Turrebaz Khan is a name the history books rarely acknowledge. Nothing is known about the hero of the little known struggle Hyderabad had put up against the British during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. History remembers him only as an ordinary soldier from Begum Bazar who mobilised 6,000-odd people to attack the British Residency. Nothing about his family background, his life before the uprising, his personality is known; we don’t even have a sketch or portrait. It seems like the legend of Turrebaz Khan took birth with the revolt of 1857 and died with it.
Little is known about him for sure, but his story needs to be retold. For, he was the man who had put Hyderabad on the map of the country’s First War of Independence.
How the sepoy mutiny reached Hyderabad
The uprising of 1857 in Hyderabad, led by Turrebaz Khan and Maulvi Allauddin, was essentially to free Jamedar Cheeda Khan, who was held as a prisoner inside the Residency. Though high-school history books have omitted the story, there was a significant impact of the revolt of 1857 on Hyderabad too. As the news of the revolt, which started in Meerut reached Hyderabad, posters appeared on walls of mosques, churches and in public squares, urging the Nizam and the people to rise up against the British. “But unfortunately Nizam Afzal Ud-daula and his minister, Salar Jung along with the Umraos and Sardars, adopted a pro-British stance. The history of Hyderabad could have been written differently had they been supportive of their people,” says Anuradha Reddy of INTACH.
There were spells of anti-British rebellions in Hyderabad State even before 1857. With the Nizam signing the Treaty of Subsidiary Alliance with the East India Company in 1800, he fell into huge debts and the British wielded a lot of influence over him. The Indian sepoys in Nizam’s army and the Subsidiary Troops of East India Company revolted against the European officers. Among them was Jamedar Cheeda Khan who revolted against the British when Hyderabad Contingent’s 3rd Cavalry was ordered to march to Delhi at Buldhana. “They supposed it an attempt of the foreigners to overthrow the Mughal emperor,” says Mohammad Ali Baig, prominent theatre personality from Hyderabad, who brought to life Turrebaz Khan’s story on stage recently, with his play 1857: Turrebaz Khan which premiered at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. “Cheeda Khan fled with 15 other sepoys to Hyderabad expecting support from the Nizam. But the moment he stepped into Hyderabad, he was arrested by Nizam’s minister Mir Turab Ali Khan and was handed over to the Resident,” Baig adds.
When Koti turned into a battleground
Describing the scene that would have unfolded at the Residency that fateful day, Dr Devireddy Subramanyam Reddy, a retired professor of Sri Venkateswara University, says, “Waving a flag, Turrebaz Khan, along with other rebels, rode to the British residency in Koti, via Begum Bazar, mobilising around 5000 Rohillas, Arabs, students and other mutineers who rushed forward like a flash of lightning, to attack the British residency.”
Meanwhile, Maulvi Allauddin joined Turrebaz, at the south-western extremity of the Residency, after assembling his followers from Putli bowli. At around 6.30 pm they took positions in two large houses facing the western wall of the Residency, belonging to two soucars (moneylenders), Abban Saheb and Jaigopal Das, who vacated their homes for the “noble cause”.
In the meantime, news of 5000 men marching towards the British Residency reached minister Mir Turab Ali Khan. He sent word to the Residency at once, cautioning them. Turrebaz Khan and Maulvi Allauddin along with the Rohillas demolished the wall and broke through the Residency garden gates, only to find Major Cuthbert Davidson waiting for them, fully armed. Thus began the war. The lightly-armed men led by Turrebaz and Maulvi and the rebels positioned in the houses of the soucars were no match for the trained soldiers of Madras Horse Artillery. The firing went on all night, and needless to say, the rebels were outclassed. By 4 am, the rebellion was crushed.
Unable to bear incessant firing from the Residency, the Rohillas fled from the mansions of Abban Saheb and Jaigopal Das that were destroyed after the mutiny. The arena was a scene of carnage, with bodies of martyred Rohillas.
Turrebaz Khan fled too, but with hopes of coming back with additional strength and support.
The hero laid his life down for the people
On July 22, Turab Ali Khan gave information about Turrebaz to the Resident once again. “Turrebaz was identified by a scar near his eye and arrested in the forest near Ashoor Khana. He was tried by the Hyderabad Court and sentenced to transportation to Andaman for life,” says Dr. Devireddy Subramanyam Reddy. “During the trial, he was asked about the whereabouts of Moulvi Allaudin and his contributions in the uprising. But being a loyal patriot, he refused to divulge any information on Moulvi in return for decreased punishment. Instead, he took all the charges on his head,” says Mohammad Ali Baig.
But Turrebaz was ingenious. He managed to escape from jail on January 18, 1859 before he could be transported for ‘Kala paani ki saza’. The British authorities announced a reward of Rupees 5,000 for any information on Turrebaz. There was a manhunt for him and as believed by the historians, he was caught and shot dead on January 24 in the forests of Toopran by a bunch of armed Indian men led by Talukdar Mirza Qurban Ali Baig. His body was dragged all the way back to the city. According to several historic accounts, Turrebaz’ body was hanged naked from a tree near the Residency building to serve as a deterrent. “Thus, Turrebaz, son of Rustum Khan, resident of the Begum Bazar, laid his life heroically for the cause of the people, while the Nizams of Hyderabad were more interested in preserving their power just as the Mughal ruler in Delhi. Turrebaz and Moulvi Allaudin deserve to be remembered for their role in trying to liberate the Nizam’s dominions from the clutches of the British,” says Dr Devireddy Subramanyam Reddy.
Meanwhile, The Nizam reaped benefits of this bloodbath
The Nizam Afzal-ud-Daula and his minister Mir Turab Ali Khan reaped laurels from East India Company for their “unflinching support during the troubled times and for letting down the rebels… The British Government will not forget that it has owed to his highness the Nizam and his most able minister…” (as Davidson wrote).
The Governor of Bombay wrote to the Governor General: “If not for Nizam’s strong support, the British would have lost the South”. Later in a letter, Captain Abbot described the gory details: “of 94 soldiers many were killed. One was hanged. Four shot dead. One was put before cannon and fired, his head flew 20 yards and his hands fell 8 yards apart.”
Talukdar Mirza Qurban Ali Baig received Rupees 5,000 as a reward and his salary was raised by Rupees 200. And according to some historical accounts, Qurban Ali was also promoted as Sadar Talukdar.
The title of ‘Star of India’ was conferred upon the Nizam. Raichur and Osmanabad which the British took away in 1853, were given back to him. Dues of about Rupees 50-55 lakh was waived. He was also allowed to issue coins with his image instead of the Mughals. Mir Turab Ali Khan was betowed with the title, ‘Salar Jung’.
Today, the martyr is all but forgotten
His birth anniversary is not known, but his death anniversary on January 24 each year passes by off without even a whimper. To mark the revolt of 1857 in Hyderabad, a memorial with the inscription ‘Memorial to the martyrs of July 17, 1857’ was erected near the Koti bus stand. Turrebaz Khan’s name is etched on the plaque. But only a few notice. The structure erected in the memory of those brave martyrs is lost in the midst of the ever-increasing traffic in this bustling market place. Once in a while, on some occasion, it is garlanded by some leader under the prospects of being clicked — that’s it. There is a Turrebaz Khan Road as well — the stretch from Koti Women’s College to Pulti Bowli X roads. But chances are not many know it by that name.