U Tirot Sing was the king and the constitutional head (chiefs) or Syiems of Nongkhlaw(a village in Khasi hills). Due to his visionary leadership, the native people had great respect for him. He belonged to the Syiemlieh clan of the Khasi tribe.
British Entry in the Northeast India and the Guwahati to Sylhet Road Project
The British after the treaty of Yandaboo in 1826 with Burma were able to develop a strong base in the northeastern part of India and captured Assam (Surma Valley), Manipur, Rakhine, and the Taninthay coast south of the Salween River.
The British then decided to plant tea gardens in the captured areas and stationed British planters there. For the British, these territories were completely unexplored and soon they faced difficulty in communicating with their bases in Assam and Bengal region.
At that time David Scott was appointed as the political agent of the Governor-General of the Northeastern frontier. His primary aim was to establish a secure base to link the area from Assam to Bengal.
They decided to build a strategic road to link Guwahati (in Assam) with Sylhet( now in Bangladesh) via Khasi hills. Through this road, the British will be able to save their time as this was the fastest route to connect Assam to Bengal. David Scott then decided to meet U Tirot Sing for seeking permission for the construction of the road through his kingdom.
Initially, Scott promised free trade for the native people including complete control over Bordwar (passage to Assam) in the Meghalaya Assam border. Initially, the proposal looked advantageous for the Khasis as it will provide them access over the Passes (duars) in Assam, and as an intelligent and visionary King Tirot decided to present this proposal to his chiefs.
U Tirot Sing hold a DURBAR with the local chiefs which lasted for two days. There he presented the British model and after an intensive discussion among the chiefs, they granted them the permission of making the road through their kingdom.
Soon after this, the British did what they had already done to the rest of India winning native people’s confidence first and then subjugating them.
Hidden Motives of the British and U Tirot Sing’s Resistance to British Rule
The British started the construction of the road and posted their labors at Nongkhlaw. The construction work continued for almost 18 months. But soon after it the British started deploying reinforcement in Guwahati and Sylhet.
This gave U Tirot Sing the sense of hidden motive of the British. It is also believed that a Bengali peon told the native Khai’s people that the British were planning to levy taxes on them and subjugate them as soon as the road was completed.
Further, they stationed more troops in other posts of the Khasi Hills in the name of road construction. Balaram Singh who was the Raja of Ranee (another principality of Meghalaya) disputed with U Tirot Sing for the control of Bordwar. On December 1828 Tirot Sing marched towards Bordwar but the British soldiers blocked his way to proceed further.
Due to this, he was sure that the British had different motives besides the construction of the road. He immediately ordered the British to vacate Nongkhlow and stop the construction.
The British paid no attention to it and on 4 April 1829, the brave king of Nongkhlow declared war on the British invaders. They attacked the British post at Nongkhlaw and several British soldiers were killed including Lt Bedingfield and Lt Burlton. It is also believed that in this attack Scott narrowly escaped.
Hearing this the British immediately send their soldiers from Sylhet and Kamrup with artillery support. This led to the martyrdom of many Khasi soldiers who were courageously fighting with bows, swords, and spears against the sophisticated Britishers with guns.
Knowing that his army cannot match the firepower of the British U Tirot Sing along with other chiefs decided to use Guerilla warfare against the British.
4 Long years of Khasi Resistance to the British Rule
The Khasi warriors relentlessly attacked the British soldiers in small units. The Terrain of the region gave them the advantage over the British forces.
U Tirot Sing ordered his men to manufacture tribal weapons in secret caves. Several spies were also displaced to bring information about the British movements. The Khasi King conducted lethal night raids on the British outposts which created terror among the British who were posted in the Khasi hills. U Tirot Sing took refuge in the caves and planned his strategy from there.
Although heavily outnumbered U Tirot Sing and warriors didn’t give up and terrorized the British for 4 long years.
Unfortunately, U Tirot Sing was betrayed by a Khasi Chief. The chief (who betrayed Tirot Sing secretly) passed all the information about him to the British and soon after it, the Khasi King was captured on January 13, 1833.
Tirot Sing was shifted to Dhaka jail where he died in captivity on 17 July 1835.
Legacy of U Tirot Sing
To honor the brave U Tirot Sing 17 July is observed as Tirot Sing Day and a state holiday in Meghalaya. He is still widely remembered as a patriotic figure who stood against Foreign Rule for his homeland. The government of India released a postage stamp in his honor in the year 1988.
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