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A painful chapter of Indian history: The Mangarh massacre (1913)

Almost six years prior to Jallianwala Bagh massacre, a combined force of British and some princely states of Rajasthan and Gujarat surrounded more than one and a half lakh peaceful Bhils who assembled to perform 'havan' at Mangarh. More than 1500 people died by the indiscriminate machine gun fire and artillery shelling. Know about the incident which took place in 1913.

All of us remember the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. On the day of Baisakhi (13th April, 1919), British soldiers under General Dyer fired at the assembled people who came to celebrate Baisakhi. As per the British official estimate, 379 people died but modern historians believe that more than one thousand innocent men, women and children died on that day at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar.

But very few of us know that six years prior to Jallianwala Bagh, British soldiers along with the soldiers of rulers of some smaller states, attacked and killed assembled innocent Bhils at Mangarh on 17th November, 1913. The number of casualties was more than one thousand five hundred. Mangarh is known as Jallianwala Bagh of Rajasthan. Let us know the painful history and pay our respect to those innocent people who died on that day at Mangarh.

Let us know the background

Bhil is an ancient tribal community settled in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Some Bhils are also seen in the Sindh province of present Pakistan. During eighteenth, nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century, many Bhils used to work as bonded labours under the local kings and landlords of Rajasthan and Gujarat. They were very poorly paid. Further, the famine of 1899-1900 in those areas caused the death of more than five lakh people. The Bhils were severely affected. The small kingdoms of Banswara and Santrampur were the worst-affected places.

During and after this famine, many Bhils become bandits. Frequent clashes erupted with the forces of the princely states. The Bhils also resorted to gambling and drinking. During this dark period, a social reformer took the initiative to show the light of progress to the Bhils.

Govind Giri: A great social reformer

Govind Giri was born in a Banjara family in Dungarpur, Rajasthan. During his initial days, he worked as a bonded labour in the princely state of Santrampur. He understood that the socio-economic setup and the addiction to alcohol are the prime factors behind the plights of the Bhils.

Govind Giri started Bhagat movement in 1908. He propagated vegetarianism, abstaining from alcohol and gambling among the Bhils. He asked the Bhils to reject bonded labour, demand a fair price for their labour and fight for their rights. The rulers of Dungarpur, Banswara and Santrampur got very worried about the Bhagat movement and of Govind Giri, whom the Bhils started calling Govind Guru.

Govind Giri and his followers traveled to Mangarh

Mangarh is a place which is situated in a dense jungle. It was on the border of princely states of Banswara and Santrampur. Govind Giri and his followers started assembling at Mangarh in October, 1913. They were to attend a religious fair in the Indian month of Karthik, to organize a large 'havan' (fire rituals) and to take the oath. More than one and a half lakh Bhils assembled at Mangarh to attend the religious ceremony.

Worried rulers sought the help of the British

When the news of this huge assembly of Bhils reached the princely states, the rulers were very worried. They feared an armed rebellion by the Bhils. They sought help from the British. The British political regent R.E. Hamilton decided to take prompt action to curb the rebellion(!). The combined forces of British, Santrampur, Dungarpur, Banswara and a detachment of Mewar force moved towards Mangarh.

Massacre on 17th November, 1913

The combined force of the British and the princely states was under the overall command of Colonel Sherton who was assisted by Major Bailey and Captain Stiley, another two British officers. The force surrounded Mangarh from all sides and the peaceful Bhils were asked to disperse. When the Bhils performing the 'havan' refused to do so, they were sprayed with machine guns and artillery fire from all sides. Even automatic machine guns on the back of mules were used. On 17th November, 1913, more than one thousand five hundred peaceful people died in the barbaric attack.

What happened to Govind Giri

The social reformer was arrested from the 'havan' site at Mangarh along with thousands of his followers. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but because of his good conduct, he was released in 1919, but was not allowed to enter the princely states of Dungarpur, Banswara and Santrampur, where he had large followers. He breathed his last at Limbdi in 1931.

Final few words

This inhuman massacre of innocent Bhils by the combined force of British and princely states has been forgotten by almost all. But the social reforms movement initiated by Govind Giri brought a marginally better life for the Bhils. The Gujarat Government has finally acknowledged the contribution of Govind Giri and a University named Govind Giri University has been established in Godhra in 2015.

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