March 4, 1816 is the darkest day in the modern history of Nepal. On this day, the East India Company coerced Nepali negotiators into signing a document which is infamously known as the treaty of Sugauli. The authenticity of the treaty has always been controversial and a subject of debate in Nepal. The East India Company had a condition on the treaty that the King of Nepal had to sign, ratify and return it to the British Authorities within fifteen days of receiving it. However, it is believed that the King never signed for ratifying the document.
the war. The ministers and high ranking kajis who were against the war, prevailed. The administration sent Gajraj Mishra and Chandra Shekhar Upadhaya, as the representatives for negotiation and signing off the treaty. The Company is said to have mistreated the Emissary before they signed the document. It is believed that the British even bribed Mishra and Upadhaya with money and land and made them agree the terms and conditions of the treaty grossly in their favor. Furthermore, it is also believed that Mishra and Upadhaya never returned to Kathmandu, and they eventually settled in British India.
On November 1, 1814 the East India Company declared war on Nepal and attacked out of five fronts, three on west and far west and two in the East. Nepal repulsed the British out of three fronts but lost grounds on two far western fronts. The Nepali troops, known as the Gorkhas at that period, fought a gallant war, causing massive casualties on the enemy including the death of the commanding General and other high ranking officers.
The Nepalis/Gorkhas were fighting three times bigger colonial army with superior war materials such as modern cannons, howitzers and rifle and so on and so forth. Whereas, the Nepali army which comprised two third less in numbers with antiquated arms and inadequate supplies fought bravely to defeat the aggression. Moreover, the British as always used deceptive and inhuman tactics such as blocking source of drinking water, food supplies etc. Despite having endured all kind of deceptive war games of the enemy, the Nepalis after a long defensive war gave up holding the forts and walked away from the fronts rather than surrender to the enemy. The British themselves were so impressed by the gallantry displayed at the battle-field by the Nepali warriors that they praised the valor of their enemy and the British at the end of the war even erected battle monuments in commemoration of the brave commanders like Balabhadra Kuwar which still stands tall at the war field in Dehradun.
To go back some seventy years in Nepal’s history, King Prithvi Narayan Shah, The Great in view of what the Colonialist had been doing in South Asia, decided to take a great risk in the unification of Nepal. It should be noted that Nepal existed as an independent country for thousands of years. The Greater Nepal was protected by the Himalayan range in the north, Brahmaputra and Ganga Rivers in the south and as far as Kashmir in the west and what is now as Arunachal Pradesh in the east. Over the period of several centuries in history, the territories of Nepal contracted and extended with the rise and fall of the different dynastic rule.
In the early part of seventeenth century, with the development of huge commercial ships with modern navigational expertise, westerners such as Portuguese, Spanish, French and English began to arrive in south Asia in huge numbers, primarily, in search of expanding business and trade. Over time, the British East India Company brought thousands of able bodied soldiers disguised as civilian traders and grew stronger in the military sense. Gradually, they enhanced their influence, conspired for rivalries between different states, made them fight with each other whenever opportunities came. They fought war with the weaker kingdoms, capture them and merge them with the colony. Slowly but steadily the East India company grew stronger and stronger militarily and economically. And with the use of their divide and rule policy, the East India company spread on most of today’s India which was comprised of more than five hundred kingdoms.
After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the British defeated the Nawab of Bengal and The East India Company became so powerful, it defeated numerous kingdoms all over the Indian peninsula. Gradually, the company began its military expeditions towards the western and northern parts which that is covered with hills, mountains and valleys with cool and nice climate in comparison to the hot climatic condition of the south.
In 1767, the East India Company with a pretext of helping King Jaya Prakash Malla, send a large army under the command of Captain George Kinloch to fight against Prithvi Narayan Shah. However, before the British army could get close to Kathmandu, Prithvi Narayan Shah’s toops attacked kinloch’s army and defeated them, they suffered massive casualties. With more than two third of the soldiers dead, the rest of the British fled from the Sindhuli Gadi fort with huge amount of cannons, guns and other arms leaving behind. After the humiliating defeat, the colonial force never ventured to attack Nepal for more than forty years.
Prithvi Naryan Shah, in view of what the Colonialists were doing in the south, knew that the British would eventually move from the hot plain of the south to cool hilly places in the north. Obviously, it was a matter of “survival of the fittest” situation for the young King of a small Kingdom of Gorkha. Besides, Prithvi Narayan Shah had already visited Banaras in quest of purchasing modern arms and ammunitions for his envisioned plan for unification of Nepal. During the visit, the King spent a good deal of time in studying how the East India Company had been colonizing hundreds of kingdoms of the south one after another over a period of less than hundred years. In the north, Prithvi Narayan continued his unification campaign undeterred.
