The battle of Saragarhi – The cover-up of a failure marketed as a brave sacrifice

By Nafees Ur Rehman

Looks like the movie Kesari, Kesari Trailer got it all wrong with who were the invaders and who were the defenders. Pashtuns were defending their land and INVADERS were the British-Indian army. I think it should not be that hard to understand.

Link to the trailer

Pashtuns numbering 10,000 is unsubstantiated. Please go to the 3D map in attachment and look at the mountains and its surrounding and think for yourself if there was any possibility for such a large number to gather from the scarcely populated area. Google maps


I could find at least two admissions by the British where they didn’t act to prevent attacks, or to defend the forts in the neighboring Khyber and Malakand, before and after the battle of Saragarhi, that resulted in the loss of life and territory for the British-Indian army.

At Landi Kotal, Capt. Barton was pulled out of the fort when he asked for reinforcement and some guns to defend fort of Landi Kotal. The Afridis took the fort of Landi Kotal and Ali Masid, and the whole of Khyber Pass from Landi Khana to Jamrud went into their control.

battle of saraghari

“There were 9,500 British and native troops at Peshawar, Fort Bara and Jamrud, and not a man was moved to help the Khyber Rifles.”

Please read the full admission in the words of Mills, H. Woosnam from The Pathan revolt in north-west India, p. 114.

battle of saraghari

Here is another such admission of an “avoidable sacrifice” on the battle of Dargai, Malakand.

“It seemed as if the battle of Dargai Heights was an avoidable sacrifice. Five Victoria Crosses were awarded for the action…”

Now let’s discuss Saragarhi.

The British knew that had been paying the price for blunders they were making during their effort to counter the revolt from Swat to Mahmund, to Khyber but still they decided to put a virgin Sikh force in a definite DEATH TRAP at Samana range.

The door of the Saragarhi post was made of wood, yes you read it RIHGT. The forts at Ali Masjid and Landi Kotal were ‘impregnable’ but still fell easily to the Pashtuns, so what chance did the wooden door had?

Source:Colonel John Haughton, commandant of the 36th Sikhs;

On the same Samana range, the British-Indian army had been engaging with the Pashtuns since the 26th of August, 2-3 weeks before the battle of Saragarhi. They knew the strength and intention of the Pashtuns but what surprising is the lack of significant action on their part to counter the attacks, or retreat in time to save lives of their force for that matter.

Now I ask you again to please go and check the 3D map of the Samana Range from Fort Gulistan to Fort Lockhart with Saragarhi in the middle. Saragarhi is not just on a walking distance between these two forts but well in range of various rifle/gun fire. Google maps


Also, please bear in mind that there were 11 forts, posts, piquets and Sangars on the Samana crest on that time as illustrated in the attached map.

I don’t want to go into the details of what happened on 12th of September 1897 but just to make a point, the attack on the post started early in the day and lasted till 4 p.m. For all this time, no help came to the soldiers who fought for their lives.

Imagine what had gone through the minds of these 21 Sikhs when they came to know that they have been ‘given-up’ by their own army and brothers at the two forts of about 500 combined strength. And they were now just “on-lookers” and spectators to their immolation.

This is important. “This is not the place to criticize the military necessities which […] leave its little force so weak that its immolation is inevitable.”

Were there ever any inquiries conducted into these series of military blunders to? Were any responsibilities fixed. or heads fired?

Instead they chose to cover-it up as a ‘brave sacrifice’.

Almost the same admission from the book Lieutenant-Colonel John Haughton, commandant of the 36th Sikhs; a hero of Tirah.

You must have noticed that I didn’t bring into the discussion bravery or cowardice of any side neither of the Sikhs nor of the Pashtuns, even not of the British for that matter. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus all were victims of colonization. The colonizers kept fanning the religious and racial divide to their advantage. I pay my respects to all those who lost their lives in that battle in particular and in the revolt in general.

It is important to remember those who fought but even more important is to question those who not only used these brave men as fuel for their greed war but also those who tried to hide their failures behind brave sacrifice.

Celebrating ‘brave sacrifice’ alone without asking the right questions is reflection of colonized mindset.

Read also: Historical reliability and authenticity of the details concerning the Battle of Saragarhi (1897)

Categories Sikhs

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