Rooplo Kolhi’s struggle against the British Raj is legendary
Till 1843, the British had occupied a significant part of Sindh through the use of modern weaponry and deceptive, divisive tactics. But it took 16 years for them to conquer the southeast desert of Sindh, Tharparkar. There they had to face the challenge of the Rajput army, which consisted mostly of fighters from the Kolhi community (a scheduled Hindu caste of Sindh nowadays) under the commandment of Rooplo Kolhi. Kolhis in Sindh’s Parkar region and Indian Rajasthan’s Thar are recognised as indigenous people.
Rooplo Kolhi, who fought the British authorities between 1843 and 1859, was a fearless and committed warrior loyal to his people and land. The Rajput army under the leadership of Rooplo had already defeated the army of Col George Tyrwhitt thrice in Karoonjhar Mountains by then. After each encounter, Tyrwhitt returned to his army base camp situated in Mirpurkhas with a worn-out cavalry. When he attacked the Parkar region of Sindh the second time, the Rajput warriors killed many of his soldiers using guerilla war tactics using catapults, katars (a wooden weapon used by Kolhis for hunting), and axes as they did not have firearms. They still forced Tyrwhitt and his soldier back.
From the high Himalayas to the blue Arabic ocean, the British had occupied everything that came in their way. They did it with cannons, rifles and all sort of modern-day armaments. But when it came to conquering the land of the Kolhis (Karoonjhar), it proved an uphill task. The flag carrier of revolt, Rooplo Kolhi, had decided that the British would never reach the Karoonjhar as long as he lived.
Rooplo was born in Konbhari village which is situated 15 kilometres away Nangarparkar, in 1818 in the house of Shamto and Kesar Bai. Col Tyrwhitt sent his mukhtiyarkar, Diyomal, for recovery of taxes in Nangarparkar. The local Sodha, Kolhi, and Khosa tribes refused to pay tax to the British and revolted against the colonisers. This marked the beginning of the Rajput resistance in the region.
The beautiful Karoonjhar and Tharparkar is the world’s 20th largest desert, spread over 22,000 square kilometres across India and Pakistan. In 1858, Sir Charles Napier included this region in the Kuchh political agency. Before that, from 1843 to 1858, it was part of the Hyderabad collectorate. During all that time, the British could not find a steady footing in this part of Sindh.
Even when he was informed that Sodhas had bent their loyalties, betrayed Rooplo, and accepted jageers as settlement, the fearless fighter resisted and told the British to leave his land.
It was made part of India’s Kuchh region to provoke the locals and cause them distress.
Soon after the decision, Rooplo Kolhi was arrested by the British authorities in May of 1859. He was detained at a British army torture cell and beaten severely. He was asked to disclose the names of Rajput, Sodha and Kolhi fighters and their locations. Kolhi resisted till his last breath. Even when he was informed that Sodhas had bent their loyalties, betrayed Rooplo, and accepted jageers as settlement, the fearless fighter told the British to leave his land. The son of Kesar Kolhi was willing to die but never accepted British rule.
Nearly 6,000 Rajput fighters of Parkar were martyred in clashes with the British army in 1859, the year Rooplo was arrested. The rivers Patyani and Ghodhro are said to have turned red after the bodies were dumped in those. The Rajas of the Parkar region, Ladhu and Karan Singh, escaped, but the valorous sons of the soil continued their fight against the foreign invaders.
Rooplo’s wife, Meenawati was allowed to visit her husband in jail on the condition that she would persuade her husband to give up resistance. She was threatened with violence and violation, but she too was willing to face any consequences the revolt would have for her family, as long as it drove the colonisers away. She is reported to have told Rooplo, “no matter what difficulties you have to bear, do not disclose the names of your comrades. If you die, your son who will continue your struggle.”
The ones who betrayed Kolhi were gifted land by his captors. Hanspuri, the spy who got Rooplo arrested, was awarded a jageer near Karoonjhar, Mawji Lohano got land near Kasbo village, and Ladhu Meghwar, who once gave refuge to Col Tyrwhitt when Kolhi warriors attacked him, received a jageer near Pooranwah. Karan Singh was later arrested and hanged in the Umerkot fort by the British army. Some households of Shaheed Rooplo’s family members are still present in Konbhari village where he used to live.
Thousands of visitors from India and Pakistan come and pay tribute to Rooplo, the brave fighter in the mountains of Karoonjhar, every year. He is a national hero for Sindh.
The writer is a freelance journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com