Monday, March 16, 2009

Rise and consolidation of British Power in Khasi Hills

Between the state of Jaintia and the Hills on the west occupied by Garos is a tract of mountain territory inhabitat by the Khasis. Before the advent of the British ,there were 30 states in the Khasi hills.Each state had an elected chief and each chief had a council without whose sanction no important business could be conducted.
The British first got acquinted with the Khasis in 1765 when the company acquired the Dewani of Synhets from the Mughals. With these acquisition ,the British became a close neighbour of the Khasis and they soon realise the potentialities of trading with them. Accordingly,the British started trade with the Khasis in item like Lime ,Iron ,Silk, Wax ,Ivory and Honey etc. very soon, the British came to monopolised trade in Lime Stone and with the discovery of coal, they began to monopolies trade in coal also. But, these trade was not free from disturbances. The Khasis often raided the plains due to the ill-treatment melted out to the Khasis trader by the traders from the plains. Again in 1823,the chief of Nongstoin claim that some of the lime quarries leased to Wright Englis belong to him, and if any of his neighbour were found working in the quarry ,they would be attack.
In November 1823,David Scott was appointed Agent to the Governor-General and he was entrusted with the responsibility of shaping and consolidating the companies and administration in the North-East frontier.The view expressed by Scott marked the inauguration of a new British policy with regard to the North-East.All these time the British were following a non -intervention policy with regard to the Khasis state.Scott's view was that for a permanent solution to the trade dispute , the British government must established control over all the Khasi Chief.The Government of Bengal Endorsed Scott's view's thus herelding a change of policy.
Scott realised the needs for maintaining good relations with the Khasis when the need for a postal service across from Synhet to Guwahati was urgently fell. Scott was also interested in building roads in the region along with a Sentitorium and Cantonment. Militarily, the proposedroad would reduce the lenght of the march from lower Assam to Synhet. It would also enable the British to keep the Khasi Chiefs under control and fasinitated trade and commerce by giving the Khasis easy access to the markets in the plains.
Scott first negotiated with Duwan Singh,Syiem of Sohra who agreed to allowed the British to construct a road through his territory connecting Assam with Synhet and in return he was to get a Zamindari near Pandua. But the deal was sheveled because Scott got Raja Ram Singh permission to construct a road through his Hima connecting Jaintiapur with Naogaon and the Raha by the Burmese. Scott now had to looked for a new route , he could think of at that time was a road form Bardwar to Synhet.
To achieve his objective Scott resorted to a policy of coersion and negotiation. He ordered the closure of the markets in the plains to Khasi's traders and stated that he would annex Bardwar in the plains which belong to the Syiem of Nongkhlaw. At the sametime, he indicated that a normal trade relationship would be maintained and Bardwar would remain a part of Hima Nongkhlaw provided the Syiem Tirot Singh permitted the East India Company to Construct his territory linking the Surma valley and the Bramaputra valley. Scott further asked Tirot Singh to get the consent of all the Khasi chief to give the company the right of passage as the road would further affect others areas beyond the jurisdiction of Nongkhlaw syiem.
Accordingly,Tirot Singh conveyed an assembly at Nongkhlaw and messages were sent to all the Khasi's Syiem's to attend the meeting. Scott and his men too were arrived at Nongkhlaw on 3rd November 1826, Scott was highly interested by the mode of Khasi sitting-at-council at by the strict observation of rules that guided and govern such sittings. Tirot singh explain the object of the meeting and requested the different orators to express their sentiments on the proposition of the British government. The debate on the issue lasted for two days and ended in favour of the proposition. The resolution of the assembly was embodied in a treaty which was concluded with the British government. Accordingly, to these treaty the Khasi's agreed to aid the British government in the construction of the road,furnish men and materials and donate lands for building residential Quarters. British protection followed as cordially. The trety also required the Syiem Tirot Singh to allowed free passage of the companies troops in his territory, to furnish materials and attain the repairing works in connection with the road and to place himself under British protection against a foreign enemy.
Soon, after the conference was disperse, cott ordered a survey of the road and construction work was started soon after. The road started from Ranigudam passing through Jirang, Nongkhlaw,Sohiong, Sohrarin, Sohra and crossing through the war -slopes . It terminates at Chatak in Synhet district.A small station was establish at Nongkhlaw with residential quartr. A company of sepoy's under British Lieutanants was place to supervise the construction and adequate provision for the work was furnish by Tirot singh. Even Kaksan Syiem, mother of Tirot singh, bore a special affection towards David Scott.Thus in the beginning ammicable relationship prevail.But Tirot singh soon realised that his agreement with the British was in nature of an alliance between a superior power and the Syiem of a petty state and not an alliance between equal powers.Many incident serve to demonstrate these fact.

