KOLKATA: A few months after renaming ‘rainbow’ to replace Lord Ram’s name, Bengal textbooks now declared Islamic preacher and leader of the nation’s first armed peasant uprising against the British, Syed Mir Nasir Ali alias Titumir, as a Muslim fundamentalist, who destroyed temples and killed Brahmins.
However, the controversial parts of the Class X ‘History and Environment’ textbooks were revoked after bitter protests by historians and academicians that led to the intervention of library minister Siddiqullah Chowdhury. The minister wrote a letter to the West Bengal Board of Higher Education last week which then removed the chapter from the book.
Many of the protesting historians claimed that author Biwajit Bag had distorted the history. “Under the leadership of Titumir, Wahabis killed several Brahmins and destroyed many temples. Not only that, Muslims opposing Wahabism also were not spared,” the section in chapter ‘Wahabi movement in Bengal (1822-1831)’ read.
After return from Haj in 1822, Titumir preached Wahabism to rural Muslims of North 24 Parganas and Nadia districts, who followed folk Islam that included aspects of Hinduism and Animism. He also built people’s resistance against taxes on mosques and beard imposed by landlord Krishna Dev Roy, besides protesting against indigo farming of the British. This movement came to be known as Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah.
According to several accounts by historians and authors such as Atis Dasgupta and Mahasweta Devi, Titumir built his bamboo and mud fort in Narkelbaria village of North 24 Parganas in 1831. He had gathered over 15,000 followers by then and trained them to fight with bamboo staffs. However, irked by the resistance to pay taxes, the local zamindars - both Hindus and Muslims - summoned the East India Company forces from Kolkata to put down the rebellion.
The British, led by Lieutenant Colonel Stewart attacked Titumir’s fort with a force of 100 cavalry, 300 native infantry and artillery of two canons on November 19, 1831. After pounding his fort with canon fire, the British overpowered Titumir’s force that fought with speards, swords and bamboo staffs. Titumir and 50 of his followers were killed in gunfire. His nephew and second-in-command Golam Rasul was hanged to death and 350 other followers were awarded life sentence.
Though the rebellion was brutally out down, it inspired several other peasant movements upto the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Titumir has been named as one of the ’20 greatest Bengalis’ by BBC and has become a folk legend in Bangladesh and West Bengal.