During the 1830s, Syed Mir Nisar Ali, popularly known as Titu Mir, inspired the Muslim peasants of Bengal to rose against the zamindars, mainly Hindus and the British indigo planters. He was a disciple of Syed Ahmed Barelvi, the founder of the Wahabi Movement. He adopted Wahabism and advocated the Sharia. Titu Mir led the Narkelberai Uprising in 1831, which is often considered the first armed peasant uprising against the British.
Titu Mir was born in 1782 in the village Chandpur (or Haidarpur) under the Basirhat subdivision of 24 Paraganas district (West Bengal).
In 1822, Titu Mir went on a pilgrimage to Mecca (Saudi Arabia), where he came in close contact with the Islam reformer leader Syed Ahmad of Rai Bareilly. Syed Ahmad inspired him to free his fellows from un-Islamic practices and foreign domination.
In 1827, on his return from Mecca, Titu Mir started preaching among Muslims in the districts 24 Paraganas and Nadia. He began mobilising the Muslims and inspired them, especially the weavers and peasants, to follow the Islamic way of life.
But soon, Titu Mir happened to conflict with the Hindu zamindar Krishnadeva Rai of Purha for his sectarian attitude towards the Muslims and for levying illegal taxes on them. In June 1830, Krishnadeva Rai, Zamindar of Purha, imposed an annual tax on all Muslims having a beard to isolate Titu Mir. On Titu’s advice, the peasants refused to pay.
Titu Mir conflicted with other landlords, like Kaliprasanna Mukherjee of Gobardanga, Ramnarayan of Taragonia, Gauri Prasad Chowdhury of Nagarpur, and Devanath Roy of Gobra-Gobindapur for their oppression of the peasantry.
Ramnarayan Nag Chaudhuri (Zamindar of Taragonia) and Gauri Prasad Chowdhury (Talukdar of Nagarpur) began implementing an oppressive tax regime on peasants. The peasants organised themselves and sued the Zamindars but to little avail.
These conflicts led Titu to convert his socio-religious agitation into a political-economic class struggle.
Narkelberia Uprising (Barasat Uprising) 1831
In 1830, Titu Mir shifted his base from Chandpur to Narkelberia (near Barasat) and began organising an armed militia.
To protect the peasants, Titu Mir formed a Mujahid army and trained them in lathi (bamboo stick) and other indigenous weapons. He made Ghulam Masum (his nephew) the commander of the force. The increasing strength of Titu alarmed the zamindars.
Soon the zamindars allied with the British Indigo planters to render mutual assistance in case of assaults by Titu’s militia. Kaliprasanna Mukherjee (zamindar of Habra-Gobardanga) played a critical role in the alliance, and soon Titu Mir targeted him for his illegal tax regime.
Being instigated by the Kaliprasanna (zamindar of Gobardanga), Davies (manager of an indigo plantation at Mollahati) advanced his forces against Titu Mir, but Titu’s forces defeated the Davies’ forces.
Davies escaped narrowly, and Debnath Roy (zamindar of Gobra-Gobindapur) provided him shelter, which led to a confrontation between Titu’s militia and Debnath’s forces at Laughati in Nadia. In this conflict, Titu’s forces killed Debnath Roy. Alexander (the collector of Barasat) advanced against Titu Mir with Doroga of Basirhat and sustained a severe defeat in the hands of Titu Mir.
In October 1831, Titu Mir constructed a strong fort with bamboo poles at Narkelbaria. He recruited the Mujahids and gave them military training. Having completed his military preparation, Titu Mir declared himself Badshah (king) and urged the people to participate in Jihad (sacred war) against the British.
Titu Mir soon established his control over the districts of 24 Paraganas, Nadia, and Faridpur. In response, the British sent a contingent from Calcutta. But the combined forces of the British and zamindars sustained a severe defeat in the hands of the Mujahids (troops). Subsequently, Governor-General William Bentinck sent a regular army under Colonel Stewart against Titu Mir.
On 14 November 1831, the British launched an attack on the Mujahids. But the superior military army of the British defeated the Mujahids with traditional weapons. Mujahids took shelter inside the bamboo fort (Banser Kella). On 18 November 1831, a British military unit led by Major Scott and Major Sutherland laid a siege on Titu’s Fort. The British forces opened fire and destroyed the fort.
On 19 November 1831, the British killed Titu Mir in the battle, along with his several fellow soldiers. The Mujahids, including their commander Ghulam Masum, were captured. The British sentenced Ghulam Masum to death, and captives had to serve prison terms of varying lengths.
Tariqah-i-Muhammadiya was a Muslim revivalist movement in the early 19th century. The Movement aimed to purify the tenets of Islam from Hindu customs, traditions and cultural practices. The pioneers of the movement were Syed Ahmad (1780-1831) of Rai Barelwi and Shah Ismail (1782-1831).
The Tariqah-i-Muhammadiya movement started in Northern India and reached Bengal during the 1820s and 1830s. Followers of Tariqah-i-Muhammadiya supported Sufism and the need for having a spiritual guide for correct thought and action.
In 1820, Syed Ahmed visited Calcutta, where thousand of his followers came to meet him. In 1821, he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca (Saudi Arabia) and propagated his doctrines on his way.
In 1822, Titu Mir went to Mecca, where he came in close contact with the Syed Ahmad Barelvi. Titu Mir became the leader of Tariqah-i-Muhammadiya in Bengal. The Ali brothers, Waliyet Ali and Inayat Ali of Patna followed Titu Mir in propagating Tariqah-i-Muhammadiya and resisting the colonial rule in the rural areas. They conducted anti-British activities in several districts, such as 24 Pargana, Faridpur, Malda, Rajshahi, Jessore, and Bogra. They declared a Jihad (sacred war) against British rule and stirred the people to join the fight.