The Dimarua a few miles from Guwahati was held by Khyrim as an appendage from the Ahoms but the actual management was in the hands of a subordinate chief who held his appointment from unpaid tribute to Khyrim.David Scott occupied Dimarua after the Burmese retreat and forbade the Syiem of Khyrim from colledting tribute for the chief. These angered Syiem Bormanick and emerge down to Dimarua to seize the revenue collected by the Revenue officer of the East India Company in 1828. He also appointed a Basan in that area and vow to return again the following year to collect the tribute. Scott decided to take action against Khyrim and he called upon the Jaintia Raja and other Khasi's Syiem's to aid the British against Khyrim.These led to tension among the Khasi Syiem's as they realised the imperialist design of the British.

Scott also did not keep his promise of restoring Bardwar to Tirot singh. Tirot singh was also disgusted with the refusal of the company to furnish him,military assistance against Balran singh, the Syiem of Rani, against whom Tirot singh and Bormanick ,Syiem of Khyrim had made a common stand. He told the revenue Superintendent of the Company at Bardwar,” Mr. Scott made friendship with me saying your enenmy is Companies enenmy and that he would relinguish the Bardwar revenue both in money and in paiks. He has not done it and has the wish to give troops to my enemy”. On these convince Tirot singh ,that the British would not honour any other terms of the Treaty in future. He now fully realized the danger of the agreement ,he made with the company for the road construction. Knowing that it would appear upward if he suddenly stop the construction , he waited for a better oppourtinity to oppose it without actually breaking the treaty.
Again the high handedness of the military at Nongkhlaw ,there they harash the poor inhabitant and other misdeeds eventually sowed the seed of mistrust and hostility in the heart of the Khasi’s. Many of them were not informed of the road construction and some Headmen complain to Tirot singh that their opinion was neglected in these important matter. They also realized that British imperialism was taking grip over the hills and a rumour was floated that the British would levied taxes on the Khasis. All these combine to bring about a general discontentment and a manice and made the conflict between the Khasis and the British inevitable.
Early in 1829,Tirot singh made plans to expel the aliens from the country.He consider himself no longer bound by the treaty and threw his lot with Bormanick and other chief’s against the British.On 1st April 1829, a conference of Khasis Syiems was held at Nongkhlaw wherein it was decided to drive out the British from their land. The plan was a general massacres of all aliens at Nongkhlaw and the destruction of the companies post. The following day the plan was put into action , the Companies gruesome at Nongkhlaw was attack and Lt.Bedingfeild and Burlton of the Bengal Artillery along with several of the Companies men were killed. Scott who happen to be in Nongkhlaw at the time of conference , however, manage to escape to Sohra and then to Cherra. From Cherra, Scott send a message to the authorities at Synhet and Guwahati and , Captain Lister at once set out for the hills. From Guwahati, Lt.Betch proceeded to Nongkhlaw to deal with the rebels
Thus the Anglo-Khasi war begin. It was the conflict of Patriotism against Imperialism ,between Justice and Injustice, a conflict which represent the Universal love for freedom , peace, harmony and friendship without racial discrimination.

The Nongkhlaw incident started off a wide spread movement all over the Khasi hills to free the land from the foreign power. The initial impact of the movement was that it brought unity among the Khasi Syiems in a move to oust the British from the land, all differences being set aside in the face of an external threat. By depriving the Khasis ,the right to use the Duars in their economics transaction , Scott under-estimated the ability of the Khasis to unite against the company.he ignored the growing resentment exhibited by the people against the construction of the road and the British presence in the hills. His refusal to acknowledge Syiem Bormanick’s claim to the Dirmarua and the levy of taxes on him when he sent his men to collect the revenues further anatagonised the Khasis .Gradually, other Syiems began to realized the true nature of the company and apprehending the danger to the independence of their Kingdom, they gave their full support to Tirot singh . Chief among them were the Syiems of Myriaw, Jirang, Rambrai, Mawsynram,Bhowal, Nongpoh, Maharam , Mawieng and other petty units. Messangers were sent to Jaintia hills, Bhutan , the Ahomking Chandrakhanta and to the Singpho’s to solicits their help to oust the British.The Khasi’s states remaining neutral were Cherrapunjee,Khyriem,Langrin,Nongspung and Nongstoin. Except for U Duwan singh of Cherra who was a cluster allies of the East India Company, the neutral state remain as mute spectators to the incidents. The military regiments of the company were composed of Gorkhas, Sikhs, Manipur and the Assam corps. From time to time ,military contingent were dispatch from Synhet and Golpara district