Prithvi Narayan Shah obviously took a huge risk on his own life and had begun the unification process seriously after the battle of Sindhuli Gadi. The westerners had already sent many spies in disguise as health workers and priests to different parts including Kathmandu valley. Some of them had already penetrated into the royal household of Newar kings of the valley. Prithvi Narayan saw the danger what those foreign elements could bring in, he expelled them from his newly unified and consolidated Kingdom.
After the merger of Kathmandu valley into his kingdom, Prithvi Narayan could have spent a luxurious life as the king of a very fertile, productive and socially and culturally rich and famous State of the time. But the King did not choose the life of luxury. He knew if he did not unify all the tiny kingdoms lying on the lap of the Himalayan region, the British colonial force would advance to the north and all the small Kingdoms would be subjugated to the British and made a part of the colony. This truth in mind, Prithvi Narayan must have taken the task of unification of Nepal. After defeating the neighboring kingdoms and merging them with Gorkha, the king could have retained the name of the unified Kingdom as Gorkha. However, after the merger of Kathmandu and so many other tiny kingdoms, Prithvi Narayan retained the name of the unified Kingdom as Nepal. As such, the history of modern Nepal began. After several years of unification, his own brothers demanded that the new enlarged Kingdom be divided amongst them. Prithvi Narayan outright rejected the idea, he rather punished them for raising such divisive notion. In fact, Prithvi Narayan had undertaken unification in order to create a bigger and stronger Nation which could be capable of defeating, and eventually driving the colonialist not only from Nepal but out of whole of South Asian peninsula.
Now going back to The Greater Nepal and Anglo-Nepal War, it took forty years for the British to wage war against Nepal after Prithvi Narayan’s death. After the untimely demise of Prithvi Narayan Shah, under the leadership of his younger son, the regent, Prince Bahadur Shah continued the unification process. Greater Nepal extended from Assam, Arunachal in the east, Sutlej river in the West and Bramhaputra and Ganga river in the south. During the interim, the East India Company had already colonized most of the kingdoms of the region. After the Plassey War, the Company had moved from Bengal to the far western region. They had gradually spread their presence in the region in around Delhi.The Greater Nepal’s boundary included Dehradun, Shimla, Ludhiana and beyond. Since The East India Company was determined to colonize the whole region, they found the Greater Nepal territory strategically too close from Delhi and yet to be acquired adjoining territories that they planning for expansion of the colony.
The East India Company declared war against Nepal in 1814 for no reason other than annexation of Nepal’s land. Whereas, back in 1802, they had in fact made an agreement not to encroach into each other’s territories. This was a breach of contract on the part of the British to begin with.
The British colonialists stimulated by its victory in the battle of Plassey, began the colonization campaign more aggressively, lately. As mentioned earlier, the colonialist attacked The Greater Nepal at the western frontier without any provocation. They could not win the war for more than a year. Finally with the help of deception and treacherous means, the Colonialist forced Nepali negotiating team to sign the document which is known as the treaty of Suguali, March 4, 1816.
The Colonial Injustice, a summary.
The war in itself is a very unfortunate and unfair happening. Ironically, at the end of the prolonged Anglo-Nepal war of 1814-1816, the British engaged themselves in very deceitful activities. Evidently, they tricked Greater Nepal’s Representative and coerced them to agree on some ambiguous terms and conditions of the treaty. The following are the summary of injustices meted out by the British to Nepal and the Nepali people. It could be helpful if the new generation of British people would care to understand how their ancestors could be held responsible for Nepal’s ongoing plight today.
It was dead wrong for the British to declare war on Nepal on November 1, 1814 after signing peace and friendship agreement years before, in 1802. Nepal lost some ground and had lost the war only on the far western front. In fact, the colonial forces were repulsed on all three fronts of the east. And yet, they annexed most of the Tarai land that was under Nepal’s possession before the war. They realized their mistake and returned some of the Tarai land within one year of signing the controversial document. Again, the second time, they returned four districts of Tarai after the Sepoy mutiny of 1857.
The post war period of about thirty years until the rise of Jung Bahadur Rana in 1846, Nepal had an uncertain and an unstable political situation which was created by rival groups and their followers. After Kot massacre, Jung Bahadur emerged as the de fact ruler. The British found in Jung Bahadur a trusted friend and ally.
In 1857, the Indians revolted against the East India company rule. The uprising against the British spread across the provinces of North India quickly. The Indian military under the British officers which comprised of Hindus and Muslims were incited on the religious ground against their British masters. Thousands of peoples, hindus, muslims and Christians were killed including hundreds of British military officers and civilian all across north India. The uprising quickly turned into insurrection and started to spread to the south. More than 800,000 people on rebel side and almost 5,000 British including women and children were killed during the violence. The East India Company was in the brink of collapse.
