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Tirot Singh: The Unsung Hero of North-East India

Tirot Singh was popularly known as U Tirot Singh Syiem. He was the legendary freedom fighter from the state of Meghalaya. He was one of the leaders of the Khasi people. He fought against British rules to take possession of the Khasi Hills in the early eighteen century. He was the Syiem or chief of Nongkhlaw, a part of Khasi Hills. His last name was Syiem. He was a statutory head sharing corporate authority with his Council. He was the representative of leading tribes within his territory.

Maybe he is unknown to the rest of the country and one of the unsung heroes of the country, but he was the first freedom fighter who opposed the colonial rules from North-East India. He was a brave and courageous leader who struggled and fought for his people. He tried to save Khasi Hills from British rule. He was determined not to give his land in the hand of the British. He started the battle against the British in 1829 and continued till the last day of his life. He was the first Khasi leader who raised the sword against the British. He was the head of the administrative power of the Khasi Hills. He was the leader in his Durbar or court, and there were other leaders of the several tribes. They discussed every issue in the court or Durbar, and then they decided on war.

When the Treaty of Yandabo was signed in 1826, the British already had extended control over the Brahmaputra valley or Sylhet. Khasi Hills was situated between Sylhet and the newly acquired Lower Assam. The British were interested in the Khasi Hills to control the region. British made a plan, and they wanted to build a road through this area to connect Guwahati with Sylhet to save travel time and establish better control of the region. Their intentions were simple; they were spreading their colonial rules slowly. U Tirot Singh was interested in recapturing Duarsin’s return of the issuing permission for the road project. His intention was understood by the agent to the British Governor-General of the Nothern Territory, David Scott. The British were interested in negotiating with Tirot Singh. After two court sessions, the assembly members agreed to the British proposal.

At last, the work of the road was started. But Balaram Singh, Raja of Ranee, disagreed with the claim of U Tirot Singh about Duarsand challenging him. He claimed that Duars was in his territory. Then Tirot Singh went with his armed troop to establish his claim in December 1828. Tirot Singh was confident that he would get support from British rulers. Unfortunately British had their plan. A group of British sepoys blocked his route. Tirot Singh received the news that the British were strengthening their forces in Assam. U TirotSinghagain organized the meeting at the court. They passed the order that they wanted the British to evacuate Nongkhlaw immediately. But the British ignored his order and continued their work of making roads. That was why on 4 April 1829, Khasis attacked the British base camp in Nongkhlaw. They killed two British officers, and after that British were furious. They were planning for revenge. British arranged immediate military operations against U Tirot Singh and other leaders of the Khasi. They gathered forces with powerful arms.

In the Anglo-Khasi war, the Khasis were weaker than the British. Khasis used primary weapons like swords, shields, sharp knives, bows and arrows. They didn’t have any firearms like guns or bombs. Soon Khasi forces realized that they couldn’t continue this war openly against the powerful British armed forces. British were firing from a distance and killed Khasi men easily. Then Khasi troops started the guerrilla war. They understood that native weapons couldn’t stand before these potentially firing arms. This war continued for four years. U Tirot Singh and his team continued this war with their native weapons like swords and shields. But he was injured by the British army’s gunshot and hid in a cave.

At last, he was captured by the British army in 1833. He was deported to Dhaka. A chief of Khasi disclosed his hidden information. He was bribed with gold coins for disclosing the location of U Tirot Singh. At last, U Tirot Singh died on 17 July 1835. Meghalaya remembered his death anniversary every year as a state holiday.

He was one of the pioneers of North-East India who started a war against the British. He opposed British rule in the Khasi Hills. But unfortunately, his name is not mentioned in any history book. 90 percent of Indian people don’t know his name as the great freedom fighter. He was one of the unsung North-Eastern heroes of India. But he opposed colonial rules at a time when people were not aware of the consequences of the British rules. He understood the British rulers’ motto and started a war against them named Anglo- the Khasi War. He was a brave and courageous leader of the Khasi people who fought against the powerful armed forces with some native weapons like swords, shields, Sharp knives and bows and arrows.

Meghalaya got its first animated movie on the life and struggle of legendary Khasi leader and freedom fighter U Tirot Singh Syiem. Its name is “U Syiem”. Few young film fans made this effort. The film is one hour long and was made under the banner of the Cosmic Clusters at the price of thirty-two lakhs. The director and the writer of the movie is Ban Casper Mawlong. He once said that this was the first animated film of Meghalaya and for the North –East. It is based on stories of the legendary freedom fighter U Tirot Singh’s life. It is to give tribute to the great leader.

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