The movement was launch in the first week of April 1829, began with a set back for the Khasis . The entire strategy of the operation was to capture David Scott and his men but Scott manage to escape from Nongkhlaw at the behest pf an inside informer- Ka Ksang Syiem, the mother of Tirot singh. However, Tirot singh and his associates put up a stiff resistance against the British and succeded in killing , along the outsiders, the two British officers station in Nongkhlaw- Lt.Bedingfeild and Burlton. He then, advance to Cherra to apprehend Scott who was hiding in the court of Diwan singh but once again Scott is kept in Synhet from where he sent large re-inforcement to put off the Khasi attack.
War broke out on two front _Kamrup and Synhet of the Khasi Border and continued for many months.Both sides suffered heavy casualties but the Company with its large army and superior arms got the better of the hill men . The Synhet Light Infantry under Captain. Lister quickly established control over the southern hills. From here he worked his way towards Tirot singh’s state over-running village after village on the way and destroyed many hearths and homes.
The stiff resistance offered by the British led Tirot singh and his men to device a new stratergy of grullera welfare where surprise attacks and raids were made on the enemy. To counter these offensive Scott formulated a plan to break the unity of the Khasi. Having got Duwan singh of Cherra as a strong ally against Tirot singh, he worked out a scheme where agents were to various states offering peace treaties to their rulers. The scheme worked , some Syiems, anxious to save their kingdoms from being destroyed by the companies men , sign treaties of friendship with the British Authoritiesby which they tender their political allegiance to the British; some of them agree to pay indemnities , others surrenders their economy where some ceded part of their territories to the British and subjected themselves to their rule.
These development did not deter Tirot singh who continued his struggle and ransacked a number of British outpost. Seeing his determination, Scott sought for reconciliation but Tirot singh , distrusted the British and did not relent. The war went on with both parites asopting new strategies and devising new measures. While the Khasi took steps to re-inforce their military organisation by making new recruitments, training in warfare and espionages and enlisting the support of frienly states within and outside the Khasi hills. The British resorted to sowing seeds of dissention in the Khasi camp and imposing economic blockage to compel the hill men to surrender. But nothing could quench the flame of the movement . In the course of the movement, Scott died of illness in Cherra in 1831. Fighting went on till 1833 when Tirot singh seeing the damage cause by the war to their economy and the sufferings of the people decided to accept the British offered for a settlement . Also some of the indepent state like Khyrim, Longrin , Nongspung and Nongstoin under the British pressure, used their influence on Tirot singh to accept the British offer of truce.

While negatiation were going on for a settlement , Tirot singh was tricked by the British and arrested. He was taken to Cherra and tried according to British law but considering the faith which Khasi’s bestowed on him and the genius with which he manage the whole operation against them, the British authorities tried to retain Tirot singh as Syiem of Nongkhlaw on the condition that he accepted British over-lordship but Tirot singh who valued his independence and the freedom of his homeland more than anything else refuse the British offer. He was sent into exile to Dacca jail where he died as a political prisoner.
With the capture of Tirot singh, the British took rapid steps to complete the annexation of the Khasi hills. The company put itself to administration, concentration and consolidation of power. Cherrapunjee became the sit of the Government where the political agent to the Governor-General was station. He was incharge of the relations between the Company and the Khasi states. The area which took an active part in the uprising were punish.They were asked to pay heavy tribute but later these measure was withdrawn. Some small villages were confiscated from the native rulers and annex to the British dormain. Nongspung, Khyrim, Nongstoin,Langrin and Cherrapunjee were recognized as Independent states under the company while other states were recognized as semi-independent . On 29th March 1834, Rajan singh was install as Raja of Nongkhlaw and he allowed the British government to construct the road across his territory and supply labour and materials as required.
In 1836, another movement agains the British tok place under Syiem Sngap of Maram who resisted the British occupation of their land. The agitation lasted till 1839, when the British with its surerior force compel the Maram Syiem to surrender.
Thus the British became the Paramount power in the Khasi hill.Capt. Lister was appointed political agent over village directly under British control,he was empowered to exercise magisterial functions. The chiefs were allowed to retain entire jurisdiction within their own limits,only they have to submit to the General Superintendent of the Political agent. In the case of restore chiefs and independent chiefs , the Political agent was specially forbidden to interfere further than he was entitle to do politicallu. But since the powers of the Political agent were not clearly define , he was allowed to correspondent directly with the Governor-General on political matter. Thus, we find that though on paper every possible care was taken to retain the independence of the Khasi chief and though originally a separate status was observed with regard to the Independent states gradually the line of distinction wasobliterated and all the Khasi states sank into the position of dependent principalities.


