[Dalit History Month Special] The Blood-Washed Mangarh Hills: A Haunting Reminder of the Oppression Faced by Marginalized Communities

During the event at Mangarh Dham, thousands of devotees from Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh gathered together under the leadership of Govind Guru.
 The Shahid Smarak at Mangarh
The Shahid Smarak at Mangarh

The pages of history are filled with numerous tales of valour and sacrifices that have helped shape the world as we know it. However, there are some stories that are buried so deep in time that they require a conscious effort to be brought to light. Such is the story of the Mangarh Hill Massacre, a tragedy that took place in Banswara district in Rajasthan, over 110 years ago. The massacre claimed the lives of 1500 tribal devotees who had gathered under the leadership of the great Saint Govind Guru. Remarkably, despite its devastating scale, this incident remains largely unrecorded in the annals of history. As we observe Dalit History Month, it is essential to remember the Mangarh Hill Massacre as it highlights the historical struggles of Adivasis against oppression and discrimination. The Bhil community was subjected to forced labor, land dispossession, and other forms of exploitation by the British colonial administration, and their resistance to these practices led to the massacre.

The gunmetal panels at the Mangarh Dham
The gunmetal panels at the Mangarh Dham

Events of the Mangarh Hill Massacre On November 17, 1913, on Margashirsha Purnima, thousands of tribal devotees of Guru Govind Singh had congregated at Mangarh Dham hill to celebrate the spiritual leader's birthday. The Bhils had been peaceful until then, but the British authorities saw the gathering as an opportunity to crush the Bhil movement. They sent a force of over 200 soldiers, armed with machine guns and rifles, to disperse the gathering. The Bhils were caught off guard and unarmed. They were encircled by the British soldiers, who opened fire on them indiscriminately. The Bhils, who had nowhere to go, were trapped and killed in large numbers. The massacre continued for several hours, and the soldiers showed no mercy to the men, women, and children who had gathered at the hill.The peaceful gathering resulted in the tragic loss of approximate 1500 innocent lives. The massacre was one of the bloodiest incidents in the history of the Bhil community and became a rallying point for the tribal movements in India.

Oral accounts of the descendants

During the event at Mangarh Dham, thousands of devotees from Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh gathered together under the leadership of Govind Guru. However, not all of them survived the subsequent events. Despite this, some devotees managed to escape and returned home alive. Among them were Mogaji Bhagat, Dhirabhai Bhagat, and Hirabhai Khant, who were associated with the Surata Dhuni. These survivors shared their accounts of the events with others, including Kuber Maharaj, a 98-year-old resident of Golamba near Antri in Dungarpur district. The stories of these survivors provided insight into the traumatic events that took place at Mangarh Dham and serve as a reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought for India's freedom. Despite the passage of time, the story of this massacre has been preserved through the oral accounts of the descendants of the victims, who impart the pain and pride of their heritage in equal measures. MLA and Cabinet Minister Mahendrajit Singh Malviya, commissioned a book in 2013 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of Rajasthan. The book, titled "Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of Rajasthan," was written by Dr. Kamlesh Sharma, Deputy Director of the Information and Public Relations Department, who painstakingly gathered the facts surrounding this tragic event. In a conversation with The Mooknayak, Sharma relived the memories of his experience with the descendants of the martyrs. " Even after more than a century since the macabre evening, the scars on the land of Mangarh Dham remain all too vivid. The Dhunis established by Guru Govind and his disciples in the border areas still bear witness to the sacrifice that was made on that fateful day. The British government, at the time, had conducted several correspondences regarding the gathering, which are still accessible today" Dr Sharma says. Historian and author of many books on ancient history , Dr Shri Krishna Jugnu says, " The story of the Mangarh Hill Massacre is not merely about the loss of innocent lives, but about the triumph of the human spirit over oppression and marginalization. Thousands of devotees from Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh assembled at Mangarh Dham under the aegis of Guru Govind Singh. " Among the attendees were Mogaji Bhagat, Dhirabhai Bhagat, and Hirabhai Khant of Surata Dhuni, who, through their escape from the massacre, ensured that the memory of the incident would live on.

