Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Silent Monuments

…soon after he took charges from Colonel Campbell, Colonel Jenkins overran the fertile land of Ambari and Falakata over a pretext that Bhutanese were committing outrages and alleged aggression over their land.

Ashley Eden’s mission had also come to a bitter end with Bhutanese sides charging the British of permanently annexing the Ambari and Falakata and also for refusing to pay the annual compensation related to the Assam Duars. British had also threatened that Bengal Duars would be annexed.

Bhutanese felt that such an act was unfair and unjustifiable since Ashley Eden had signed a treaty. However, the British claimed that the treaty was invalid since it was signed under threat and the mission had only signed it in order to save their own lives.

The war was inevitable.

The British wanted to enforce their demands by coercing Bhutan. They felt insulted and compelled. They decided to annex Bengal Duars, Dalimkot, Passakha and Dewangiri (the present day Deothang). The war was proclaimed on 12 November 1864.

The war was planned from both the Bengal and Assam sides. The Assam side was led by Brigadier-General Mulcaster who further divided his troops into two on the right and marched to Bhutan from Goalpara, which moved towards Goalpara and Bishen Singh (near present day Gelephu) while Brigadier-General Dunsford first assembled at Cooch Behar to march towards Buxa and Balla (the present day Phuentsholing). Another column moved towards Daling (near Kalimpong) and Chamurchi (near present day Samtse) from Jalpaiguri.

The troops which were mostly comprised of Indians carried supplies and ammunition to last for three months. Six hundred elephants carried arms, ammunition and the supplies.

As the troops from Goalpara crossed over Barapeta on the border, they halted to rearrange themselves while they stockpiled the arms and ammunitions in a makeshift godown (store). To this day, Samdrup Jongkha is still known as Gu Dama which is a corruption of the word Godown.

As thousands of troops crossed over to Dewangiri (Deothang) and halted there preparing for war, each of them carried a stone on which they wrote their name and kept on a path junction which they could take back if they were ever fortunate to return. The stones would show how many people returned and if they didn’t it will be a small monument with their names being written for their sacrifice.

Thousands of British Indian troops fought few loyal bands and after much resistance, they took over all fronts. They were pleased with their own successes and underestimating the Bhutanese troops, they decided to disband their main force and leave few armed posts only in their new territory. However, they were waiting for proper time to withdraw.

Before the troops could withdraw, the Tongsa Penlop, Jigme Namgyal brought together all factions of people from across the country and started collecting the provisions of food, weapons and strength. Bhutan was ready to fight back.

On 29 January 1865, Tongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal attacked the Diwangiri (Deothang) garrison by surprise.

All access paths were blocked and cut out. Food and water supplies were blocked too. The bamboo pipes which provided water was removed in the night at source and in the dead of the night, the camps were all plundered in the darkness.

Many troops perished in the darkness. Bhutanese celebrated success silently while the mount of stones which the British Indian troops built lay there as monument for the sacrifices only for very few ever survived to take it back.

What happened later is history but the monument remained where it lay- forgotten and unknown until ninety seven years down the ages when another troops, this time for peace and friendship from free India cut through the path junction making road for motor and people to ply through where once war was fought. The stones became part of the road and what was someone’s sacrifice remained as a token of lasting friendship between the two countries.

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