Thursday, July 15, 2010

Titumir - the Born Rebel

Titumir , properly Titu Mir, was a rebel against the zamindars and British colonial system in 19th century Bengal, part of British India. He rebelled against the rich landlords and colonial British rulers and put up an impressive armed resistance. Along with his followers, he built a Bamboo fort (Bansher-Kella in Bangla) which passed into Bengali folk legend. After the storming of the fort by British soldiers, Titumir died of his wounds on November 19, 1831.
Titu Mir, real name Syed Mir Nisar Ali, was born on 27 January 1782 (14 Magh 1182 according to the Bangla calendar), in a small village named Chandpur, in the Thana area of the North 24 Parganas district. His father was Syed Mir Hassan Ali and his mother’s name was Abida Ruqayya Khatun.
Titu Mir’s education began in his village school, after which he moved to a local Madrassa, a traditional Muslim school. By the time he was 18 years of age, Titu Mir had become a Hafiz of the Qur'an, that is, he memorized the Qur'an by heart, and a scholar of the Hadith or Muslim traditions. He was also accomplished with the Bengali, Arabic, and Persian. During this time he came under the influence of several Wahhabi seers, who preached a mixture of militant Islam and anti-colonial thought and saw both religious and political reform as in Bengal of that time.
In 1822, Titu Mir went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, the Haj enjoined upon all Muslims, and on his return he commenced organizing the Muslim peasants of his native village against the landlords or Zamindars and the British colonialists. He also affected the 'tahband' a tube shaped garment worn around the waist, in preference to the dhoti, seen as more overtly Hindu.
Titu Mir opposed a number of discriminatory measures in force at that time which included taxes on the wearing of beards and on mosques. The rift between Titu Mir and his followers on one side, and the local Zamindars supported by the British rulers on the other side, continued to widen, and armed conflict broke out at several places. Titu Mir had himself belonged to a "peyada" or martial family and himself had served under a Zamindar as a 'lathial or 'lethel' (paik), a fighter with the quarterstaff or lathi, (which in Bengal is made of bamboo, not wood) and he was actively training his men in hand to hand combat and the use of the lathi. This weapon in skilled hands is deadly against anything except projectile weapons. He thus started military training inside the Mosques and Madrassahs. They started physically attacking the Zamindars and their followers and organized several armed dacoities so as to finance their movement. Since his Army was mostly made up of poor peasants , they had no horses as cavalry. So they also started to steal horses from the stables of the Zamindars and from the British Police Stations. This provoked the British Government to send an Army expedition of 7,000 Sepoys so as to bring them under control.
The followers of Titu Mir, believed to have grown to 15,000 by that time, readied themselves for prolonged armed conflict, and they built a fort of bamboo at Narikelbaria, near the town of Barasat. This was surrounded by a high double curtain wall of bamboo stakes filled in with mud cladding and sun-baked.
Titu Mir declared independence from the British, and regions comprising the current districts of 24 Parganas, Nadia and Faridpur came under his control. The private armies of the Zamindars and the forces of the British met with a series of defeats at the hands of his men as a result of his strike-and-retreat guerrilla tactics.
Finally, the British forces, armed with cannon and muskets, mounted a concerted attacks on 14 November 1831, on Titu Mir and his followers. Armed with nothing more than the bamboo quarterstaffs and Lathis and a few swords and spears, Titu Mir and his forces could not withstand the might of modern weapons, and were overwhelmed. The bamboo castle was destroyed, and Titu Mir was killed along with several of his followers. The commanding officer of the British forces noted his opponent's bravery in despatches, and also commented on the strength and resilience of bamboo as a material for fortification, since he had had to pound it with artillery for a surprisingly long time before it gave way.
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