established as a prevailing sentiment and guiding principle to work its way in the world. Nanak disengaged his little society of worshippers from Hindu idolatry and Muhammadan superstition, and placed them free on a broad basis of religious and moral purity; Amar Das preserved the infant community from declining into a sect of quietists or ascetics ; Arjun gave his increasing followers a written rule of conduct and a civil organization ; Hargobind added the use of arms and a military system ; and Gobind Singh bestowed upon them a distinct political existence, and inspired them with the desire of being socially free and nationally independent.”
“Thousands of faithful Sikhs must have fallen during the maelstrom” but a few executions, “which owing to the peculiar and high position and great piety of the victims aroused the greatest indignation, deserve a particular mention :
“The foremost of these victims was Mani Singh. He was an old Sikh who had sat at the feet of Guru Govind Singh himself. He had been sent to Amritsar by the widow of the Guru to settle the disputes raging between the followers of Banda and the Tatwa Khalsa or the original and staunch followers of Govind. He was a well-read man and being of a retiring and peaceful disposition he had settled down in Amritsar and while the storm of persecution was raging all around, he passed his days in Amritsar as a pious Hindu whom no one suspected or reported as having anything to do with the rebellious Sikhs. He looked after the temple and in 1738, two years before its desecration, Mani Singh, who was held in great esteem by the Hakim of Amritsar, applied for leave to hold the Diwali fair in Amritsar. The matter, being rather serious, was referred to the Governor of Lahore. Permission was ultimately granted on the condition that Mani Singh should pay Rs.5000 into the State treasury after the fair. Mani Singh issued invitations to the whole body of Khalsa and the Sikhs started towards Amritsar in large numbers. The Governor of Lahore, however, sent a detachment of troops to Amritsar under the pretext of keeping order during the coming fair. The Sikhs were frightened by this suspicious move of the authorities and turned back. The fair was never held and the sum of Rs.5000 which Mani Singh was expected to pay out of the offerings that the Sikhs would have made at the temple was not paid. Mani Singh was arrested and taken to Lahore. He was asked to pay the money or embrace Islam. The latter proposal was rejected with scorn. The admirers of Mani Singh raised the 5000 rupees but it was too late. The sentence of death had already been passed and Mani Singh was consequently put to death, his body being slowly cut to pieces at each joint.
“The next important victim…..was Taru Singh. He was a Jat by caste and a native of Poola (Phula, tahsil Patti) in the Manjha tract. He was young man of twenty-five and lived with his sister and widowed mother, earning his liveihood by tilling the bit of land his father had left him. He had great reputation for piety and was a devoted follower of the Khalsa. He was always heard repeating the verses of the Granth whether engaged in ploughing his field or watering his crops. His mother and sister also were models of virtue and piety and made their living by grinding their neighbours’ corn. The family lived a simple and austere life and spent all their little savings in the help of their brethren whom the iron hand of the Nazim of Lahore had driven into forests and deserts. This was considered treason and it was not long before Taru Singh was betrayed by one Har Bhagat Niranjani of Jandiala. The offender was arrested and taken to Lahore. There he was put to death after severe tortures.”