The British requested Nepal Government for help in suppressing the uprising. In response, Jung Bahadur Rana himself marched to India leading 15,000 Nepali troops. The Nepalis fought the rebellious Indian military and civilian supporters for months in different parts of north India and put off the fire of revolution. Had Jung Bahadur not assisted with Nepali military, more than likely, the insurrection would have succeeded and the British driven away from the Indian sub-continent. In return, for Nepal assistance in saving their rule in India, the British should have returned all the Nepali territories that they had looted in 1816 war. Instead, they just returned four districts of Banke, Bardia, Kailali, and Kanchanpur in west Nepal. The land return for Nepali’s contributions was indeed, grossly inadequate.
After the uprising of 1857, which the Indians call as the first revolution of Independence, the British Government liquidated The East India Company in 1858 and brought the administration of the colony of India under the direct rule of London. Government of India came under the rule of Viceroy appointed by the Queen of England until its decolonization in 1947. Jung Bahadur Rana, his brothers and nephews became allies to the British raj until they were overthrown after 104 years in 1951.
The British Raj exploited the colony of India for another 90 years. and the Ranas under the British blessings ruled Nepal with iron fist for a century.
The East India Company, during the Anglo-Nepal war was so impressed with the fighting quality of Nepalis/Gorkhas that they not only praised the gallantry of their enemy, but they wanted to employ the Nepali youths to serve in their military. Jung Bahadur did not permit the recruitment of Nepali youth in their army. However, Prime Minister Bir Shumsher Rana after 1885 relaxed the recruitment policy in order to please the British raj. After that British Indian army started to raise Gortkha recruitments in thousands which lead to further exploitation of Nepalis by the British.
In 1914, the First World War broke out and the exploitation of Nepali youths by the colonial power went up numerous folds. More than 200,000 Gorkha troops from Nepal and British India were deployed in several war theaters in Asia, Africa and Europe. According to the British war office, thousands died and thousand were missing in the war.
The Second World War lasted from 1939-1945. More than 110,000 Gorkha troops from Nepal and India were again deployed Asia, North Africa and Europe. More than 20,000 Nepali youths were killed and missing.
Besides the massive deployments of Nepali youths in the name of Gurkhas on the Indian Sepoy mutiny of 1857-59, World War I, and World II, the British used them in so many other Insurgencies, Battles and War since the Anglo-Nepal war. The wars were fought for the British in order to save their Empire. Whereas the Anglo-Nepal Warwas fought against the invading British in order to save their own motherland from colonization.
The Nepali youths, the Gurkhas were used and exploited in every battle by the British. And the war was fought for their interest. For example, the Gurkhas were used in Boxer War 1900, Tibet Expedition War 1904, Indian Independence 1947, Chinese Insurgency in Malaya 1948-1960, Borneo Confrontation 1962-1966, Falkland War 1982, Afghanistan War 2001-2014, and Iraq War 2003-2011.
If we look back at what the British have done to Nepal and Nepalis is appalling. The Nepalis helped them save their colony of India from the uprising of 1857-58. The Nepalis/Gurkhas sacrificed their lives to save their Empire in World I and World II as well so many other insurgencies, battles and war as already mentioned above. Ironically, they kept exploiting the Gurkha warriors with least compensation to the families of dead or War victims. The Gurkhas were paid just a fraction of the salary and allowances of what the British counterparts received. The disparities and discrimination was exposed and it was supposed to be rectified ten years ago. The injustices probably exist even today. Evidently, The British caused the deaths of thousands of the most productive age group Nepalis over the past two centuries. Should not the British people have some sympathy on how the people of Nepal were treated over a period of two hundred and five years?
More importantly, the British Government decided to decolonize and grant independence to India, after Second World War. Out of the colony of India, the British created two countries of India and Pakistan in August, 1947. With two wings of Pakistan, East and West Pakistan, India was divided in three parts. India helped create Bangladesh out of East Pakistan in 1971. The question is if the British Government could create two countries divided them into three parts with two parts of Pakistan in the East and West and India in the middle, why would not they return Nepal’s territories they annexed and merged into the colony of India in 1816? The answer is answer is very simple. The British did want to take the risk of India’s protesting against it. The King Tribhuvan of Nepal probably did not have the courage to raise the question because India was assisting the King to get rid of the Rana regime. The Nepali congress leaders, who were raised and trained in India, did not want to antagonize Indian leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel etc. etc. by raising the question. As a result, Nepal lost the opportunity to regain her lost land and restore “The Greater Nepal”. The reality is, as long as Nepal remains landlocked on three sides by India, Nepal can never develop economically. Nepal should have a common border with Bangladesh. Greater Nepal is the solution.