History of the *Bijnor* Rebellion (1858)
CHAPTER III -- Nawab Mahmud Khan's Relations with Hindu Landlords
1) More Pressure by Ahmad Allah Khan on Umrao Singh, and a Request for Lakhs of Rupees
On this very day, that is on July 28, the people who had set out for Bijnor to strive for a compromise, reached Tajpur. In Sherkot, meanwhile, Ahmad Allah Khan made such an additional demand for payment of the outstanding debts that at first, the Chaudhris did promise something. When their offer was rejected they then agreed to give some cash; when this, too, proved unacceptable, they decided to give all the money in one lump sum. This money was taken from the village fortress on elephants. However, it was not brought to Ahmad Allah Khan, because they calculated that the money would be wasted as an effort to preserve the peace.
The present is a good time to make the point that Mahmud Khan and his agents possessed no authority or title to collect the balances due on land revenue. For this very reason, this permission was not included in the authority he had received from the Collector. Its terms had been drawn up with this reasoning in mind: that if Mahmud Khan were to carry out his administrative duties with good will and in an obedient spirit as a well-wisher of the government, then the cash money left behind in the treasury would be enough for him. If, therefore, Chaudhri Umrao Singh had gone so far as to refuse to pay the arrears, then this still would not be in the least improper on his part. In short, then, we find Ahmad Allah Khan still intent on violence, even when the Chaudhris were about to pay off the balances due. All this must stand as transparent proof that Ahmad Allah Khan's intention was evil, and that the policy of antagonizing the Chaudhris had his full approval.
2) First Fighting in Sherkot
On this very day, Chaudhri Umrao Singh sent his paternal uncle, Ghasa Singh, with a message of peace. Ahmad Allah Khan replied to this gesture by arresting the uncle on the spot. With no compromise in the offing, tension grew apace, until the moment of actual fighting came. Chaudhri Umrao Singh was beseiged in his village fortress together with about four hundred soldiers, mostly musketeers, and considerable supplies, including ammunition. Ahmad Allah Khan fired his artillery at the residence of Chaudhri Shivraj Singh and Lachman Singh, zamindars of Sherkot. With the support of some residents of the Kotrah quarter, Mareh joined in the attack at the same time. The residence of the zamindars was looted. Shivraj Singh, who was the maternal uncle of the Chaudhris of Haldaur, was killed, together with his wife and daughter-in-law. Fatah Chand Makhanlal was also robbed; he was killed along with some of his men. Many houses were set alight, and many Hindus and some women were killed. When the fortress came under attack, the musketeers inside responded with heavy fire that did considerable damage to Ahmad Allah Khan's force. Basant Singh was burned at about four o'clock when.a small amount of gunpowder was set alight near him. Firing ceased at evening.
3) Departure of Lala Mathra Das to Tajpur for a Settlement
We heard in Bijnor that sparks from the matchlock of a musket had fallen by accident into the powder. Perhaps this is so, but Chaudhri Umrao Singh told us later in Meerut that Nabi Bakhsh, his servant, had deliberately started the fire. If this had been the case, however, then he would have set alight a very large stock of gunpowder. In any event, most of the Chaudhri's servants, who were also inhabitants of the Kotra quarter, fled in the night after conspiring with Mareh. Their defection set off a great commotion in the fortress. The news reached Bijnor on the twenty-ninth, and Mahmud Khan at once proposed to send Mathra Das to Tajpur to reach a compromise. Accordingly, he left Bijnor the same night for Tajpur.