J.D. Cunningham, A History of the Sikhs, p. 60
In 1737, Baji Rao, the Maratha leader, appeared in arms before Delhi, and two years later came the invasion of the Punjab by Nadir Shah. The difficulties of their hereditary enemies were the Sikhs’ opportunity and, collecting in small bands, they plundered the stragglers of the Persian army and the wealthy inhabitants of the larger towns. But they had no recognized leader, and when the invaders had retired, the Sikhs were easily subdued by Zakariya Khan, the Viceroy of Lahore. But now they began to visit Amritsar openly instead of in secrecy and disguise to make their devotions at the sacred temple. Nadir Shah was assassinated in 1747, and his place was taken by Ahmad Shah Abdali, who in the same year entered the Punjab at the head of an army and put to flight the new Governor of Lahore, Shah Nawaz Khan. But he got no farther than Sirhind and was forced to retire, and Mir Manu assumed the viceroyalty at Lahore. The Sikhs who had thrown up a fort at Amritsar, which they called Ram Rauni, at once began to give him trouble. But they were suppressed without difficulty and their fort was taken. Then followed another invasion by Ahmad Shah, which was again the signal for a rising of the Sikhs, who possessed themselves of the country round Amritsar only to be defeated again by Adina beg, who was acting under the orders of Mir Manu, the viceroy of Lahore. At that time, the Sikh leaders were coming into prominence. Among them, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, restored the Ram Rauni at Amritsar. It was, however, again demolished by Prince Timur, son of Ahmad Shah Abdali, who dispersed the insurgent Sikhs, leveled the buildings to the ground and threw the debris into the sacred tank. This last insult inspired the Sikhs to fresh exertions, and gathering under Jassa Singh Ahluwalia they attacked Lahore and took it. The Muhammadans called in the aid of the Marathas, the Afghan garrisons left by Ahmad Shah was driven out, and the Sikhs evacuated Lahore. A period of anarchy followed, leading to the return of Ahmad shah and the extinction of the Maratha power in northern India at Panipat in 1761. Lahore remained in the possession of the Muslims, but the central authority at Delhi suffered rapid decline. The provincial authorities found it increasingly difficult to deal with the Sikhs who continued in revolt against religious intolerance and political tyranny. Some successes were gained by the Sikhs and the army of the Khalsa assembled at Amritsar and again performed their ablutions at the sacred pool. But a disaster, greater than any they had experienced since the overthrow of Bada, was at hand. Ahmad Shah returned to the support of his lieutenants, and in 1762, overtaking the Sikhs near Ludhiana utterly defeated them in an action which is still referred to as the Bara Ghalughara or the great holocaust. On his way back, Ahmad Shah passed through Amritsar, where he razed the restored temple and polluted the sacred pool with the slaughter of cows.
Amritsar District Gazetteer, 1947, pp. 23-24
The repeated invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali had not only exposed the hollowness of the Mughal Empire, but had given the Sikh misls the long-awaited chance of proclaiming their independence and assumption of political power in whatever territory they could lay their hands on. The potential power of the Khalsa had been acknowledged by the Afghan invader, who, despite his determined efforts, had failed to suppress the Sikhs. He clearly realizes that they would occupy the north-western regions as soon as his hold became weak. Even during his stay in the Punjab, the invaders were persistently harassed by the rising confederacies of the Sikhs.
On the withdrawal of the Afghan hordes from the north-western region of the country, the tract was divided among the Sikh leaders of various groups who were organized as misls or confederacies. Several of these principalities had their headquarters at Amritsar, which was the seat of their most sacred shrine and was treated as the sanctum sanctorum of their religion. The hardy Jat peasantry of the Majha or the central tract formed the bulk of the fighting force of the misls. The loose form of theocracy, which was united only in the face of a common external danger, remained engaged in perpetual mutual conflicts among themselves. Every misl tried to increase its strength and the territory occupied by it at the cost of its neighbours. It is believed that the areas occupied by individual misls were got recorded at the Akal Takht, the political headquarters of the community, situated opposite the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar. Perhaps, for the same reason, these groups who had maintained their regular territorial accounts at the holy place were named as misls or files.
The misls continued to fight against one another all through the troubleld times in the eighteenth century until Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the leader of the Shukarachakia misl, appeared on the scene. The principal misls associated with Amritsar were the Bhangis, Ahluwalias and Kanhayas. Of these, the Bhangis were the first to come into prominence. Their territory extended towards the north from their strongholds at Lahore and Amritsar up to the River Jhelum and then down its banks. The Kanhayas were supreme between Amritsar and the hills. The Ahluwalias were powerful in the Jullundur Doab from where they pushed towards Majha, as the country included in the tahsils of Tarn Taran and Kasur came to be called.
The Ramgarhias, though not the masters of Amritsar enjoyed special association with the town. In fact, they took their name from Ram Rauni, the mud fort which had been established to guard the sacred temple at Amritsar. The fort was subsequently named Ramgarh by Jassa Singh, the leader of the Ramgarhia misl. To this day, the Sikh carpenter loves to be described as Ramgarhia instead of as tarkhan, the name of the class of artisans. Though renowned for their mechanical skill, they also possessed the martial qualities of the Jat peasantry.
Nihangs and ‘Akalis’, the warlike enthusiasts, who have all along looked upon themselves as the armed guardians of the Holy Temple at Amritsar, are specially associated with the sacred city. They adopted arms as their profession under the inspiration of the Tenth Guru and, during the period of the misls and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, they formed a prominent part of the Sikh Army. The smadh of Phula Singh, the most outstanding of the Nihangs, at Amritsar still forms the headquarters of the Buddha Dal, the name given to the Nihangs who were generally elderly people.