The Khasi war of liberty left a deep scar on the Khasi society. The movement changes the whole political scene of the Khasis. The unity that emerge among the Khasis were temporary; it could not with stand the political tactics employed by the British in their thirst for territorial and economic expansion. One Khasi Syiem after another was won over by the British and compel to sign a treaties of loyalty with the company acknowledging their subservience. That was why a statesmen of the stature of Tirot singh was put down by the foreign force. The movement produce warriors of the caliber of Warmaniae, Mukin of Mawsmai, Lorshon Jarain, Monbhut, Jidor singh who brought out the best in Khasi patriotism but none of them could sustain the swords of the enemy.
Another important outcome of the war was the erosion of the power of the Syiems. Through the treaties of loyalty sign by them with the British authorities, many of them surrendered their political power to the government and subjected themselves to its supremacy. In 1859, the government promulgated Sunnader as a lincience at the investiture of the Syiem. Through its provisions the government could acquire land for military and civil purpose and could transfer free land and waste land into government land. The ultimate power of the Sunnader was that if had the right to remove any Syiem from the office if he failed to satisfy the authorities. After independence the power of the Syiems was further reduce. He became dependent on an elected body for the District Council.
The movement also affected the economy of the land. The Khasi economy suffered a serious set back as a results of the tide economy measures adopted by the British. Even after the war ended , the Khasis could not restore their economy due to the monopolistic hold of the British.
The movement had its repercussions on the social life of the people. For the first time, the Khasis came into direct contact with a foreign ulture and were quick to absorb it. When the Missionaries came to the hills to propagate Christianity, it easily found a large following. Christianity brought with it Western education which accelerated the pace of modernization among the Khasis


steven said...

i read my history with great pride and felt saddened that with such great rulers in the past that we had the society that i live in is even no worse than the times of the british occupation.i salute the bravery of king tirot singh.may his name live on forever and pray that one day another son be born to fight colonial indian rule in the khasi hills

Eddie Moore said...

when the foreign ruler the "British Empire" left India with more than a century of struggle by the the indigenous people all over the land, what I could see now, that we are still living in bondage by simply replacing the colour of the white skin does not make us free, the British ideology still prevail, the Indian government did not return our land which the Britisher took and in spite suppress our people and when we demands our rights by peaceful means, they close their eyes and their ears.
For us to get our rights back, our land back we have to march the streets, when we do so they send armed forces to to killed and wounded our innocent people, and when we rise to fight against their adamant behavior they term us as terrorist, and a bunch of motivated thieves.
They divided us, they plan seeds of dis-unity amongst our people, they sent thier mighty forces to our own land, they spilled the blood of our people in our own soil.
so when we are fallen down they could easily cut our trees, dig our coal mines, limes stones, uranium, water resources and finally they get our women, filled our town and villages with their illigitimate child.
our genearation young boys are fatherless and they indulge in crimes and girls are turn to toys for quenching thier lust.
so that we cannot stand up to them and fight.
To the Britisher, U Syiem Tirot Sing, Subhash ch Bose, Mohandas K Gandhi, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Shivaji, were terrorist but to every true Indians they are our heroes.
Do we still have our heroes today to defy the corrupted Government with the same British ideology.
Do Heroes and Heroins still in your blood, or you have submitted your self to the spirit of slumberness, complecency or fear has gripped you.
If you want to chant the names of your martyr, you must be a Martyr yourself.


ameya said...

True integration of India is still remaining. I feel sad when attitude of Indian Government is callous to the plight of our North-Eastern brothers and sisters. United we have to stand, bury our differences and move towards building utopian Indian Dream.
I know all the things are easier said than done, but we as a people have to establish a common cause. We have to build the bridges of trust and fraternity when politicians are often using strategies of divide and rule.