Here is the fourth story in the series of “Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence”.
This a story of two brothers from the present-day Jharkhand who fought against the British.
Siblings fighting for the common cause of independence was not rare in Bharat. Prominent siblings among the early freedom fighters were the Marudhu brothers from present Tamil Nadu, Chinna Marudhu and Periya Marudhu, who were hanged together by the British. Dheeran Chinnamalai, who gave up his life for the cause of independence was also hanged along with his two brothers who were with him always in his struggles. (The story can be read here)
This story is also about one such set of brothers namely, Nilamber and Pitamber who belonged to a tribal community of the present-day Jharkhand. This is a story which I read very recently and want to share it with you all.
In the early 19th century, there lived a person by name Chemu Singh in the village of Chemo-Senya in Palamau district in Chhota Nagpur area of Jharkhand. He belonged to the Kharwar tribe who had farming as their occupation, but he was a ‘Jagirdar’.
The ‘Jagirdari’ system was started by the Mughal kings in which, a person was made in charge of a particular tract of land to manage the revenue and tax collection. He was called Jagirdar. He did not own the land but had to manage the people cultivating it and collect the taxes. A portion of the collection was given to him as salary. The balance amount was deposited into the treasury. This system continued even after the decline of the Mughal kingdom through the time of the British East India Company till it was abolished by the Indian Government in 1951.
Coming back to the story, Chemu Singh was a kind-hearted person. Therefore, when he collected taxes, he was very considerate and many times collected less revenue taking into account the adversities faced by the farmers. Naturally he had to face the ire of the British Officers who admonished him every time the revenue collected by him was less.
Chemu Singh was married and soon he was blessed with a baby boy Nilamber. Chemu loved his son very much. As Nilamber grew up to be a young boy, he learnt martial arts like archery, sword-fighting and also agriculture. He always accompanied his father when he went to remit the collections to the British officials. Many a time, he saw his father being demeaned and insulted by the officials and he could not bear to witness it. Sometimes the officials threatened his father with removing the ‘jagirs’ under him which meant his father would lose his income. Nilamber often asked his father why he should not fight back. His father could not, somehow, gather the courage to fight back.
In the course of time, Nilamber had a younger brother Pitamber. Nilamber loved his younger sibling very much. In a couple of years, misfortune struck the family and Chemu Singh fell seriously ill. After a few days, he passed away. Pitamber was still a toddler and the death of Chemu Singh came as a big blow to Nilamber and his mother.
Now Nilamber took up agriculture to earn a livelihood. He also took upon himself the responsibility of bringing up Pitamber. He took Pitamber along when he went for work and also taught Pitamber archery, sword fighting and other martial arts which he had learnt himself.
In 1857, the revolt of the Indian soldiers (Sepoy Mutiny) had started against the British at Meerut and the effect had started spreading elsewhere in the country.
Pitamber happened to visit Ranchi at that time and witnessed the soldiers of the Ramgarh Battalion fighting the British.
Subsequently, he also visited Chatra where he witnessed the fight between the British soldiers and the natives. He came to know that this revolt was led by Thakur Viswanath Shahdeo who was ruling the Barkaghar estate and Pandey Ganpat Rai, a chieftain of Lohardaga district.
Pitamber understood that the country had started revolting for her independence. He was greatly inspired by what he saw and rushed back to his village to tell his elder brother. Nilamber was equally inspired and agreed with Pitamber that the time was ripe to jump into this movement for freedom from the shackles of the British East India Company.
Accordingly, the brothers rallied all young men of the various tribes namely Kharwar, Chero and Bhogta clans and gave a call for unity in attacking the foreigners. They announced that they were now ‘independent’ and made it clear that they were no longer under the rule of the British or by anyone who was paying allegiance to the British.
So, on 21st October 1857, a group of about 500 men under the leadership of Nilamber and Pitamber launched their attack on the properties of a local Zamindar by name Raghubir Dayal, of Chainpur. This Zamindar was very loyal to the British and this was the reason for their attack. They knew that this would send a message to the British.
Next another group went to Lesliganj and literally shooed away the British officials using swords and sticks.
The British had never thought in their wildest dreams that a tribal population would ever rise against them and therefore, caught unawares, they were jolted. The acting Commissioner, named Lieutenant Graham, brought about fifty soldiers to fight the them but they were effortlessly driven away and Graham had to hide in the bungalow of the Zamindar Raghubir Dayal!
The army of Nilamber and Pitamber went in hot pursuit and surrounded the bungalow making it difficult for the Lieutenant and his men to come out. The higher officials of the British came to know of this and sent about four hundred soldiers under Major Cotter to assist Lieutenant Graham.
All the soldiers had guns and Nilamber and Pitamber along with their men were outnumbered and had to flee. The British chased them and after a few days caught hold of Devi Baksh who was also fighting along with the brothers.
They tortured Devi Baksh in the hope of getting information on Nilamber and Pitamber’s whereabouts but Devi Baksh would not budge. The tribal men started living in the jungles and attacking property of people who supported the British. Now Lieutenant Graham brought six hundred more men but had no luck in catching Nilamber, Pitamber and the others.
The British were so desperate to finish off the brothers that now they sought help from the Madras Regiment and Ramgarh Cavalry.
With their help, the Commissioner Mr. Dalton decided to go himself to capture the brothers. He started out in the middle of January of 1858 and reached a village near Palamu. There he was met by Lieutenant Graham who informed that the tribal men had taken shelter in the fort at Palamu.
The twin forts at Palamu are still a tourist attraction. They were built by a Chero king Medini Rai in the 17th century. The Chero kings were a powerful clan who ruled this area before the Moghuls attempted to rule this place. The forts were very well built and very strong. The forts had escape ways through tunnels.
On 21st January 1858, Mr. Dalton himself marched to the fort with all these soldiers and ordered firing on the fort. The soldiers were much more in number than Nilamber and Pitamber’s men put together and so the men inside the fort had to flee. As locals, they knew the forts well. So they fled through the secret tunnels into the thick cover of the forests.
The British waited for some time for them to come out but later realized that they had fled through the secret exits. Furious, they tried chasing them. There were about two thousand soldiers targeting Nilamber and Pitamber and their group. However, try as they might, they could not catch them. Mr. Dalton suspected that they would have gone to their village Chemo and led his troops there. He reached there by the middle of February 1858.
On not being able to find Nilamber and Pitamber, an angry Dalton ordered the whole village to be destroyed. The British soldiers targeted the households of the tribals and seized all their cattle and grains and the lands so that neither them nor their families would be able to survive, were they to return to the village from their hiding place.
The British never gave up their search for the brothers and finally in 1859, Nilamber and Pitamber were caught through a covert operation.
The British were jubilant. And as was their practice with anyone who raised their voice for independence, the British hanged Nilamber and Pitamber on 28th March 1859 at Lesliganj.
The voices of the two sons of Jharkhand were silenced, but not before they kindled the thirst for independence in many, many others in this country.
Jharkhand has the Nilamber Pitamber University in honour of these heroic brothers. The area of ‘Daltonganj’ has been renamed as ‘Medininagar’ in honour of the King Medini Rai.
It is time the stories of such heroes occupied the main pages of our history books.