Syed Mir Nisar Ali
27 January 1782
|Died||19 November 1831 49)(aged|
|Islam in Bangladesh|
Syed Mir Nisar Ali (27 January 1782 – 19 November 1831), better known as Titumir (Bengali : তিতুমীর), was a Bengali revolutionary, 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.
Titumir was born as "Syed Mīr Nisār ʿAlī" on 27 January 1782 (14 Magh 1182), in the village of Chandpur — or Haidarpur, per some sources — to Syed Mir Hasan Ali and Abidah Ruqayyah Khatun.The family claimed an Arabic ancestry, tracing their descent from Caliph Ali; Syed Shahadat Ali had migrated to Bengal to preach Islam and his son, Syed Abdullah was appointed as the Chief Qadi of Jafarpur by the Emperor of Delhi.
Titumir was educated in a local madrassa where he became a hafiz of the Quran by the age of twenty, beside being accomplished in Bengali, Arabic, and Persian.A good wrestler and gymnast, he served as the bodyguard of a local zamindar for some time. However, Titumir was jailed on account of a conflict and upon release, in 1822, left his job to embark upon Hajj .
In Mecca, Titumir was influenced by Syed Ahmad Barelvi, an Indian Islamic revivalist preacher, who advocated for Jihad to purge all non-Islamic corruptions and accretions from sociopolitical life and enforce Sharia.
Upon return from Mecca, he began to mobilize the Muslim peasantry by preaching against deviations from the Quran — veneration of pirs, construction of dargahs, charging of interest on loans, etc. were all frowned upon — and declaring the Zamindars — who were mostly, Hindu — to be in cahoots with the Company regime.Titumir's diktats penetrated into the social life, as well: men were to have beards with trimmed moustaches and women adorn burqas; those who did not abide by were to be boycotted.
The lowest classes of the Muslim society responded favorably but his emphasis on Islamic fundamentalism ensured negligible support from Hindu peasantry.However, the Zamindar community, irrespective of religion, objected to his activities.
In June 1830, Krishnadeva Rai, the Zamindar of Purha — in some sources, alternately described as the Talukdar of Sarfarazpur — imposed an annual tax on all bearded Muslim subjects to combat Titumir's influence.On Titumir's advice, the peasants refused to pay and an enraged Krishnadeva led a bevy of armed men on a spree of arson, even destroying a local mosque. The Muslims reciprocated but the melee remained inconclusive; complaints were filed at the Baduria police station by both sides and eventually, the subdivisional magistrate of Barasat dismissed the issue but only after getting a declaration from the peasants about committing to peace.
Buoyed up by the lack of any punishment for Krishnadeva, fellow Zamindars — Ramnarayan Nag Chaudhuri of Taragonia and Guru Prasad Chowdhury of Nagarpur — instituted similar tax-regime on their subjects and imprisoned dissenters.The peasants organised themselves and sued the Zamindars but to little avail. This led Titu to advocate for a full-fledged armed resistance against what he felt to be the nexus of Zamindars and Company; Atis Dasgupta, a scholar of peasant rebellions in early colonial India, notes that here onward, what was essentially a socio-religious agitation morphed into a political-economic class-struggle.
Titumir shifted his base from Chandpur to Narkelberia, and began organizing an armed militia.In October 1830, one of his declarations proclaimed him to be the natural sovereign of the country, who — rather than the Company — had an unilateral right of remittance on local revenues collected by Zamindars; a Muslim landholder was raided in the same month for having disobyed him.
On 31 October, Titumir set to avenge Krishnadeva along with 300 armed followers; his residence was ransacked, establishments of moneylenders in the local market were set on fire, and a cow was sacrificed in front of a temple.In response, the Zamindars formed an alliance with the British Indigo planters to render mutual assistance in case of assaults by Titumir's militia. Soon Kaliprasanna Mukherjee, the Zamindar of Habra-Gobardanga and a key member of the alliance, was targeted and though Davies, manager of a nearby plantation at Mollahati, came to aid with about 200 men, they were soundly defeated. Davies escaped narrowly and was sheltered by Debnath Roy, the Zamindar of Gobra-Gobindapur; this precipitated 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 month of November was 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, on 15 November 1830, Alexander, the Joint Magistrate of Barasat — along with Ramram Chakraborti, Officer-In-Charge of Baduria Thana — set out for Titumir with a force of 120 policemen. Outnumbered by a 500-strong militia, they were defeated; Alexander barely escaped to a neighboring village while Ramram perished alongside 14 others.
By 1831, there was a political vacuum in large parts of the Parganas, and Titumir capitalized on it, styling himself as the Badshah and having thousands of Hindu and Muslim peasants among his followers.People loyal to him were installed in official positions — his nephew Ghulam Masum Khan served as the Senapati , Muizz ad-Din as the Wazir etc. — and zamindars were compelled to either submit to his rule or vacate the land-holdings.
With passage of time as the prospects of an all-out conflict with Company forces grew inevitable, he had a bamboo-fort (Banser Kella) constructed at Narkelberia.On 17 November 1831, upon receiving instructions from Lord William Bentinck, the incumbent governor general of India, Smith, the district magistrate of Nadia moved towards Narkelberia with four other magistrates and accompanied by a 300 strong armed police force alongside several hundred private guards sourced from zamindars. Yet, the plan went astray; Golam Masum became aware of the troop movement and outflanked Smith with a 500-strong militia at Baraghar, northeast of Narkelberia; Smith's forces fled to a plantation crossing the Icchamati and urging Lord Bentick to take aid from the Army.
On the evening of 18 November 1831, Major Scott, Lieutenant Shakespeare, and Major Sutherland led a military column — composed of a cavalry unit and infantry unit, having 300 armed personnel and two cannons — to lay a siege to Titumir's fort.Nothing of significance transpired until the next morning when a concerted ammunition charge was mounted. The resistance was breached in about three hours, with the fort giving way to cannons.
Titumir was bayoneted to death, as were 50 fellow soldiers.About 800 others were arrested and tried at Alipur Court; Golam Masum was hanged in front of the ruins of the fort and about 140 had to serve prison terms of varying lengths. The commanding officer of the British forces not only noted Titumir's bravery in dispatches to London, but also commented on the strength and resilience of bamboo as a material for fortification, since he had had to pound the fort with artillery for a surprisingly long time.
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.
In 2004, Titumir was ranked number 11 in the BBC's poll of the Greatest Bengali of all time.
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'.
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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