Bhopal and Pindaris.
Pindharis belonged to the valleys of Narmada, and Bhopal staged many
important episodes of their life.
Pindaris true history has perhaps not yet been written. The profuse British accounts suffer from a natural bias created by the last years of their activities perpetuating the impression that the Pindaris were the enemies of society and such loathsome pests as deserved to be exterminated. G. S. Sardesai, Maratha historian.
Bhopal founder Dost Mohammad Khan was succeeded by Yar Mohammed Khan – his son. His two successors – Faiz Mohammed Khan and Haiat Mohammed Khan, proved to be utterly incompetent,and both devoted themselves to a life of religious austerity and seclusion. Their ministers were therefore the real masters of the state and the post of dewan was the object of frequent contest.
During this period two Pindari leaders, Hiru and Barun,sons of Shahbaz Khan,offered their services to the Nawab of Bhopal. Shahbaz Khan organized one of the main division of the Pindaris, generally connected with Sindhias of Gwalior. Shahbaz Khan died in a campaign in Sindhia’s service, but his group continued their association with the house of Sindhia. During the chaotic phase of Bhopal there was hardly a person who could take any decision. When no decision was seen for some period, the Bhonsla family at Nagpur hired the two brothers. The Pindaris’ first assignment, which they executed with enthusiasm and success, was to plunder Bhopal. However, jealous of the wealthy loot accumulated in this assignment and siding with Hiru in a dispute, the Bhonsla Raja plundered the Pindari camp and took Barun prisoner. Hiru fled back to Sindhia uncertain of his own safety. Both leaders died shortly afterwards in 1800.
Meanwhile in Bhopal Chotey Khan became the all powerfull diwan (Chief Minister). He fought the battle of Phanda, thrust upon him by Bahu Begum. His son was made diwan after his death by Nawab Hayat Mohammad Khan. Amir Khan, Son of Chottey Khan, and his brothers conspired with the Scindias, raided the treasury, made off with 1½ lakh cash and took refuge with Daulat Rao Scindia. Amir eventually persuaded Daulat Rao Scindia to invade Bhopal with force of 49000.Nawab Hayat Mohammad Khan was in no position to oppose and conceded the forts of Hoshangabad and Raisen.
The saviour appeared in the form of Wazir Mohammad Khan. After the death of Murid, Wazir Mohammed imitated the example of Sindhia and Holkar, and started supporting his army by similar acts of aggression to his neighbours. During this period a Pindari by the name Karim Khan tried to get into Bhopal. Karim Khan was briefly the wealthiest and most powerful Pindari leader. As a young soldier, he successively served under the Peshwa, Sindhia, and Barun. When the Bhonsla Raja took Barun prisoner, he fled and served under Sindhia. In the wars against Hyderabad, especially at Kharda (1795), he amassed a fortune in plunder. To safeguard this newly acquired wealth, he established himself at Shujaulpur in central India. There he attracted a large Pindari following. Later, in 1804, Sindhia confirmed his possession of this land which was worth 15 lakhs of rupees annual revenue. Seeking to set himself up as a prince, Karim Khan tried to expand unsuccessfully into Bhopal. In 1806, Sindhia, fearing Karim Khan’s expansionist ambitions and growing power, enticed him to his camp and took him prisoner. Karim Khan’s mother fled with her son’s wealth to the prince of Kotah, Zalim Singh. During the next five years, Karim Khan remained a prisoner of Sindhia while other Pindari leaders continued to expand their power.
Chitu, the other outstanding Pindari leader of the Independent Period, was born a Jat near Delhi. Dobble Khan, whose sons led Barun’s durrah, bought Chitu as a slave and then adopted him as his son. Eventually Chitu acquired the leadership of Barun’s group. Like Karim Khan, Sindhia gave Chitu a title and lands in 1804, but also took him prisoner in 1807.
Meanwhile in Bhopal, Nawab Ghous Mohammad Khan, the heir apparent, engaged in treacherous deals with Marhattas of Gwalior and Nagpur. This left the British unsure of Bhopal’s commitment to resisting Marhatta power, while Wazir was negotiating with the Britishers for a treaty that would give Bhopal protection against its neighbors. Hayat died on 17 November 1807, aged 73, and Ghous Mohammad Khan succeeded him 18 days later. Soon Raghuji Bhonsle sent a force of 40,000 under his able general, Sadiq Ali. Sadiq Ali took over Bhopal and demanded that Ghous hand over Wazir and his wife as hostage. No sooner had Sadiq Ali left Bhopal than Wazir swooped down from Ginnor fort and routed the Nagpur forces and resumed governance of Bhopal.
On payment of a large ransom, Sindhia released both leaders, Chitu and Karim Khan, in 1811. During the Dusshera festival they planned to join forces against Sindhia and the Bhonsla. As has already been mentioned, the Bhonsla bought off Chitu with grants of land. Chitu then joined Sindhia by helping his officer, Jago Bapu, defeat Karim Khan. Karim Khan fled to Zalim Singh for protection. At the same time Sindhia threatened Zalim Singh with reprisals if he gave Karim Khan asylum. Karim Khan finally turned to Amir Khan and Holkar for help. They negotiated a settlement, by which Karim Khan remained under their confinement until 1816. When he obtained his freedom in that year. he again attempted a union with Chitu for a common defense against the British. Quarrels between the two prevented such an alliance. Namdar Khan and Wasil Muhammad were among the leaders of smaller durrahs during this Period. As Karim Khan’s nephew, Namdar Khan occasionally plundered Sindhia’s territory to avenge his uncle’s subjugation. His durrah numbered only about 2,000 men compared to the 10,000 of Karim Khan’s. Wasil Muhammad, who was a son of Hiru, generally remained loyal to Sindhia with a durrah of 5,000 men.