Aftermath of the massacre After the Mangarh uprising, those arrested were subjected to trial on 2 February 1914 in front of a special tribunal comprising of Major Gough and Major Allison, I.C.S. The trial resulted in Govindguru being sentenced to death, while Punja Pargi, Govindguru 's lieutenant, was sentenced to life imprisonment, and the others to three years of imprisonment. After an appeal, Govindgiri's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment while Pargi's sentence was upheld. The sentences of the remaining accused were reduced to six months in prison.

Who are the Bhils?

The Bhils are an indigenous tribal community that inhabits the western and central parts of India. Historically, they have been marginalized and exploited by the ruling classes, including the British colonial administration. The British categorized the Bhils as "criminal tribes" and subjected them to a system of forced labor, often under inhumane conditions. This system was known as the "begar" system, where Bhils were forced to work for free on government projects. The Bhils had been resisting this oppression for many years, but their efforts had largely been unsuccessful. However, in the early 20th century, a Bhil leader named Govind Guru emerged, who mobilized the community and led a sustained struggle against the British authorities.

A 9 feet tall statute of Govindguru at the site
A 9 feet tall statute of Govindguru at the site

Govind Guru, a charismatic personality Govind Guru ,also known as Govindgiri , was born on 20 December 1858 in Bansia village of Dungarpur district. Govind Guru was a charismatic figure who had a deep understanding of the Bhil community's problems. He organized the Bhils into a powerful movement and advocated for their rights. He demanded an end to the ' Begar ' system, better working conditions, and fair wages for the Bhils. Guru also encouraged the Bhils to renounce alcohol , take up education and urged them to adopt a nonviolent approach in their struggle.

However, the princely states of Banswara, Dungarpur and Santrampur and the British authorities saw the Bhil movement as a threat to their control and resorted to violence to suppress it. They arrested Guru and other leaders of the movement, which led to widespread protests and unrest among the Bhils. The events that followed culminated in the Mangarh Hill Massacre.Govind Guru was arrested after the incident and later sentenced to life imprisonment , however Guru was released some years later.

Although Govindgiri was sentenced to life imprisonment, he did not serve the entire term. He was released from prison in Hyderabad in 1919, with the condition that he would not participate in any political activities. Additionally, he was forbidden from entering various princely states. Until his death on 30th October 1931, Govindgiri lived in Kamboi, near Limbdi, in what is now the Panchmahal district of Gujarat. The family of Harigiri, the eldest son of revolutionary Saint Govind Guru, is settled in Bansia and the family of younger son Amrugiri is settled in Umrai, near Talwara in Banswara district. Even today his family lives here and narrates the horrifying memories of the massacre.

State Efforts to Recognize the Martyrs Recognising the significance of the incident, Rajasthan government has taken steps toward preserving the memory of the incident. A panorama was constructed in 2018 as a tribute to the martyrs . Recently , Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has appealed to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare the Mangarh Dham memorial a national monument in November last. PM Modi though didn't make an announcement to the effect ,but said that the Centre along with the MP, Gujarat and Rajasthan state governments should make efforts to develop the site of historical importance. The Mangarh Hill Massacre is a stark reminder of the struggle for social justice and human rights for all. The incident is a testament to the valour, sacrifice, and resilience of the Bhil community and the legacy of Guru Govind Singh, who continues to inspire millions even today.

Historians on the Mangarh Hill Massacre:

"The Mangarh tragedy showed up the harshness of the British rule in India and the ruthlessness with which the powers of the State could be used against its own subjects."

- Ramchandra Guha, Indian historian and writer

("India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy")

"The Bhil rebellion was a sign of protest against the highhandedness of the British Raj, and their attempt to quell it was a reminder of the viciousness of the British colonialism."

- Tanika Sarkar, Indian historian and author

("Glimpses of Bhil Rebellion: From Chachan to Chittagong")

"The massacre of Mangarh Hill is one of the many dark episodes of colonial history in India. The Bhils were only asking for their rights and dignity, but the British colonial administration responded with brutal force."

- Manu S. Pillai, Indian author and historian.

(The Forgotten Uprising")

"The Mangarh Hill Massacre was a turning point in the history of the Bhil community and the tribal movements in India. The massacre exposed the injustices and oppression faced by the Bhils and other tribal communities and galvanized them to intensify their struggle for their rights and dignity."

- K. S. Singh, Indian historian and anthropologist (The Scheduled Tribes".)

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