The power of the Bhangis under Jhanda Singh was challenged by the Kanhayas under their leader Jai Singh and their allies, the Shukarchakias whose chief was Sardar Charat Singh, the grandfather of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Next, the Kanhayas and the Ahluwalias combined and forced the Ramgarhias to retire towards Hissar. Mahan Singh, who had become the leader of the Shukarchakias, joined hands with Jai Singh Kanhaya. He separated from the Kanhayas soon afterwards and allied himself with Ramgarhias with whose help he defeated the Kanhayas. On the death of Mahan Singh, his son, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, once again made alliance with the Kanhayas by marrying the daughter of Mai Sada Kaur, the widowed daughter-in-law of Jai Singh Kanhaya. With the powerful help of the Kanhayas, the young Shukarchakia chief seized Lahore from the Bhangis in 1799 and made it the capital of the Kingdom of Lahore. Maharaja Ranjit Singh further strengthened his position by a friendly alliance with Sardar Fateh Singh Ahluwalia with whom he had exchanged turbans as a token of intimate friendship. Ranjit Singh forced the Bhangis to retire from Amritsar in 1802. Thereafter, after the step-by-step liquidation and absorption of the remaining misls, Ranjit Singh soon established himself as the paramount ruler of the Punjab.
Under the Lahore Darbar, Amritsar, which had already assumed the most important place as the religious and commercial center of the Sikhs, became the second capital of the kingdom. Maharaja Ranjit Singh frequently visited the Darbar Sahib on all important religious occasions to take a dip into the Holy Tank and to make offerings at the Holy Temple. He came to Amritsar on almost every Sankrant, the first day of the Hindu calendar month. He visited the place on Maghi, Baisakhi and Diwali unless prevented from doing so on account of his failing health or heavy political pre-occupations.
Amritsar was the place where Ranjit Singh met Jaswant Rao Holkar in 1805. The Maratha chief after his defeat by the British had come all the way to the Punjab to enlist the support of the rising Sikh ruler. Ranjit Singh as is well known, tactfully declined to support him on the plea that, of the two chits thrown before the holy Granth Sahib, the one prohibiting the support of the Maratha chief had signified the will of the Granth Sahib. Again, it was around Amritsar that Maharaja Ranjit Singh is believed to have visited the camp of Lord Lake, who had come in hot pursuit of Jaswant Rao Holkar, in disguise to study the situation for himself. The historic meeting with Metcalf, resulting in the famous Treaty of Amritsar in 1809, also took place at this station. The treaty acknowledged Maharaja Ranjit Singh as the undisputed ruler of all the territories to the north of the River Satluj and recognized the river as the boundary between the two governments. In 1809, Maharaja Ranjit Singh completed the building of the Govindgarh Fort at Amritsar. The fort was intended to meet any possible danger from across the River Satluj. As a result of the strategic importance of Amritsar, special attention was paid to the development of the most important town in the kingdom next to the capital City of Lahore. A number of buildings and gardens such as Ram Bagh and Shish Mahal, and a wall around the town, were built there. Ranjit Singh also gave the Hari Mandir its marble facing and gold coating from which it came to be called the Golden Temple.
On the eve of the Kabul campaign by the British in 1838-39, Amritsar was the venue of the memorable meeting between Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the British Governor-General, Lord Auckland. In 1838, the Tripartite Treaty was concluded by the British with Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Shah Shuja for replacing Dost Muhammad by Shah Shuja on the Afghan throne. Towards the close of the year, the British forces assembled at Firozpur for the campaign, to the opening of which further éclat was given by an interchange of hospitalities between the Governor-General, Lord Auckland, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Maharaja met the Governor-General at Firozpur on November 29, 1838, and, on the next day, a return visit was paid by the Governor-General to the Maharaja’s camp across the River Satluj.
Thereafter, from December 1, 1838, onwards, the Governor-General at the invitation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and with a view to canvassing support of the Sikh ruler for the British campaign, visited Amritsar and Lahore. Lord Auckland, who was accompanied by his sister, Miss Emily Eden, and the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Henry Fane, besides his entourage, was received at a distance of about 3.6 km from Amritsar by Prince Sher Singh, the Prime Minister Raja Dhian Singh and other chiefs, attended by a body of cavalry and infantry. The Maharaja himself met the distinguished guest near Katra Khazana Gate and mutual courtesies were exchanged. Ranjit Singh was particularly anxious to show the British dignitaries the Hari Mandir-the most sacred shrine, and other important landmarks at the place. The visit to the Hari Mandir was made particularly significant. The Maharaja also wished to create an impression on the British Government about his great military prowess. All his troops were, therefore, mustered at Amritsar for the grand review which he had specially arranged for the Governor-General. A vivid account of the celebrations at Amritsar on the occasion of the Governor-General’s visit to the place, during the first half of December 1838, is given by the official chronicler of the Lahore Darbar, Sohan Lal Suri, in Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, Vol. III, Part V, pp. 51-77.
