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When Pirzada challenged the British on Muharram of 1782 in Sylhet : From the memoir of John Lindsay

During my (John Lindsay) residence in India, when our affairs were less prosperous than at present, the country was more or less convulsed by occasional commotions. I speak of the period when Mr. Hastings visited Benares in the year 1782, and the temporary revolt of Rajah Cheit Sing and Vizier Ali. By a well-constructed plan, they had nearly succeeded in taking Mr. Hastings and his body-guard prisoners ; had this been effected, the whole of India would have been in arms and open revolt, being justly disaffected ; as it was, there was considerable agitation in many of the provinces of Bengal, and it was partially felt even at Dacca and Sylhet. At this last place, the Mussulmen had become uncommonly violent. The period of the Moharum, or annual festival of the Islam faith, was approaching, when a deputation from the Hindoo inhabitants came privately to inform me that they had certain intelligence that the Mahometans meditated an assault upon our government on that day, and that it would likely commence by an attack on the Hindoo temples in the town. I told them that I could not believe it, as they had hitherto shewn no indication of riot. My military force, at that time, being a good deal scattered in the province, not more than forty or fifty men could be mustered, fit for duty ; and I desired my Jemautdar, or black officer, to have all in readiness in case of a fray. Nothing occurred during the day of festival until five in the evening, when the Hindoo inhabitants rushed into my house in numbers, covered with marks of violence they had received from the Mahometans. I went into my room for a few minutes, dressed my pistols, and gave them to my favourite black servant, desiring him to keep near me, and, if he saw me in danger, to put them into my hand. I carried a light horseman’s sword under my arm. There was no time for delay, as the town was on fire in difi’erent directions. With my small force I marched to the place where the crowd was collected, and found, to my surprise, that the numbers were much more considerable than I expected. As I advanced, they retired to a strong position upon a hill, and there took post. I followed them to the top, and drew up my sepoys on a table-ground directly opposite to them, where they stood with shouldered arms. I then went forward, with my black officer, to hold a parley on the spot. I found their leader (Pirzada) a priest of considerable rank, at the head of three hundred men. He was insolent in his manner ; I was perfectly calm. I told him that I presented myself before him in the capacity of head-magistrate— that I was informed a fray had happened, which I would investigate next day, and render justice where due—that my object at that moment was to compel him to lay down his arms, and retire peaceably. He (Pirzada) immediately drew his sword, and exclaiming with a loud voice, ” This is the day to kill or to die ; the reign of the English is at an end !” aimed a heavy blow at my head; this I was fortunate enough to parry, but he struck so hard that my sword was broken, and little more than the hilt remained in my hand. My black servant at the same moment thrust a pistol into my hand, which I instantly fired, and the priest fell,—and so close were we in contact that his clothes were set on fire. My sepoys in the rear, seeing my dangerous situation, discharged a platoon while I stood in front, from which I miraculously escaped. My black officer and I rushed back into the ranks in time to prevent their giving way ; we then charged with bayonets, and drove the armed multitude over the hill. At that moment there lay an old man wounded at my feet, and a sepoy was on the point of transfixing him with the bayonet, when I diverted the point with my foot, and saved the poor man.
I mention this circumstance, as it is connected with a story hereafter. I had now time to look about me and survey the mischief that had been done in so short a time. The high priest (Pirzada) and his two brothers (Syed Muhammad Hadi & Syed Muhammad Mahdi) were lying dead on the ground, and many of his dependents were wounded.

(This is an excerpt from ‘Anecdotes of an Indian Life’ a memoir of John Lindsay, who was the magistrate of Sylhet when Pirzada with his two brothers rose in revolt against the British on the day of Muharram)

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Saquib Salim

Saquib Salim is a well known historian under whose supervision various museums (Red Fort, National Library, IFFI, Jallianwala Bagh etc.) were researched. To his credit Mr. Salim has more than 400 published articles on history, politics, culture and literature in English and Hindi. Before pursuing his research and masters in modern Indian History from JNU, he was an electrical engineering student at AMU. Presently, he works as a freelance/ independent history researcher, writer and works at www.awazthevoice.in