28 February, 2021

Fine Head For A Story

Alum Bheg was a nondescript pawn sacrificed in the tumult of 1857. His story, told without empire-bashing or nostalgia, throws light on a brutalising colonialism

Fine Head For A Story

It may not have caught the attention of historian Kim Wagner had there not been a neatly folded slip of paper in the eye-socket of the skull, which read: “Skull of Havildar Alum Bheg 46th Bengal Infantry, who was blown away from a gun. He was a principal leader of the mutiny of 1857 and of a most ruffianly disposition.” Intrigued by the manner of execution and the subsequent collection of the skull as a trophy, Wagner sought to restore some peace for the dispossessed by piecing together the history of barbaric treatment of the natives. It is a work which scholars call subaltern prosopography, depicting the cruelty of the natives and the barbaric retribution which followed.

Following the execution, the skull was carried home by Captain A.R.G. Costello, a witness to the execution in Sialkot on July 10, 1858, before it resurfaced a century later at pub The Lord Clyde in 1963. It took another 50 years before the ing­l­orious skull coincidentally reached a Danish historian researching imperial executions. The Skull of Alum Bheg is a meticulously researched,...

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