V. From the Death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh up to the Annexation of the Punjab by the British in 1849
Many of the leading men at the Court of Lahore were intimately connected with the district, such as Sardar Lehna Singh of Majitha, the Sindhanwalia chiefs (who belonged to the same family as the Maharaja), and Sardar Sham Singh of Atari, whose daughter was in 1837 married to Kanwar Nau Nehal Singh, the grandson of the Maharaja. Ranjit Singh died on the 27th June, 1839, and was succeeded by his son Maharaja Kharak Singh, who died in the following year. His son and presumptive successor, Nau Nehal Singh, was killed by the fall of an archway while returning from the cremation. Then followed the short reign of Sher Singh, who was murdered in 1843, when the young Prince Dalip Singh took his place and was proclaimed Maharaja. None of the events of the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-46 took place in Amritsar, their scene being entirely on the left bank of the Satluj. Thereafter, the British troops crossed the Satluj and occupied Lahore, withdrawing in March 1846, when arrangements for governing the country had been made and the treaties signed. It was agreed that there should be perpetual peace and friendship between the British Government and Maharaja Dalip Singh. The Jullundur Doab was ceded by the Lahore Darbar to the British and most of the troops were withdrawn from the Bari Doab, leaving only sufficient numbers to act as guard to the Resident appointed to the Court of Lahore and for the protection of the Maharaja. Of the eight members of the Council of Regency, three were drawn from the most powerful families of the Amritsar District, the Sindhanwalia, Majithia and Atariwala. A fourth was Sardar Atar Singh of Kala, a village just outside the Amritsar city. Peace lasted till 1848, when the revolt headed by the two Sardars of Atari, Sardar Chattar Singh and his son Sher Singh, led to the annexation of the rest of the Punjab by the British on the 29th March, 1849.
I. Early Stages of the British Administration, 1849-57
Amritsar, like other parts of the Kingdom of Lahore, suffered persistent disorders during the period of anarchy, after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The decade from 1839 to 1849 was, thus, marked by chronic civil commotion, which had become the order of the day on the rapid deterioration of the central authority under weak and inefficient successors of the “Lion of the Punjab”. Under unstable political conditions, the army had become all powerful and had become self-governing, since it conducted its own affairs through panchayats or councils and imposed its will on the leaders. The unbridled armed forces had created a dangerous situation in respect of law and order. The armed bands of soldiers indulged in oppression and extortion with impunity. The existence of the leaders themselves being threatened, they could not bring them under any effective control. During the period of disorganization, the system of personal government, which owed its success to the vitality of the ruler, had completely broken down. The public, in general, were the worst sufferers from disorder and disorganization. Contemporary chronicles reveal a sad state of civil life. In the face of widespread lawlessness, people could not carry on their lawful vocations. It was not uncommon, therefore, that the inhabitants lived under perpetual dread of their lives and property. The frequent upheavals had almost paralysed trade and commerce. Even in the city of Amritsar, people were compelled to make their own security arrangements and it was not uncommon that merchants removed their residential houses from the shops in the evening. Every mohalla had become barricaded.
The most urgent problem faced by the British after the annexation of the Punjab in 1849 was, therefore, to restore normalcy and to make it possible for the people to carry on their normal work. Measures were taken to restore law and order in the district. During the first year after the annexation, the incidence of crime, especially gang robbery, was at its climax. In the district of Amritsar, it rose to alarming proportions. Some of the main roads were scoured at night by bands of armed and mounted highwaymen. Houses of native grandees were broken open in broad daylight. Most of the daring criminals were soon rounded up. Those who escaped the gallows were chased out of the district into the inaccessible areas of Bikaner and other parts of Rajputana (Rajasthan). Alongside gang robbery, thuggee was also practiced on a large scale. This type of crime was discovered to have been introduced into the Punjab from across the River Satluj. The thugs practiced their calling with great success during the period of disorganization of the Sikh administration and during the two Anglo-Sikh Wars of 1845-46 and 1848-49. Effective measures were adopted to eliminate this sinister form of crime as part of the general campaign undertaken in the form of anti-thuggee organization.
