Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Statue for the butcher of Allahabad, Brig. Gen. James Neill,Chennai (Madras)

Brig.Gen. James George Smith Neill, Butcher of Allahabad. Wikipedia

Mount road, Chennai in 1908.
Until 1962, there was a huge Bronze statue of Brig. Gen. James George Smith Neill of the ‘Madras Fusiliers’, a European unit, on Mount Road, Madras (Chennai). It was installed by the British in  1860 in memory of his great services during the siege of Lucknow in 1857.  His patriotic services to Britain being he was instrumental in the massacre of 1000 plus (the figure is debatable; some historians say it is several  thousands) Indian natives  and, in the process, saved the British community from total annihilation in the hands of rampaging Indians. 

A Scottish  by birth, he was assigned to put down the brewing rebellion in the northern states that became violent and hell-bent against the British regime that openly encouraged racial discrimination, blasphemy and filthy treatment of Indian soldiers in the army, not to mention grabbing several kingdoms and insulting Indian Maharajahs and Nawabs.

Brig Gen Neill,  at Benares and later  at Allahabad  and Lucknow  went berserk and resorted to committing massacres of mutineers to quell the rebellion.  Why did he go berserk? Because the  high-strung Indians, in a rage,  killed numerous whites, including women and children. What the Indians, who were known to have the highest tolerance,  did was not all right. But, what justification did Neil have whose action resulted in the death of thousands of Indians  to revenge the killing of roughly 50 English people?

Statue of Brigadier-General James Neill (1810-57), Chennai,  Royal Collection Trust
The statue of James Neill in Wellington Square, Ayr, Ayrshire, circa 1895
Since  1995 this particular section in the Government Museum, Chennai  that has the statue of Neil has not been open to public viewing. The statue of the much hated military officer' is clearly one of the biggest statues in the Museum,  measuring over 10 feet in height. Befitting the statue's height, the plaque gives details of his killing spree.

“He (Neil) killed one lakh Indians just for uttering the word ‘Independence’, and how can we forget that?” fumes Mr. Kalathi, Educational Officer at the Madras Museum. (vide

The statue of  the Army officer should be exhibited in the center of the museum so that the young people will understand how hard the Indians had fought to get the freedom from the British and what kind of repressive measures they took to put down the freedom movements.

Col. James Neil  with “ruthless and horrible” methods quelled the mutineers, ordering “entire villages to be burnt down and inhabitants  hanged” as he marched towards Cawnpore (Kanpur).
Neil was killed in combat at Lucknow in September 1857. The British rulers  honored him by erecting a statue of him on Mount Road in Madras in 1860. The inscriptions on the pedestal of Neil’s statue read: “Universally acknowledged as the first who stemmed the torrent of rebellion in Bengal.” Thus records the ‘Madras Hand Book 1871’, a rare testimony to the horrific side of India’s 1857 uprising that saw Hindus and Muslims united in their struggle against the colonial power.

In the early part of 1900s like-minded freedom fighters, belonging to  the ‘Tamil Nadu Volunteer Corps’ wanted the statue removed and held agitations.  Mahatma Gandhi on his visit to Chennai in September 1927 gave support to the agitation and wanted the people to follow the principles of ‘Satyagraha. MLC passed several resolutions in this regard, but they proved to be futile.  When  the  Rajaji-led Congress Ministry came to power after the election in 1937 (as per newly-constituted Provincial Legislative Assemblies under the ‘Government of India Act, 1935.), the then  Madras Corporation through a resolution ordered the removal of Neil’s statue and shifted  it to the Madras Museum.

To the Indians, Army officer, James Neill is a butcher in a mutton shop. As for the British, he is a hero who saved the honor and dignity of the British community during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 by committing massacre of Indian natives. What a paradox?