4) Flight from the Fortress of Chaudhri Umrao Singh and the Arrest of Basant Singh
Mahmud Khan showed "praiseworthy acumen" in his choice of persons to send to settle these differences. They were an example of the "wonderous excellence and affection" of Mahmud Khan. Chaudhris Nain Singh and Jodh Singh, for example, were two persons who were ready to fight with Mahmud Khan right there and then, since a deep desire for revenge was in their hearts. And Mathra Das was the man whose son had been put under guard and constantly harrassed by the Nawab. In short, Mathra Das had still not reached Tajpur when Chaudhri Umrao Singh fled from his fortress on the same day -- that is, July 29, 1857 -- to reach the same place. During this commotion his women, too, went into hiding in a village. But Chaudhri Basant Singh, being incapacitated, was hiding in some secret place in the Kotra quarter, where Ahmad Allah Khan arrested him.
Ahmad Allah Khan entered the fortress. Volleys of victory and drumrolls of congratulation sounded. It is well known that when Ahmad Allah Khan entered the fort, the temple which stood nearby was also damaged. When he was informed of this damage, Ahmad Allah Khan thought it expedient to put a guard on the temple to protect it from further damage and thus avert a fresh outbreak of violence. The arrogance of Ahmad Allah Khan and of "Nawab Mareh Khan Bahadur" waxed in the wake of this victory. Mahmud Khan greatly rejoiced when this news came to Bijnor on July 30, the very day when Lala Mathra Das reached Tajpur.
Everything in the fortress came into Ahmad Allah Khan's possession -- ammunition, weapons, rations, and equipment. It is surmised that the money and jewelry of Chaudhri Umrao Singh that had been kept in the fortress for safekeeping must also have come into Ahmad Allah Khan's hands, since he stayed undisturbed in the fortress for several days in order to load his elephants with cash and goods to be sent to Najibabad. Chaudhri Umrao Singh later told us the same story; however, there are some reliable people who say that Ahmad Allah Khan did make a search, but was only able to take the things that were visible on the surface -- goods, cash, and grain -- while the old treasure that had been buried in secret outside the fortress in bastions and houses was spared. Of course, the facts are such that only Chaudhri Umrao Singh can know the truth.
5) The Chaudhris Ready to Resist Ahmad Allah Khan
The Chaudhris held a round of discussions amongst themselves, in view of their overriding concern at this heavy blow against one of the leading men of the District. With one voice, they agreed to make an effort to take back the fortress from Ahmad Allah Khan, and to mobilize their men at Dhampur. On July 31, 1857 the following leaders banded together: Chaudhri Randhir Singh and Chaudhri Budh Singh, Rais-es of Haldaur, with two artillery pieces; Chaudhri Pratab Singh with a jezail; and the Chaudhris of Kant with an artillery piece. In one village after another, the drums were sounded to mobilize the population; this call to mobilize was heard everywhere in the District. As hostages for Ghasa Singh and Basant Singh, the Chaudhris seized Nadir Shah Khan, Hasan Raza Khan, and Sabit Ali Khan, who were relatives of Mahmud Khan and his agents at Dhampur. At the same time they killed two sowars of the Nawab.
The Nawab was in a tight corner as a result of this mobilization. His men were being seized and killed wherever they went. Some of his soldiers were killed in the village of Nangal. Some of his letters that had been dispatched to Ahmad Allah Khan were also taken. I saw in Chaudhri Umrao Singh's possession an authentic letter sent by Mahmud Khan from Bijnor, and another equally authentic letter of Azmat Allah Khan. I write at this point the exact texts of the sentences in these letters that deal with this contest:
6) Selection from a Signed Letter of Mahmud Khan
Dated July 31, 1857, Afternoon7) Selections from a Seized Letter Written by Azmat Allah Khan (Undated)
It is known from those coming from Sherkot that you, the light of my eyes, have sent Ghasa Singh for Umrao Singh. The matter can be put in this way: the effects in the fortress can be seized without exception when it has been taken after resistance and casualties. Also well known from former times is the rule that a man pledges his life for his wife and land. God Almighty has given you the fortress with its effects and money. You ought to re-establish your authority and not concern yourself about the mischief-makers. God Almighty will now reward you even more.8) The Reason that Enmity became Established between Hindus and Muslims
Before this fighting there had never been a dispute, nor feelings of hatred, nor even a religious altercation, between Hindus and Muslims of this District. On the contrary, Muslim servants prevailed in numbers in the houses of the Chaudhris. Hindus were employed in the same way, as soldiers, etc. at the Nawab's palace. However, in this fighting, the growth of hatred between Hindus and Muslims became more and more unavoidable. On the one side there was the group of Hindu leaders, while there was the group of Muslim leaders on the other side. To the extent that the Hindus reinforced their position, it was unavoidable that this new support was exclusively Hindu. The same happened for the Nawab; the support which he brought together was all Muslim. So it was that the growth of the dispute between Hindus and Muslims became unavoidable. Besides this factor, events had been continually taking place which led to an increase in religious hatred. For example, the Hindu temples in Sherkot were damaged by Muslims, while in Chittawar and Sowaheri, Hindus damaged the mosques. Also, Hindus singled out Muslims for killing, or Hindus were singled out for killing by Muslims. The whole story will appear in what is to follow.
