20th May 2024

Unsung heroes of India: U Kiang Nongbah

U Kiang Nongbah

U Kiang Nongbah

The Jaintia Kingdom was an empire that ruled for around three centuries, in present-day Bangladesh and northeast India. The kingdom fell into British hands in the year 1835. King Rajendra Singh, their last ruler, was now deprived of his kingdom. The brutal British rule led to to an uprising led and guided by a brave young man called U Kiang Nongbah.

U Kiang Nongbah was born in Jowai (in present-day Meghalaya), in a family of farmers. A young boy during the time of the annexation, U Kiang Nongbah witnessed how the Britishers treated his people, and was greatly disturbed by it.

The British began the impositions of taxes with the House Tax, in the year 1860. U Kiang Nongbah asked his people not to pay taxes to foreigners. Despite resistance from the people, the British went on to impose several other taxes, including the income tax. Commodities like betel leaves and betel nuts were also taxed. Apart from taxes, the British also began interfering with the traditions and religious activities of the Jaintia people. They were not allowed to cremate the dead according to their tradition; some British officials burnt the weapons meant for a traditional dance. This infuriated the people, and a rebellion rose in the year 1862. U Kiang Nongbah and his men built barricades, stockades, stored grains and manufactured weapons and firearms. They attacked the military posts and settlements of the British. Soon, the rebellion spread and the British forces had to face a stiff opposition to their authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, U Kiang Nongbah fell ill and had to stay in hiding until he could recover. Two of his own people betrayed him and revealed where he was, to the British. U Kiang Nongbah was arrested in the early hours of 27 December 1862, and hanged publicly to strike terror in the hearts of the people three days later, on 30 December.

U Kiang Nongbah faced his fate with immense courage. His parting words from the gallows could never be forgotten: ‘Look at me closely, don’t bow down your heads, as I die on the gallows. If my head hangs to the east, my country will attain freedom within 100 years; if it hangs westwards, we will remain slaves for eternity.’ And 85 years later, on 15 August 1947, the British had to leave the country, making U Kiang Nongbah not only a patriot but also a prophet.

The Government of India issued a postage stamp in U Kiang Nongbah’s honour, in the year 2001.

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