U Tirot Sing Syiem || The Heroic freedom fighter from Northeast Bharat

The Northeast Dialogue


U Tirot Sing Syiem, the Hero of the Khasi Hills, was born in 1802 in the Syimileh clan of the Nongkhlaw region of the Khasi Hills. He is a legendary and heroic freedom fighter from Northeast Bharat who fought the British using guerrilla warfare in a bid to safeguard the interests of the indigenous Khasi people. His mastery of guerrilla warfare tactics along with the ability to organize his Khasi warriors played a great role in helping him take on the British.

He was fully aware of the necessity of gathering intelligence to facilitate decision-making. The story dates back to the 19th century when the Brahmaputra valley was finally accessible to the British. David Scott, a British agent had been searching for avenues to establish connectivity between Assam and Surma Valley in the hope that it would help trade to flourish. The route would span a distance of about 230 km and would also cross Meghalaya. When he was told about the proposal, Tirot felt it would deeply benefit his community and hence agreed to it.

At the same time, Tirot Sing learned that reinforcements had been called in from Guwahati. Tirot called another meeting of the chiefs and ordered the British to leave Nongkhlow but the latter didn’t comply. Angered by the attitude of the British, on 4 April 1829 Tirot Sing launched an attack on a group of British officers. Lieutenant Bedingfield was murdered after being lured into a meeting while Lieutenant Burlton was overtaken and killed as he attempted to escape toward Guwahati.

The sudden turn of events led the British to call for troops from Sylhet and Kamrup to quell the rebellion. Under the leadership of Tirot Sing, the Khasis continued to resist the British using guerrilla warfare. The hilly terrain offered them an advantage but ultimately their bows, arrows, and swords were no match for the sophisticated weapons of the British. Tirot Sing was injured and took refuge in the nearby caves. These are the caves where Tirot Sing held secret meetings with his confidants and dodged the British, who were hunting him and his people. He was, however, betrayed by a native who had been bribed by the British to give away Sing’s hideout. Sing was forced to surrender on 9 January 1833. Sing was subsequently deported to Dhaka where he was held in captivity till his death on 17 July 1835.

Every year on his death anniversary the locals honor his memory by placing wreaths at the U Tirot Sing Memorial located in Mairang Town. It is high time that the contributions of freedom fighters such as Tirot Sing are mainstreamed.


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