Syed Mīr Nisār `Alī (27 January 1782 – 19 November 1831), better known as Titumir (Bengali: তিতুমীর), was a Bengali peasant-leader, who developed a strand of Muslim nationalism coupled with agrarian and political consciousness. He is famed for having built a large bamboo fort to resist the British, which passed onto Bengali folk legend. Although originating in West Bengal (present-day India), he is a celebrated figure in Bangladesh.
Syed Mir Nisar Ali
27 January 1782
|Died||19 November 1831(aged 49)|
Titumir was born on 27 January 1782 (14 Magh 1182), in the village of Chandpur (or Haidarpur, per some sources) to Syed Mir Hasan Ali and Abida Ruqayyah Khatun. The family claimed descent from Ali and were of an Arabic origin; Titumir's ancestor Saiyid Shahadat Ali had arrived in Bengal to preach Islam and his son, Saiyid Abdullah got the title of 'Mir Insaaf' after being appointed as the chief qadi of Jafarpur by the emperor of Delhi.
He was educated in a local madrassa and were a hafiz of the Qur'an, beside being accomplished in Bengali, Arabic, and Persian. He was also a good wrestler and gymnast, which led to an employment stint as bodyguard of a local Zamindar. Titumir was jailed on an occasion during his service and upon his release, in 1822, he left his job to embark upon a Hajj.
In Mecca, Titumir was influenced by Syed Ahmad Barelvi, a fundamentalist Islamic preacher, who advocated for Jihad to purge all non-Islamic corruptions from sociopolitical life and enforce Sharia.
Upon his return from Mecca, he began to mobilize the Muslim peasantry by aggressively preaching against deviating from Quran (regional Sufi-folkish practices such as veneration of Pir and erection of Dargah, charging interest on loans etc. were looked down upon), and asserting that the Zamindars (who were mostly, Hindu) were in cahoots with the Britishers to oppress their subjects. He also asked men to have beards with trimmed mustaches, women to wear burqas, and avoid meddling with those who did not abide by his calls.
The lowest classes of the Muslim society responded favorably; however his emphasis on Islamic fundamentalism meant that there was negligible support from Hindu peasantry. However, the Zamindar community, irrespective of religion, objected to his activities in unison.
Confrontation with zamindarsEdit
In June 1830, Krishnadeva Rai, Zamindar of Purha (var. Talukdar of Sarfarajpur) imposed an annual tax on all Muslim subjects having a beard, to isolate Titumir. On Titu's advice the peasants refused to pay and an enraged Krishnadeva led a bevy of armed men on a spree of arson, after destroying a local mosque. Reciprocal attacks were engaged in but the melee remained inconclusive; complaints were filed at the Baduria Police station by both sides and eventually, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Barasat dismissed the issue but only after getting a declaration from the peasants about committing to peace in near-future.
Buoyed up by the evident bias in the resolution of Krishnadeva's case, Ramnarayan Nag Chaudhuri (Zamindar of Taragonia) and Guru Prasad Chowdhury (Talukdar of Nagarpur) began implementing an oppressive tax-regime on their subjects, failing to pay which, led to imprisonment. The peasants organised themselves and sued the Zamindars but to little avail.
These failures led Titu to convert his socio-religious agitation into an aggressive political-economic class-struggle, wherein it was argued that the time was ripe for an all-out armed resistance against the nexus of Zamindars and British Authority.
Confrontations with the BritishEdit
Titu Mir shifted his base from Chandpur to Narkelberia, and began organising an armed militia. In October 1830, one of his declarations proclaimed him (and his followers) to be the natural sovereign of the country, who (rather than the British Authority) had an unilateral right of remittance on local revenues collected by Zamindars; a Muslim landholder was raided in the same month, upon disobeyal. On October 31, Titu Mir set to avenge Krishnadeva along with 300 armed followers; his residence was ransacked, establishments of money-lenders in the local market were set on fire, and a cow was sacrificed in front of a temple.