As part of the campaign for the restoration of law and order, highway robbery deserved particular attention. Certain parts of the district were marked by uncultivated waste and brushwood. It was not surprising, therefore, that many of these places were infested by highwaymen. Immediately after the annexation, wayfarers were exposed to danger from highwaymen. Extensive measures for the guarding of roads, such as the location of police-posts and regular patrolling by footmen and horsemen, gradually reduced the incidence of the crime and facilitated the restoration of law and order.
Apart from the conventional crimes which the new administration had to deal with, it endeavoured to eradicate a number of social evils. Female infanticide, Sati and the burying alive of lepers required persistent efforts for their abolition. In this respect, punitive measures were not expected to succeed. Instead, the persuasion of the influential sections of society was considered more expedient. A big conference of all the chiefs and notable persons of the Punjab was held at Amritsar in 1853. As a result of the general feeling engendered among the chiefs, it was expected that female infanticide would be curbed. The outcome of the conference was fairly satisfactory and the incidence of this crime gradually declined. In this connection, it is well to remember the injunctions of the Chief Commissioner John Lawrence : Beti mat maro, bewa mat jalao and kohri mat dabao.
Amritsar is, therefore, closely connected with the suppression of the female infanticide in the Punjab through the efforts of the influential sections of society. Ever since the cession of the Bist Doab after the First Anglo-Sikh Was in 1846, steps were taken to ascertain the extent of female infanticide prevalent in the area. As early as 1852, meetings were held with the representatives of the Bedis and other castes, who practiced female infanticide. A lucid treatise on the subject was prepared by Major H.B. Edwards, the then Deputy Commissioner of Jullundur. During 1853, full and authentic information was brought together by the Judicial Commissioner and, on the recommendation of the Chief and Judicial Commissioners, the Governor-General ordered that a grand meeting should be held at Amritsar on the occasion of the Diwali festival which fell on the last day of October and the first day of November 1853. At this notable meeting, all the nobility, chivalry and hierarchy of the old regime as well as the wealth, rank and influence of the new State were assembled. The Sikh Sardars, the Bedis, the Sodhis, the hill chiefs, the commercial magnates and the Muhammadan Nawabs were all invited to the assemblage. To it was added all the weight which official power and position could give. Besides the Judicial and Financial Commissioners, the Commissioners of all the trans-and cis-Satluj States and the district officers of most of the districts, including Amritsar, were present there. The first city in the Punjab had scarcely seen such a grand assembly on the annual festival of Diwali at Amritsar. The delegates assembled there solemnly promised that they would ensure the eradication of female infanticide in the province. As a result of the deliberations, measures were adopted to reduce the marriage expenses to so moderate a scale that no man should feel any real difficulty in marrying off his daughter and should, consequently, have no motive for the commission of infanticide. The rules in question were explained in detail by the Committee and were subsequently published and proclaimed. The fame of this meeting spread far and wide and the impression, thus created, sank deep into the minds of the people.
Much of the credit for the pioneering effort for suppressing female infanticide, which had been accepted almost as a tradition among some of the notable Indian families, rightly goes to Amritsar.
The transition from the Sikh to the British administration after the annexation of the Punjab in 1849 could not be expected to be easy or smooth. Even the rough and ready system of administration, introduced by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, had been almost completely disrupted during the period of anarchy which followed his death, leading to a rapid deterioration in, and a disorganization of, law and order.
To cope with the peculiar situation, the Punjab was to be treated as a non-regulation province and was placed under a Board of Administration from 1849 to 1853. Greater attention during this period was perforce to be devoted to the reservation of normal conditions which required leveling the ground and making it favourable for the British form of administration. The Board enjoyed special powers for summary decisions and quick remedies in keeping with the temperament of the people.
The work started by the Board of Administration was continued under the Chief Commissioner from 1853 to 1858. The difficulties experienced by the Board were, however, removed by giving full authority to the Chief Commissioner for prompt and effective measures for the establishment of peace and order in the newly annexed territories. Sir John Lawrence, who had earlier been a member of the Board of Administration, introduced several reforms and firmly laid the foundations of the British administration. The best of the soundness of the system was soon to come in the storm that burst in 1857.