1782 Sylhet uprising
The Sylhet uprising of 1782 (Persian: شورش سریحت, romanized: Šūreše Srīḥat), also known as the Muharram Rebellion (Bengali: মুহররমের হাঙ্গামা, romanized: Muharram-er Haṅgama), took place in early December against the East India Company by the Sylheti Muslims led by the Pirzada of Sylhet and his two brothers, Syed Muhammad Hadi and Syed Muhammad Mahdi. It was one of the first ever anti-British movement in the Indian subcontinent. The main battle took place in the Mughal-built Sylhet Shahi Eidgah and its surrounding hills.
|1782 Sylhet uprising|
Site of the battle
|British East India Company||Sylheti Muslims|
|Commanders and leaders|
(Superintendent of Sylhet)
Syed Muhammad Hadi (Hada Miah)
Syed Muhammad Mahdi (Mada Miah)
|52 sepoys||301 (mostly civilians)|
|Casualties and losses|
1 sepoy killed |
6 sepoys injured
4 killed (including leaders) |
In 1778, the British East India Company appointed Robert Lindsay as the Supervisor or Collector of Sylhet. During his leadership, Lindsay started to trade chunam (limestone), rattan, betel nut and elephants found in the Sylhet region. This business of Lindsay's stirred hate throughout the region. Lindsay describes in his autobiography, Anecdotes of an Indian life, that during his visit to the Dargah of Shah Jalal, he sensed some danger and also perceived it as a "potential hotbed of resistance". During this period, Ashraf Ali Khan was the Nawab of Bengal under the crumbling Mughal Empire ruled by Shah Alam II and Warren Hastings was the Governor-General of the Presidency of Fort William.
In 1781, the region was afflicted with a major flood. Many farmlands and crops were damaged spreading famine throughout Sylhet. A third of the region's population died due to its effects. This increased hate between the two communities as the natives accused the British of failure in minimising the flood's consequences. It is said that Lindsay sent a letter to the government in Fort William to excise taxes during this period.
Lindsay mentions in his autobiography that he was approached by the native Hindus at his home in which he was informed of the uprising by the Muslims. The Hindus informed him that the Muslims planned an attack on the British government as well as some Hindu temples in Sylhet town. It is considered that this rivalry between the Hindus and Muslims existed due to the Hindus siding with British rather than helping the Muslims. Lindsay dismissed the Hindus as he could see no signs of riot and he was also aware that it was the Islamic month of Muharram in which the Muslims would be busy preparing for Ashura, which was just a few days away. Lindsay also mentions that it was uncommon for the Muslims to be violent.
The Sareqaum Syed family of Jhornar Par (near Kumarpara, Sylhet) was an influential family descended from one of Shah Jalal's closest disciples, Haji Sareqaum Yusuf Amanullah. Haji Yusuf was the appointed by Shah Jalal to be the first khadim (guardian) of Jalal's dargah and Yusuf's descendants, the Sareqaum family, continue to have this role. The Sareqaum family during this time were prominent across Bengal and Assam. The head of the family was the Pirzada.
আমরা কি ফিরিঙ্গিদের কুকুর যে তাদের হুকুম তামিল করবো?
Amra ki firingidēr kukur je tāder hukum tāmil korbō?
Are we the dogs of these firingis (foreigners), that we take orders from them?
আজ মারবার অথবা মরবার দিন
Aaj mārbār othobā morbār din
Today is the day to kill or to die,
ইংরেজ রাজত্ব আজ খতম
Ingrēz rajotto aaj khotom
The reign of the English is at an end
In the evening, the Pirzada led a tazia procession of 300 alongside his brothers, Syed Muhammad Hadi and Syed Muhammad Mahdi (known locally as Hada Miah & Mada Miah). Many local civilians of the Muslim faith were also present during this procession. The parade marched through the Shahi Eidgah in Sylhet. The Mourning of Muharram consisted of a matam as well, which is why blades and swords were carried to the grounds. In a letter to the government at Fort William, Lindsay mentions that the Muslims first killed Dewan Manik Chand in his house before setting many parts of the town to fire. The letter also mentions that both the Qanungo and Jamadar, who assisted Lindsay, were Muslims.
