Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The first mass movement in Asia

30th June 1855
The boy sticks his head out of the bush and looks ahead, careful not to make any noise. The British troops are standing at the bottom of the hill showing no sign or eagerness to move up into the dense forests. Well, why would they? Having suffered numerous losses in the unknown interior the cowards now want to stick back and wait for us to attack first. Slowly creeping backwards he rushes back to the rebel army’s gathering point.

There is a stillness in the air, Chand notices watching the warriors around him sharpening their arrows, tightening bow strings, the nervous ones twitching their heads at the slightest sound.”He watches as the last messenger boy runs in to tell them that the Goras were waiting at the foothills. Chand watches as his brother’s face erupts with delight. The gentle, caring face transformed into a mask for passion, and vengeance. Lifting his bow, the massive frame rises and bellows their war chant with enough power to cause the birds on the trees to take flight. His army of santhal warriors responds with equal vigour.

“Kanho!Chand! Bhairon!Mimai!”

The three brothers shouted back in unison. Chand looked around trying to find Mimai Manjhi’s face in the crowd. He could have sworn they had started off from the village together.

The British officer in charge of the war station at the foot of the hill barely looked up as he heard the war cry. Carefully placing his tea cup back on the table, He rose dusting himself before he got out of the tent. The commander and the captains of the forces had made themselves available to him at the entrance.
“I want no soldier to load bullets for the first rounds of fire. Fire blanks at them .Wait for the rebels to come to the foothill. Once they’re within our sights, it should be easy picking. Use the cannons, the elephants, all that we can. No quarter to be given to any survivors.”

They descend down the slope, raining arrows on the company’s soldiers. Known for their accuracy and power the arrows rip through bodies leaving them mutilated, scarred or dead. In retaliation the troops fire their cannons and their guns, weapons the Santhals have never encountered before. They suffer no injuries. Its as if a shield is thrown between them and their oppressors. Siddho stops in his tracks, stunned by this development. He waits and watches the troops aim and fire again. Nothing. Not one rebel falls.
“Thakur is watching over us today. Nothing will stop us from driving these dogs back to their kennels.”

Chand watches in disbelief at the British troops falling at their arrows. He never blindly believed in God’s will and his mission, but watching this miracle he couldn’t conceal his admiration for the almighty. With a loud yell he raced down towards the enemy soldiers.

Siddho raced down shooting all the while, but kept his eyes wide open for any suspicious movement from the British. They were cunning, he had admitted to himself a while ago. He watched as they went through the routine again. Dropping their guns, pulling a lever on the side, lift it up and fire. Wait a minute. They had done something different this time. They hadn’t been firing bullets all this while. Suddenly Siddho realised what had transpired. It was too late now. They were going to be butchered, massacred. Every last one of them.

Chand was one of the first to reach the bottom of the hill. Pumped by the adrenaline that war generates in soldiers he had failed to notice the warriors falling all around him. And then the first bullet struck him. He had never experienced such a sensation. It was as if the wind had been knocked out of his body and yet somehow managed to pass through him. He was close enough to a British soldier to use his spear now, a few more paces. He felt the bullet go through him again and again. Three times before he fell to the ground.

Two days later after the soldiers had pillaged, burnt and destroyed all the villages in the area, they gave up their search for Siddho. A scout was sent with a message for the Governor in Calcutta telling him of their triumph. The Governor’s secretary filed the letters away, dispatching orders for the capture and execution of the leader.


Siddho and Kanno managed to escape the battle commonly known as the Santhal Hul. Chand and Bhairon were killed. Betrayed by Mimai Manjhi Siddho was finally captured and publicly hanged in Panchkathia on the 7th of December 1855. Kanho managed to avoid capture and was influential in spreading the revolt towards Bihar and Bengal. Eventually though he was located and executed in February of 1856.