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Tirot Sing was the brave hero of the hills

Author: Guru Prakash, Sudarshan Ramabadran
Publication: DNAIndia.com
Date: December 18, 2016
URL:   http://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/column-tirot-sing-was-the-brave-hero-of-the-hills-2283940

He was an astute organiser and tactician. His ability to inspire leaders was highly praised, even by the enemy

From the ramparts of the Red Fort, marking India’s 70th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi elucidated his vision of bringing back tribal freedom fighters into the mainstream narrative. He said, “We want to have museums in each state dedicated to tribal freedom fighters, where their contributions and memoirs related to them would be displayed.”

Unfortunately, syllabi in Indian schools still do not recognise the contribution of lesser known tribal freedom fighters. The British had imposed their system and way of working on the tribals. This resulted in a massive tribal uprising against the British. The first and foremost factor to recognise and acknowledge is that the tribals fought for India’s freedom at par with those in the mainstream. Be it water, forest or land, tribes fought for their rights against the British.

It is in this context that one should remember and cherish North East India’s legendary freedom fighter, Tirot Sing. He and his band of warriors fought the British, tooth and nail. Tirot Sing was on par with developing guerrilla warfare tactics, like Chattrapati Shivaji to near perfection in the hilly terrains.

Tirot Sing belonged to the Khasi tribe, a sub-tribe of a larger group which migrated from Central Mongolia through Kashmir and settled in the plains of Brahmaputra and Surma valleys of Assam in between 4-5 B.C. Little is known about their exact origin. The Khasis were mainly occupied in agriculture, horticulture, coal mining, iron smelting, and limestone quarrying.

Tirot Sing was an astute organiser and tactician. During his battles with the British, he organised the Khasi warriors. This ability to inspire the leaders and cadre came in for high praise, even from the enemy. He had also mastered the art of guerrilla warfare. He and his band of dedicated warriors conducted night raids on the British outposts and large units of British military contingents were ambushed and massacred. Sing’s guerilla warfare, probably the first of its kind in India worried the British.

As a master strategist, he selected special bands of warriors and deployed them in caves to produce ammunition for warfare. Having pledged commitment to the Khasi struggle for freedom in full, Tirot Sing knew the importance of being informed. He gathered intelligence to facilitate his decisions and actions.

In KM Munshi’s words, “Tirot Sing, and his 10,000-man army, evaded the British and occasionally swooped down upon the plains, causing alarm all over Assam. Once the panic was so great that even in Guwahati, the headquarters of the British, large numbers of people including high officials kept boats ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.”

On January 13, 1822, Tirot Sing in his full warrior costume surrendered gracefully to the British. His only request at the point of his surrender was granting full justice to the rights of the Khasi states, including a proper arrangement for the administration of his state.

Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India, in his tributes to U Kine Sing (successor of Tirot Sing) in 1903 said, “Not without courageous fighting and there is much to the credit of your nation in the regard of the long struggle which however lamentably commenced, exhibited the bravery and endurance of Tirot Sing.”

Sadly Tirot Sing and his contribution have been reduced to a little known figure. It is time India remembers and pays fitting tribute to this heroic tribal figure who was the last independent king of the Khasis. Even though Tirot Sing had to eventually surrender, he had assured himself a place of honour and distinction in the history of freedom fighters of India who sacrificed their all in the long struggle.

Tribal communities have been an integral part of our civilisation. Jaravas in parts of Andaman are said to have ancient origins. It is imperative for us to establish an umbilical cord with them. Otherwise the pace at which the erosion of tribal culture is rampant we will have no tribal legacy left for our future generations. The makers of our Constitution were people of vision and foresight. By providing opportunities in education and empowerment for the tribal communities, the state has rightly indulged in positive upliftment of our tribal brethren. Late PA Sangma went on to become the Speaker of Lok Sabha. India needs more leaders from the community.

- Writers work with the India Foundation – an independent think tank in New Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal
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