At 5 p.m., the Hindus returned to Lindsay's house where they showed their marks of attack on their body. However, it is unknown whether this true as other sources claim that the Hindus were not involved during the day as during that time the Muslims were scattering on top of the hills around the Eidgah instead of being situated in the lowlands where inhabitants lived. Lindsay then informed the Head Qanungo of Sylhet, Masud Bakht (son of Mahtab Khan) and told the Company Jamadar to ready 20 sepoys and go to the eidgah. Lindsay joined later on, marching with 30 more sepoys towards the eidgah, with some riding on horses. Armed with contingents, he ordered the rebels to surrender, however they fled towards the hills surrounding the field. This led to Lindsay and his men to attack the rebels and they followed them to the hills. Lindsay approached the Pirzada, ready for a swordfight. The Pirzada broke Lindsay's sword with his talwar. The jamadar quickly gave Lindsay his pistol. Lindsay then shot the Pirzada, causing him to pass away. The sepoys then discharged a platoon allowing Lindsay to then set off and leave the premise. As Lindsay was about to leave, he saw a wounded elderly man dropped on his feet after being attacked by a sepoy. Lindsay told the sepoy to stop as he picked the man back up and saved him.
Both Mada and Hada Miah also died with the latter being shot dead by Lindsay himself. Lindsay mentions that one of his sepoys died and 6 were left injured. The sepoy that died is said to have been the Jamadar himself. Lindsay mentions that 4 rebels died and many were injured.
After the incident took place, Lindsay took his wounded soldiers to his hall where his rope-maker, Job Hinton, stitched up their wounds and provided treatment. Lindsay also imprisoned many important Muslims from the town as hostages in his home. Nevertheless, this was short-lasted as one of Lindsay's men known as Beck and other Europeans requested their release fearing another revolt as they reported seeing Muslim men lighting torches and fires around the town. Lindsay sent another military force to the town, not because there was another revolt, rather the Muslims were burying their dead men and required light due to it being late at night. Hada and Mada Miah were buried next to Sylhet Shahi Eidgah at a place now located east of Nayasarak Madrasa and west of Nayasarak missionary church. Lindsay then issued a statement stating that rebels to the government should not be allowed to be honoured. He also notified the Governor of the Presidency of Fort William, Warren Hastings, of the event. Reinforcements of troops were considered in order to increase defence in the region in case of another rebellion, as two days remained of the Muharram festival which lasts for 10 days, ending at Ashura. Lindsay mentioned that although two days remained, he was not expecting any more trouble from the local people as main "desperadoes" were killed and the survivors had suffered too much.
This first uprising in the subcontinent inspired many others in the subcontinent. It also made the British rule even more unpopular in the Sylhet region, with the death of the Pirzada. A few months after the incident, Lindsay was having dinner his friend Hamilton. Lindsay's servant informed Lindsay that there was fakir who urgently desired to speak to him. The fakir then came inside and complained of how he had been robbed of all his belongings. As a short discussion took place, the fakir then suddenly took out a poignard from his cummerbund and striked Hamilton, who pushed it back to the fakir's chest. The fakir died a few days later.
After Lindsay's return to Scotland many years succeeding the conflict, he came across a Sylheti man named Saeed Ullah whilst visiting the house of his clergyman, Mr Small. After engaging in a conversation, Lindsay found out that Saeed came as an attendant of Mr Small's son, who was the ship purser. Saeed mentioned his intention to hunt down the Pirzada's killer and avenge his death. He was also the son of the old man whom Lindsay had saved. Upon finding out Lindsay's identity, Saeed drew his sword which Lindsay avoided. As the scene calmed down, the two men made peace and Lindsay obliged Saeed to make a curry for his family. Saeed agreed, although the Lindsay family were suspicious on whether the dish was poisonous as Saeed never tasted it once while preparing it. Lindsay denied this as he mentioned that he had never had a better curry in his life, and acknowledged the fact that Saeed only ate halal meat (dhabihah) which was the reason behind him not tasting it.
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- Ali Riaz (23 July 2013). Islam and Identity Politics Among British-Bangladeshis: A Leap of Faith. Manchester University. ISBN 0719089557.
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- Islam, Sirajul (2003). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
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- Ali Riaz (2013). Islam and Identity Politics Among British-Bangladeshis: A Leap of Faith. ISBN 0719089557.