IMMORTAL MARTYRS

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Location: Meghalaya




U Tirot Sing
After concluding the treaty of Yandabu in 1826, the British had control over the Brahmaputra valley. They had already occupied the Surma valley by becoming "Diwan" of Bengal in 1765. Now the British wanted a strategic road to link up these two valleys under their occupation. The construction of this strategic road was possible only through the Khasi Hills.

The Khasi Hills were also considered suitable for setting up sanatoria cantonment. The political agent of the British, David Scott approached U Tirot Sing, the King of Khadsawphra Syiemship for construction of the road project through his kingdom. David Scott promised U Tirot Sing that if the project was agreed upon, U Tirot Sing would be allowed complete control over Bordwar and that free trade would flourish along the proposed road.

U Tirot Sing convened a session of his Durbar in which the matter was debated for two days and two nights. David Scott who was invited to witness the proceedings was struck with the decency, decorum and the quality of the debate. When David Scott had given up all hope, the Durbar agreed to his proposals. Soon a British garrison with labourers for construction of the road was posted at Nongkhlaw.

News came that the British army at Guwahati and Sylhet had been reinforced. U Tirot Sing sensed the ulterior motive of the British to ultimately grab the entire hill territory lying between the Surma valley and the Brahmaputra valley. Alarmed by the eventuality, U Tirot Sing convened the Durbar and with its decision served a notice to the British to quit Nongkhlaw, but the British did not pay any heed.

U Kiang Nongbah
Raja Rajendra Singh of Jaintiapur, a Jaintia king was deprived of his kingdom through deceit. The British took away his territory in the plains, and he was left with the option to rule over his people in the hills, which offered little scope for earning revenue for running the administration. Hence he declined kingship. The British then offered rulership to the village headmen, Dolois and Sirdas. This worked well from 1835 to 1953, though the people secretly bore a grudge against the British. Then the British imposed a house-tax in 1860, which met with resentment and within a few months, the people rose in rebellion. But the same was easily put down, as the rebels were not organized.

Towards the close of 1860 income tax was also levied in addition to the house-tax. There was an apprehension in the air that tax would also be levied on betel and betel nut. Imposition of these taxes created turmoil amongst the Jaintias and they rose again in a fierce rebellion in 1862. The magnitude of the upsurge was so much that as many as seven regiments and detachments of troops were put into action to suppress it. Jowai, which was besieged by the rebels for about 3 weeks, was thus reoccupied amidst heavy casualties.

The leader and guiding spirit in this rebellion was a young man, U Kiang Nongbah. In the first rebellion he kept his identity secret and thus avoided arrest. He was extremely shrewd and a great organiser. He contacted all the Dolois and Sirdars without causing any suspicion. He managed to hoodwink the British Intelligence Service. They had no trace of his movements and activities. Yet, ultimately he was defeated because of the superior might of the British.

In the unequal fight that ensured, hundreds of Jaintias were killed and U Kiang Nongbah was betrayed, captured and hanged publicly to strike terror into the hearts of the Jaintias on December 30, 1862. When he was put to the gallows, he said, in a clear voice: "If my face turns eastward when I die on the rope, we shall be free again within a hundred years. If it turns westwards, we shall be enslaved forever". His prediction came true as India became free within a hundred years!

Pa Togan Sangma
In 1835, the British conquered the Jaintia kingdom. The Khasis were also subjugated a little later. In 1862, the fierce rebellion of the Jaintias led by U Kiang Nongbah was put down. Now the British wanted to establish their hegemony in the Garo Hills.

In December 1872, the British sent out battalions to Garo Hills to establish their control in the region. The attack was conducted from three sides - south, east and west. The Garo warriors confronted them at Rongrenggiri with their spears, swords and shields. The battle that ensured was unmatched, as the Garos did not have guns or mortars like the British Army.

Togan Sangma, a young man was in command of the valiant Garo warriors. He fell fighting with unmatched heroism and courage in December 1872.

Pa Togan Sangma is immortalised at the martyr's column in Shillong, where his name is enshrined along with U Tirot Sing and U Kiang Nongbah, the gallant heroes of the Khasis and Jaintias.




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