By 1843, the British had occupied a good part of Sindh in very little time, using primarily a combination of deception and superiority in weapons. But it took 16 years for the Empire to occupy the southeastern desert of Sindh, Tharparkar. Here they had to face the challenge of the Rajput forces, which were comprised primarily of fighters from the Kolhi community. Kolhis, today a scheduled Hindu caste, are recognised as indigenous people of the land.
The commander of the Rajput resistance was Rooplo Kolhi.
Rooplo Kolhi, who came to blows with the British authorities from 1843 to 1859, was a fearless, and committed warrior – as loyal to the locals as he was to the land. The Rajput army under the leadership of Rooplo had already defeated the forces of Colonel George Tyrwhitt thrice in the Karoonjhar mountains by then. And after every defeat, Tyrwhitt had to return to his army base camp situated in Mirpurkhas with broken dreams and a worn-out force. When for the second time he attacked the Parkar region of Sindh, the Rajput warriors killed many of his soldiers with guerilla tactics. The weapons that they used included catapults, katars (used otherwise in hunting) and axes. With such premodern weapons, they were able to force Tyrwhitt and his soldiers into retreat.
The flag-bearer of the revolt, Rooplo Kolhi, had decided that the mighty British could never conquer the Karoonjhar in any way for as long as he was alive. And he proved it.
Rooplo was born in 1818, at the house of Shamto and Kesar Bai, from the village Konbhari, which is situated 15 km from Nagarparkar.
The beautiful Karoonjhar and Tharparkar regions, for which Rooplo was carving a new history of rebellion and struggle, constitute the world’s 20th largest desert – spread over 22,000 sq km across India and Pakistan. In 1858, Sir Charles Napier included this region in the Kuchh Political Agency, but before that, from 1843 to 1858, it remained part of the Hyderabad Collectorate – and during that span of time, the Britishers could never breathe peacefully in this part of Sindh. Later on, a police of vengeance by the colonialists made it part of India’s Kuchh region hence it was separated from Sindh.
Colonel Tyrwhitt sent his Mukhtiyarkar official by the name of Diyomal for the collection of various taxes in Nagarparkar, but the local Sodha, Kolhi, and Khosa tribes refused to pay any tax to the Empire. They revolted against the foreign rulers. The story of the Rajputs involved in Nagarparkar’s revolt started in those days, and went on for around 16 years.
Around a year after the British decision, Rooplo Kolhi was arrested by the colonial authorities in May 1859. He was kept in a colonial torture cell, where he was beaten severely. He was asked to disclose the names of Rajput, Sodha, and Kolhi warriors and their locations – since they had revolted and fought alongside him against the British government. He refused to divulge any information.
After his execution, his companions kept fighting against the British. Locals who cooperated with colonial forces were rewarded with jagirs
Moreover, he was also told that many amongst the Sodhas had bent their loyalties towards the British government by taking estates/domains (jagirs) and wealth. So, the British argued, Rooplo would also do well to accept colonial rule. But Rooplo refused to obey, declaring, “Go away from my holy land, for I will never sell my motherland.”
It was raining cats and dogs in Nagarparkar when Rooplo was arrested in May 1859. The Patyani and Ghodhro rivers were flowing strong, but the water in both the rivers turned red with the blood of some 6,000 Rajput fighters who were killed that month during their clash with the British army. The Rajas of the Parkar region Ladhu Singh and Karan Singh escaped but the valorous sons of the soil kept up their fight against the foreign colonialists.
When Rooplo Kolhi’s wife Meenawati came to meet her husband in jail, the British allowed it on the condition that she might convince her husband to give up his fight against the Raj. She was also told that if she failed to do so, she would be raped in front of her husband. When the brave daughter of the soil Meenawati met Rooplo she hugged him and straight away said to him: “No matter what difficulties you have to bear, don’t disclose the names of your companions. If you die, I will give birth to your son who will continue your struggle.”
On 22 August 1859 at 08:00 pm in the night, Rooplo was hanged from a tree beside the Ghodhro river – in the cradle of the Karoonjhar mountains. After his execution, his companions kept fighting against the British. Locals who cooperated with colonial forces were rewarded with jagirs. And thus it was that Hanspuri whose spying had led to Rooplo being arrested got a jagir near Karoonjhar, Mawji Lohano got a jagir near Kasbo village and Ladhu Meghwar, who once gave refuge to Colonel Tyrwhitt when he was attacked by Kolhi warriors, got a jagir near Pooranwah. Karan Singh was also arrested and hanged in the Umerkot fort by the British army.
To this day, some households who claim descent from Rooplo’s family members are present in village Konbhari, where he used to live.
While the British officials who killed him are not remembered today, Rooplo’s admirers from both India and Pakistan come and pay tribute to this brave son of the soil in the mountains of Karoonjhar every year. He is a national hero in Sindh.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Sindh and he can be reached at email@example.com