An alliance was soon formed between Zamindars and British Indigo planters to render mutual assistance in case of assaults by Titumir's militia; Kaliprasanna Mukherjee (Zamindar of Habra-Gobardanga) played a key role in the alliance and was soon targeted by Titumir for his illegal tax-regime. Despite being aided by about 200 men of Davies, manager of an Indigo plantation at Mollahati, Kaliprasanna's forces were defeated. Davies escaped narrowly and were sheltered by Debnath Roy (Zamindar of Gobra-Gobindapur); this led to a confrontation between Titumir's militia and Debnath's forces at Laughati in Nadia, where the latter was killed. Several Indigo plantations were subsequently set on fire.
The months of October and November were replete with such cases and the local police proved to be of little use in the face of increasing peasant resistance; many of the Zamindars fled to Kolkata. The Commissioner of Presidency Division was solicited to tackle the situation and accordingly, Alexander, the Joint Magistrate of Barasat (along with Ramram Chakraborti, Officer-In-Charge of Baduria Thana) set out with a force of 120 policemen on November 15, 1830. Outnumbered by a 500-strong militia, they were defeated; Alexander barely escaped to an adjacent village while Ramram (along with 14 others) were battle-casualties.
Titumir capitalized on the political vacuum and styled him as the Badshah of a large area around Narkelberia, commanding a following of thousands-strong Hindu and Muslim peasants. People loyal to him were installed in official positions (his nephew Golam Masum as the Senapati, a lower-class Muslim Mainduddin as the Wazir etc.), and the local Zamindars were compelled to either submit to his rule or vacate the land-holdings.
However, with passage of time, the prospects of an impending conflict with Company forces were inevitable, and he constructed a bamboo-fort (Banser Kella) at Narkelberia. On 17 November 1831, upon receiving instructions from Lord William Bentinck, the-then Governor General of India, Smith, the District Magistrate of Nadia moved towards Narkelberia with four other Magistrates accompanied by a 300 strong armed police force and armed private guards of Zamindars. Golam Masum was aware of this attack and outflanked Smith with a 500-strong militia at Baraghar, north-east of Narkelberia; Smith's forces fled to a planter-residence crossing the Icchamati and urged Lord Bentick to dispatch a military column.
On the evening of 18 November 1831, a military unit consisting of a cavalry unit and infantry unit (300 armed personnel + two cannons) led by Major Scott, Lieutenant Shakespeare, and Major Sutherland laid a siege on Titumir's fort. Nothing of significance transpired until the morning of 19 November 1831, when a concerted ammunition charge was mounted. The resistance was breached in about three hours, when the fort gave way to cannons.
Titumir was bayoneted to death, as were fifty fellow soldiers. About 800 others were arrested and trialed at Alipur Court; Golam Masum was hanged in front of the fort-ruins to set an example, and about 140 had to serve prison terms of varying lengths. The commanding officer of the British forces noted his opponent's bravery in dispatches, and also commented on the strength and resilience of bamboo as a material for fortification, since he had had to pound it with artillery for a surprisingly long time before it gave way.
The newspapers and journals run by Englishmen and Christian Missionaries took the Government-line. Samachar Chandrika, Reformer, Jnananveshan etc. sided with the Zamindars and denounced Titumir as a law-and-order nuisance.
A play-drama Titumir-er Basher Kella, directed by Sheikh Kamal was broadcast in 1967 on Bangladesh Television (then PTV); a graphic novel of the same name was also popular in East Pakistan. In Dhaka, Jinnah College was renamed to Government Titumir College in 1971. On 19 November 1992, the 161st anniversary of his death, the Government of Bangladesh issued a commemorative stamp in his honor. The principal base of Bangladesh Navy is named as 'BNS Titumir'.
- India (West Bengal)
Mahasweta Devi wrote a novella Titumir that sought to recover subaltern history. In 1978, Utpal Dutt directed an agitprop drama Titumir which critiqued the crude representation of Titumir in colonial historiography; it received critical acclaim and was commercially successful.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Titumir|
- Titumirer Bansher Kella (Bamboo Fort of Titumir, 1981) by Rabeya Khatun