This hatred grew so intense that it proved impossible to rescue Hindus whenever the Muslims had the upper hand, or to rescue Muslims whenever the Hindus had the upper hand. This hatred became so bitter that no one could put any credence in what Muslims said about Hindus, and vice versa. It became extremely difficult to obtain a true account of the situation in the District -- that is, an account that might be free of malice. I can say that Chaudhri Budh Singh's intentions had appeared quite good up to the first battle of Haldaur, and that he sincerely wanted peace in the District. Nonetheless, while we were there, Hindus attacked the mosque in Haldaur in order to destroy it. Chaudhri Budh Singh himself went to the spot to end the disturbance. Chaudhri Budh Singh's good intentions up to that time will also be clear in the account which I will give.
9) Arrival of the Royal Decree of Mir Sadiq Ali and Rustam Ali Rais of Chandpur
Events were proceeding at Dhampur and Sherkot in the manner we are relating. At Chandpur, however, the folly of Mir Rustam Ali and Sadiq Ali created another kind of disturbance. They received an answer to the petition which they had sent to the King of Delhi. They were overjoyed. The text of the farman is as follows:
"Copy of the Imperial Farman dated Dhil al-Haj 5, twenty-first year of the Reign, corresponding to July 27, 1854. Sayadat panah, Najabat dastagah Sayyid Rustam Ali and Sayyid Sadiq Ali, who deserve high honors, should know: Their letter of application was received by the Imperial Majesty, and it disclosed to him their affairs; and the destruction of the villages and hamlets and of Chandpur; and the general conditions of oppression and destruction prevalent there; and their desire to obtain Imperial support and help, and specifically to hire new soldiers, mounted and foot, and to collect the revenue from the agricultural land in order to pay the salaries of the employees. Since the elimination of lawlessness and the breach of peace is desired by us, so that comfort be given to the citizens, it is hereby firmly ordered that you may hire a few mounted and foot soldiers according to your needs. You should also try to gain the collaboration of number-dars [village revenue collectors], qanungos [officer dealing with revenue laws], patwaris [village accountants], and other respectable citizens. You should spare no efforts to establish the administration so that no powerful individual would dare to oppress and terrorize the weaker, and so that the arrears of revenues may be easily collected and the cultivator may be encouraged to increase his agricultural produce.Rustam Ali and Sadiq Ali are full brothers. It would be the height of nonsense to go so far as to call Sadiq Ali a sensible man, and Rustam Ali is a complete simpleton. He had no connection at all with these matters; we could even extend this assertion to include domestic affairs. Whatever he does is really done by Sadiq Ali. These people belong to the Barha Sayyids and descend from Sayyid Mahmud, who received the post in Akbar's reign at the royal court. Before his coronation Shah Jahan made Shuja'at Khan, his [[=Sayyid Mahmud's]] successor, a great amir [noble] and close friend. To honor his patron, Shuja'at Khan founded Jahanabad, still to be found on the Ganges. His grave, too, is located in that very place. Shuja'at Khan took Jahangir's side in the latter's conflict with Shah Jahan. Therefore, his status declined in the reign of Shah Jahan. Having built up zamindari and taluqdari estates in the District, he and his descendants settled at Chandpur. To this day they posses zamindari holdings in several villages and are called Rais./1/