The Marhatas were furious at Wazir’s presumptuous counter-attack. Accordingly Gwalior and Nagpur jointly resolved to defeat Wazir and carve up the state of Bhopal among themselves. Wazir sought Bhopal’s salvation in British support, sent numerous messages to the Governer-General and to British army commanders soliciting a treaty of friendship. The British were initially inclined to respond to Wazir’s entreaties but drew back from committing their support, partly because they did not entirely trust Wazir and partly because they hoped to neutralize the Marhattas by compromise. When Gwalior and Nagpur armies, numbering 82,000, converged on Bhopal on 15 October 1812, Wazir stood virtually alone. He could muster up only 11,000 able bodied fighters, which included three thousand were Pindaris, commanded by Namdar Khan, a nephew of Kareem Khan. A few weeks into the siege, Wazir’s allies, the Rajput, sikh and some Pindari forces decided to quit and withdraw from the fort. The Bhopal forces were now reduced to 6000. The seize of Bhopal continued for about nine months, by the end of which Bhopal state was reduced to 200 men and women manning the fort. At end Sadik Ali lost his patience and abandoned the Siege. His departure destroyed the hopes of Sindhia’s forces, already dispirited by the duration, and events of the siege; they accordingly followed the example of the Nagpur troops, and marched to Sarangpur, where they were stationed during the rains. (Check related details)
When the regular forces of the Marathas had been broken up in the campaigns conducted by Sir Arthur Wellesley and Lord Lake, the Pindaris made their headquarters in Malwa, under the tacit protection of Maratha Dynasties like Sindhia and Holkar. Many Pindari leaders owned lands in the Narmada valley. On these lands their families and followers subsisted when they were not plundering. Other lands were located within the territories of the ruler who employed or supported Pindari leaders. Many of them were within the territory of the Nabab of Bhopal, and it was from this area. which included Nemawar, Sutwas (don’t know where is this?), Raisen and Bhilsa (Vidisha) that the Pindaris conducted their raids. They were accustomed to assemble every year at the beginning of November, and went into British occupied territory in search of plunder. In one such raid upon the Masulipatam coast they plundered 339 villages, killing or wounding 682 persons, torturing 3600 and carrying off property worth a quarter of a million pounds. In 1808-09 they plundered Gujarat, and in 1812 Mirzapur. In 1814 they were reckoned at 25,000 to 30,000 horsemen.
Although the attack of Bhopal was thus repelled, there was every appearance of its being speedily and successfully resumed. Meanwhile Lord Hastings, with the approval of the Court of Directors of the East India Company, decided to exterminate and eliminate the Pindaris in September 1816. Hastings put into place a plan by the end of 1817. To begin with, he entered into an understanding with several other powers active in India. The eminent war between Bhopal state and Marathas was prevented by the treaty between Wazir’s son Nazar Mohammad Khan and the East India Company in 1818. This organized campaign of Lord Hastings was known as the Pindari War or the Third Anglo-Maratha War.
Chitu fled to Bhopal, where he tried to reach an agreement with the British through the
Nawab. The British rejected his plans as too extravagant. Karim Khan’s group split into three bodies, but the British troops still detected them. Clarke’s cavalry attacked one group around Gangraur, while Adams pursued the rest into the Bhopal area. Soon, most of the Pindari leaders surrendered to the British authorities. Namdar Khan gave himself up on February third, and Karim Khan surrendered to Malcolm on the fifteenth. Others gradually followed their example.
Only Chitu escaped. He participated in the events connected with Appa Sahib at Nagpur but eventually fled to the jungle, deserted by his followers. Near the end of February 1819 his body was brought to Malcolm. He had been attacked and killed by a tiger.
John George arranged for the Pindari leaders and their families to settle in northern India at Gorakhpur with pensions and land. To prevent any resurgence of the Pindaris, the British permitted only Namdar Khan, Karim Khan’s nephew, to settle in Bhopal near the old banes of the Pindaris.
In conjunction with British consolidation after the war, John Malcolm arranged for the Pindari leaders and their families to settle in northern India at Gorakpur with pensions and land. To prevent any resurgence of the Pindaris, the British permitted only Namdar Khan, Karim Khan’s nephew, to settle in Bhopal near the old banes of the Pindaris.
In 1866 Alfred Lyall wrote in “The Old Pindaree” of laments of Pindaree, the fiercely independent fighter/pluderer from central india:
And if I were forty years younger, with my life before me to choose
I would’nt be lectured by Kafirs, or bullied by fat Hindoos;
But I’d go to some far-off country where Musalmans still are men
Or take to the jungle, like Cheettoo, and die in the tiger’s den.
Other groups and events now occupied the center of the Indian stage of history.