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U Tirot Singh (Sing) and the Khasi Revolution

Background:

After establishing control over Brahmaputra Valley in 1826, the British tried to establish a road connection between Surma Valley and Brahmaputra Valley and for this purpose, David Scott, the then Civil Commissioner of North East area made a plan to construct a road connecting Guwahati to Sylhet through the Khasi Hills (Present-day Meghalaya).

At that time there were 25 petty states in the Khasi Hills and 15 among them were ruled by constitutionally chosen or publicly chosen chiefs. These chiefs were also called ‘Syiems’. U Tirot Singh (also Sing, hereinafter it will be written as Singh) was one such Syiem of the Nongkhlow province. Nongkhlow is now a village in the West Khasi Hills District of Meghalaya.

David Scott held a meeting in 1827 with U Tirot Singh and other ‘Syiems’ to get approval for the proposed road. The Syiems and U Tirot Singh welcomed the proposal as they thought it would give them access and control over the duars or passes in Assam and a flourishing trade route to Surma Valley. Accordingly, Construction of the road began soon.

Prelude to the conflict and aftermath:

However, with passing time in 1829, the Khasis sensed that the British would levy taxes on common people and subjugate them as soon as the road is complete. According to Sir Edward Gait, a Bengali Peon was responsible for imbibing this doubt in the minds of the Khasi people. Also, Tirot Singh received the news that the British were bringing in reinforcements from Guwahati and Sylhet. He convened a meeting of all the Syiems and thereby instructed the British to vacate the area. However British paid no attention to this order, which angered Tirot Singh and on 4th April 1829 he led a sudden attack at a police station and killed 60 police personnel including two British Officers viz. Lt. Bedingfield and Lt. Burlton.

The British retaliated immediately. In the fighting that ensued, the Khasis, though brave, could not match up to the modern firearms of their enemies. Despite this, Tirot Sing and his troops carried on guerrilla warfare with the British for four years. The British were thoroughly shaken by the Khasis. Unfortunately, Tirot Singh was betrayed by one native who had been bribed by the British and forced to surrender on 9th January 1833. He was then deported to Dhaka where he breathed his last on 17th July 1835.

Legacy:

Tirot Singh is considered one of the bravest freedom fighters in Meghalaya. His guerrilla warfare tactics, hideouts, and in-depth knowledge of Khasi hills’ complex terrain are hugely respected in Meghalaya. His struggles for freedom are still conversed as household stories. The Government of Meghalaya declared 17th July as State Holiday to commemorate the glory of this fighter. The Tirot Singh Award for Arts and Literature is also very prestigious.

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