Kuer Singh or Kunwar Singh? The Unsung Hero of 1857

I don’t know which one of the two spellings- Kuer Singh and Kunwar Singh used for the Great hero of Uprising of 1857 are correct. Perhaps, as much as I know it should be the later.

It was my teacher in the primary school of Pipra, Late Ganga Dayal Pandey who told us about Kunwar Singh when he was our teacher. As I remember, in some special issue of ‘Yogi’, the weekly that Guruji used to subscribe, we read a poem too about Kunwar Singh that was as popular with us as one by Subhdra Kumari Chouhan on ‘Khub Ladi Mardani Wah to Jhansiwali Rani thi’ in those days. However, I have forgotten the lines that used to be on our lips those days. Many years after that I bought the book by Lt Gen S K Sinha- Veer Kuer Singh: The Great Warrior of 1857, when I came to know of it. The book didn’t impress me much. My main attraction for Kunwar Singh was so intense because he came from our district that used to be known as Shahabad (divided today in 4 districts). In those days of childhood, the most impressive aspects about Kunwar Singh was his valour shown at the age of 80, and the story about his chopping off the wounded hand by his own sword and offering that to Holy River Ganga.

Kunwar Singh became the rallying point for the rebels of the area, although he was almost 80 years old at that time. When on July 25, 1857, the rebellion erupted, the sepoys of the 7th, 8th and 40th regiments of the Native Bengal Infantry stationed in Danapur, near Patna, revolted, and wished Kunwar Singh to provide the leadership. He agreed. On July 27, the rebels decided to lay siege to Ara, a town with a big British cantonment, almost 25 kms away from Jagdishpur. As the story goes, “Kunwar Singh anticipated that the British would soon send a relieving company to the besieged garrison in Ara. Therefore, he laid an ambush for the relieving British column, which soon arrived from Danapur. The British forces were taken by surprise and they suffered a crushing defeat. Their leader, Captain Dunbar, was killed and of the 500 men under his command, only 50 managed to escape alive and reach back to Danapur.”

However, this victory was short-lived. Kunwar Singh had to retreat from Jagdispur and for the next one year, he was on the run, first to Rohtas and then onto Rewah, Banda, Lucknow and, then onwards to Azamgarh, which he soon brought under his control. The British, however, made Kunwar Singh leave Azamgarh. On April 21, 1858, the British forces, under the command of Brigadier Douglas, carried out a surprise attack on Kunwar Singh and his men, some distance away from Azamgarh. Kunwar Singh was severely wounded in the arm. The wound was so deep that Kunwar Singh decided to cut off his arm and place it into the Ganga as an offering to the river. He reached Jagdispur, exhausted and wounded on April 22 but the very next day on April 23, 1858 Kunwar Singh’s forces met the British led by Captain Le Grand at Dullaur, near Jagdispur, though the British were completely routed, the heavy fighting had taken its toll on Kunwar Singh, who died three days later.

This time, we traveled on the road that connects Jagdispur while passing through Ara and Danapur, but couldn’t make it to Jagdispur. As I am told, there is hardly anything that is connected with Kunwar Singh and his time even just 150 years after the uprising of 1857. An unobliged nation led by crooked selfish casteist politicians hardly remembers the real hero.

As Atul Sethi reported in Times of India, “Two statues of the old warrior, enclosed behind iron bars, stand in front of a pale yellow-coloured building, which has been declared as Kunwar Singh’s qila. Oldtimers, however, say that the actual qila is long gone. The building which is referred to as the qila was in fact part of a baradari or building complex during Kunwar Singh’s time, meant for male members of his family. Later, when Jagdispur passed into the hands of the British, the land here was sold to an Englishman Ernest Mellon, who became the zamindar of the area. He converted the baradari into a residence for his own use. Today, only two pillars from Kunwar Singh’s time stand in the building. Sometime in the 1920s, when Mellon decided to leave for England, he sold the baradari complex as well as the adjoining lands to Shriniwas Prasad Singh, one of the descendants of Kunwar Singh’s brother. His son, D V Singh, now 82 years old, is the oldest surviving descendant of the family today.” I really appreciate Atul Sethi for this contribution.

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