10) Copy of Nadir Shah Khan's Undated Letter Sent as a Peace Message by the Hand of Ghasa Singh
Chaudhri Sahib: You who are kind and compassionate to all sincere persons. May God protect you! Your letter came, and the situation was understood. One Ghasa Singh has been sent to you, as promised. Infinite consideration has been shown to the Hindus. The utmost has been done to satisfy Basant Singh. His rents and the whole of his property and effects have been turned over to him. Two villages have been granted to him as estate to make up for the damage to him. Out of the terms of our promise there remains to be arranged the departure of one who is at Najibabad with Ahmad Allah Khan. He is so hemmed in that all you sahibs should disperse to your individual places so that the roads may be clear. Then he too will depart.11) Background of Nadir Khan
Nadir Shah lived in Rampur or Moradabad. Ahmad Allah Khan used to speak of him as a distant relative. He served for some time as a risaldar [noncommissioned officer] in a government regiment. Experienced and crafty, he took leave from the Multan Regiment in order to reach the mutiny that took place in Bijnor after the Collector had gone away. The Nawab employed him. He fled from Sherkot after Ahmad Allah Khan's defeat and nobody saw him again thereafter.
12) Second Fight at Sherkot and Defeat of Ahmad Allah Khan
The Chaudhris then released Sabit Ali Khan, whom they had held in custody, as a gesture to keep the peace and to secure the release of Chaudhri Basant Singh. The latter was able to return in a palanquin to join up with the Chaudhris' camp. Immediately upon Basant Singh's reaching them -- that is, on August 5, 1857 -- fighting broke out. Ahmad Allah Khan was beseiged at the outset in the same way he had beseiged his innocent opponents a few days previously. A part of his men stayed outside where the field of battle heated up.
Looting and arson began in Sherkot. The Kotra quarter was completely destroyed. Many Muslim men, and also some women, were killed. One of Ahmad Allah Khan's artillery pieces burst; another fell off its carriage. Despite these setbacks, those of his troopers who were British-trained behaved manfully. The Chaudhris also fought well. In the end, Ahmad Allah Khah's man were beaten. They gave up the field to the Chaudhris. Fighting ceased that day with Ahmad Allah Khan beseiged in the fortress. During the night, Ahmad Allah Khan made good his escape with some of his men, going to Najibabad by way of Nagina, after loading his broken artillery pieces on an elephant. The victorious Hindu landlords then took over the fortress.
13) Attack by Maharaj Singh on Bijnor
On this very day -- that is, on August 5, 1857 -- Chaudhri Maharaj Singh
of Haldaur, who was then at Haldaur in alliance with Chaudhri Nain Singh
and Chaudhri Jodh Singh Rais of Bijnor, who had come from Dhampur by way
of Haldaur to Jehalar, decided to attack Mahmud Khan in Bijnor. They set
out from Haldaur at night. At 5:30 AM on August 6, 1857 they arrived suddently
before Bijnor with a force that included an artillery piece, several jezails,
and about 4,000 men. The noise of their kettle-drums and tabors reached
the city, and their banners could be seen from the tops of tall buildings.
A nautch [dance] was in progress at this hour at Mahmud Khan's residence.
He started up from this dream of carelessness to ask each person, "What
is this? Who is this? And why are they coming?" How sad that I was not
present to reply, "Your Highness, you are about to be enlightened!"
/1/ Sir Sayyid's biographer relates the reasons why he refused the grant of these properties as a reward for his services: Maulana Altaf Husain Hali, Hayat-i Jawid (Lahore, 1966), pp. 116-117.