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ESTABLISHMENT OF BRITISH ASCENDANCY, 1798-1823

Suppression of the Pindari and Pathan Hordes

While the principal Indian powers were falling one by one before the growing British supremacy, Central India remained steeped in utter confusion and anarchy due to the turbulence and nefarious activities of predatory hordes like the Pindaris and the Pathans. In Rajputana it was also partly due to the feudal rivalries among its different states, and partly to the ravages associated with the Maratha penetration into it during the second half of the eighteenth century. The continuance of this state of things over a wide area could not be tolerated by the English at a time when they were trying to establish their paramountly over India. So after the close of the Nepal war, Lord Hastings turned to deal with these disturbed regions, particularly because the Pindaris had recently carried their raids into British territory and were also enlisted as mercenaries in the armies of the hostile Maratha chiefs.

The Pindari War

The Pindaris were a horde of cruel marauders, who from their headquarters in Central India ravaged and plundered the neighbouring regions as well as some distant areas. They were heard of towards the close of the seventeenth century during the Mughul -Maratha wars in the Deccan. The general political disorders of the eighteenth century led them to take to organized plundering and robbery as a profession, just as the failure of the Dual Government and the consequent disorders in Bengal led to the rise and prevalence of widespread dacoities in that province for the greater part of the second half of the eighteenth century. The Pindaris were employed as auxiliary forces in the Maratha armies and enjoyed the protection of Maratha chiefs like Sindhia and Holkar. In 1794 Sindhia granted them some settlements in Malwa near the Narmada. We get an idea of their organization from contemporary English writers. One of them, Sir John Malcolm, writes: “The Pindarries, who had risen, like masses of putrefaction in animal matter, out of the corruption of weak and expiring States, had fortunately none of those bonds of union which unite men in adversity. They had neither the tie of religion nor of national feeling. They were men of all lands and all religions. They had been brought together less by despair than by deeming the life of a plunderer, in the actual state of India, as one of small hazard, but great indulgence. . . . The Pindarries, when they came to a rich country, had neither the means nor inclination, like the Tartars, to whom also they have been compared, to settle and repose. Like swarms of locusts, acting from instinct, they destroyed and left waste whatever province they visited.” They generally avoided pitched battles; and plunder was their principal object, for which they perpetrated horrible cruelties on all whom they could get hold “They avoid fighting,” wrote Captain Sydenham in a memorandum on the Pindaris drawn up in 1809, “for they come to plunder, not to fight.” Under their powerful leaders, Hiru, Buran, Chitu, Wasil Muhammad and Karim Khan, they extended their depredations far and wide. In 1812 they harried the British districts of Mirzapur and Shahabad. During 1815-1816 they devas- tated the Nizam’s dominions and early in 1816 wantonly plundered the Northern Sarkars.

But Lord Hastings had by this time formed a strong determination to suppress them, for which he received in September, 1816, the sanction of the Court of Directors. He was shrewd enough to come to an understanding with the principal Indian powers, before he launched his operations for the final extermination of the Pindaris; towards the close of 1817. He effected careful and vigorous military preparations with a view to rounding them up from all sides-on the north and mat from Bengal, on the west from Gujarat and on the south from the Deccan. He assembled together a large army of 113,000 men and 300 guns d divided it into two parts-the northern force of four divisions being placed under his personal command and the Deccan force of five divisions under the command of Thomas Hislop, who had Sir John Malcolm as his principal lieutenant. By the end of 1817 the British troops succeeded in expelling the Pindaris from MaIwa and across the Chambal, and by the close of January, 1818, they were practically exterminated. Karim Khan, one of their powerful leaders, sur. rendered to Sir John Malcolm on the 18th February, 1818, and was given the small estate of Gawshpur in the United Provinces. Wasil Muhammad, who had taken refuge with Sindhia, was handed over by the Maratha chief to the English and died while in captivity at Ghazipur. Chitu was chased from place to place until be was devoured by a tiger in a jungle near Asirgarh. Thus Malcolm wrote about five years later: “. . . the Pindaries are so effectually destroyed that their name is almost forgotten.” Most of the survivors “mingled with the rest of the population”, and some became “active improving farmers”.


1″Many different conjectures have been offered as to the etymology of the term Pindarry. The most popular one among the natives is that they derived it from their dissolute -habits leading them constantly to resort to the shops of the sellers of an intoxicating drink termed Pinda.” (Malcolm, of Central India, Vol. J, p. 433.)

Suppression of the Pathans

Many Pathans at this time took to the habits of a predatory horde like the Pindaris. ” They commanded,” notes Prinsep, a con- temporary writer, ” forces of a different description from those of the, Pindaris chiefs. Indeed, the grand difference between the two classes was, that the Pathans were banded together for the purpose of preying on Governments and powerful chiefs: to this end their force moved about with the materials of regular battles and sieges, so as to work on the fears of princes and men in power, extorting contributions and other advantages from them, by such intimidation as an efficient army could only impress: while the object of the Pindaris was universal plunder”. They became powerful under their leaders, Muhammad Shah Khan and Amir Khan, and served as military adventurers under some of the Rajput and Maratha chiefs of the time. From about 1799 Amir Khan became intimately associated with Holkar’s government. Amir Khan became more formidable when, after the death of Muhammad Shah Khan in 1814, the latter’s troops joined him; and his depredations and plunders were carried on with greater force. The Company’s Government decided to detach this powerful Pathan chief from the other predatory bands, and, after some negotiations, persuaded him to come to terms on the 9th November, 1817. He was recognised as the Nawab of – Tonk by the English and also by Holkar. The suppression of the Pindaris and the alliance with Amir Khan relieved India of a terrible pest, subversive of political order, public peace and social tranquillity.

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