Friday July 19, 2024

Remembering Rooplo Kolhi

By Dr Naazir Mahmood
March 17, 2024
The statue of Ammar Rooplo Kolhi in Nagarparkar, Sindh, Pakistan. — x/ Veerji_Kolhi/File
The statue of Ammar Rooplo Kolhi in Nagarparkar, Sindh, Pakistan. — x/ Veerji_Kolhi/File

In Pakistan, history textbooks are not inclusive in the sense that they seldom mention non-Muslim freedom fighters. It seems that the writers of the books the country’s education departments approve of are mostly inclined to present a one-sided story.

Then there is also an inordinate neglect of the history of the lands that comprise today’s Pakistan. Pakistani children do read in their textbooks the histories of Siraj ud-Daulah from Bengal and Tipu Sultan from Mysore, but there is hardly any mention of Sardar Mehrab Khan of Balochistan who lost his life in 1839 at the hands of British invaders. It is also hard to find stories about Rai Ahmed Khan Kharal of Punjab who died fighting against the British during the War of Independence in 1857.

The same applies to freedom fighters who did not belong to the Muslim League. For example, Bacha Khan (Abdul Ghaffar Khan) was a great leader of the Indian Subcontinent who hailed from Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. By all standards, he was a towering personality who waged a relentless war against the British and did so much for the uplift of his people.

Since he never joined the Muslim League, our history textbooks are not kind to him and project him as a traitor and almost an enemy of Pakistan. His struggle for democracy in Pakistan is exemplary as he ended up spending most of his life in confinement.

Another example is that of Ammar Rooplo Kolhi – that unforgettable hero of Karoonjhar in Sindh – who gave his life in the struggle against the British. Now Veerji Kolhi has written a well-researched book about this indomitable fighter whose name remains etched in the memory of local people but hardly gets any mention in our textbooks.

Veerji Kolhi wrote this book in Sindhi and Kavita Publications printed it in 2022. Then Aslam Khwaja translated it into English for a wider audience. It is in the fitness of things that the people of Nagarparkar have set up the Ammar Rooplo Kolhi Yadgar Committee in District Tharparkar.

Veerji Kolhi and Senator Krishna Kolhi are siblings who have struggled hard in the most difficult times in their lives. Their claim to fame was not only their struggle against bonded labour in Sindh, but they also championed the cause of human rights and advocated for fair and just treatment for all castes and denominations in the province.

They have helped many children, men, and women free themselves from the shackles of landlords in Sindh and by doing so, Veerji and Krishna Kolhi have become both an object of love and a target of hate.

The fifteen-chapter book by Veerji about Rooplo Kolhi carries a preface by Madad Ali Sindhi, the former caretaker minister for federal education, and an introduction by Fauzia Saeed, a researcher and writer of impeccable repute. The book begins with a chapter on the history of the Kolhi tribe that once stretched from Gujarat and Konkan to the Persian Gulf.

Kolhi quotes from various research studies to prove that the Kolhis belong to the most ancient tribes of Sindh such as Bhil, Kolan, and Santhal. There is also some mention of a Kolhi mound in Balochistan and high Kola meadows and Koli Plain in Kashmir.

Discussing the cultural background of the Kolhis, Veerji informs his readers about the culturally rich traditions and festivities that have remained a feature of this region for centuries. Kolhis – now mostly settled in Parkar – adorn unique bracelets and necklaces that are exclusive to their dresses and dances.

“Kolhis living in different areas have different dialects such as Parkari, Kutchi, Gujarati, Tharadari, Mewasi, Hansoria, and Nairlia. All areas with these dialects had been part of Sindh.” The Parkari people moved to other areas in search of irrigated lands and in this process spread to a wide region.

Karoonjhar has specific significance for the Kolhis as archaeologists have found the ruins of an ancient civilization near the Karoonjhar hills. These hills have attracted followers of many faiths and offered a haven to saints and sufis (mystics) as well as a resting ground to trading communities and caravans.

Now, Nagarparker is a must-visit town if you want to have a closer look at the Karoonjhar hills. Within a short distance from the main mountains, there are small hills, considered part of Karoonjhar, including Saduras, Dhanagam, Chanida, Ranpur, Choorio, Worhavo, and Kharsar.

In this landscape, Rooplo Kolhi opened his eyes in the early 19th century. The children of Parkar get to know about him through the Aartis by Paroo Mal Premi (Kolhi) in religious gatherings and social events. While ‘bhajans’ by classical poets like Guru Ramanand, Kabir, Meera Bai and Hans Nirvan echo in this landscape, the tales of bravery by Rooplo Kolhi are also a common recitation material as he was a hero of the resistance who confronted British imperialism to defend his motherland and for an independent survival of Sindh.

From 1843 to 1859, there was a 16-year struggle against British invaders that galvanized the locals to fight for their rights. By all counts, Rooplo Kolhi deserves as much – if not more – appreciation and attention in our history textbooks as should be for Hosh Muhammad Sheedi, Hemu Kalani, Bhagat Singh, Mangal Pandey, and many others who have received scant attention so far. They are the unsung heroes who remain nearly invisible in our national narrative that only revolves around the struggle of the Muslim League aiming to achieve the division of India.

The book attempts to fill that gap. Veerji informs us that when the British invaded Sindh, the Ranas ruled Nagarparkar and the rest of Sindh was divided into Hyderabad, Khairpur, and Mirpurkhas as an entity that lacked powerful sovereignty. The relations of the Talpurs of Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas with the British worsened after a defeat against Afghanistan.

The Talpurs of Khairpur supported the British, receiving many concessions from the invaders. The British manipulated the differences among the Talpurs and conquered Sindh in 1843 after staging a victory at Miani.

Then Hosh Muhammad Sheedi resisted the British but lost. At that time there were 12 settlements of Sodhas in Parkar with exclusive administration for each. The Ranas of Parkar refused to accept the British rule and decided to resist.

Rooplo Kolhi, with his companions' help, started attacking the British army camps. The resistance continued till 1859, and in various battles, the lives of hundreds of Kolhis were lost. During the 16 years of resistance against the British forces, the invaders also suffered huge losses. Finally, with the help of some informers, the British managed to arrest Rooplo Kolhi who had emerged as a significant leader and fighter for Independence.

Rooplo endured unbearable torture as according to one account his hands were wrapped in cotton and burned. During the torture, the British offered him a compromise to end his resistance and side with the colonizers. He refused to divulge the names of his comrades. Then the British brought Rooplo’s wife, Menavati, to the camp to beg for his life. But his wife also showed unwavering resolve against the British and stood fast.

Rooplo spent over three months in custody and endured torture. The British finally hanged him in August 1859 from a tree on the bank of Gothe rdhro River on the southern side of Nagarparkar town.

Over 8,000 Kolhis sacrificed their lives in the struggle against the British, but they have not received any recognition from the rulers of this land even after seven decades of Independence. Veerji Kolhi has done a good job by writing this book which also deserves to be translated into Urdu; the government of Sindh should purchase this book in English, Sindhi and Urdu for all school libraries.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets/posts @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at: