The Simla Coolie Murder Case: A 98-year-old Story of How the Indians Battled the British


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From the treasure troves of Shimla’s grand legacy, the story of a seemingly insignificant incident that imperceptibly altered the course of British rule in India.

Nearly 98 years after the brutal murder of a rickshaw coolie by a British official—and the subsequent court case—made the headlines, first time author, Atul Lal weaves a gripping tale of the crime, the trial and the punishment.

Over the years, several renowned personalities, like Pamela Kanwar in Imperial Simla: The Political Culture of the Raj, and recently MJ Akbar in an article, have talked about how this incident significantly affected the British Empire’s credibility—and boosted the Indian’s fight against foreign rule.

The author has used these sources, archives from newspapers and his imagination, to paint a vivid picture of how the quest for justice unfolded.


In the early hours of 4 September 1925, Harry Mansel-Pleydell, the head of the Army Canteen Board in Shimla violently kicked a coolie named Jagesar to death in front of several witnesses. His position as a government official and illustrious lineage allowed him, and others like him, to use any means necessary to keep the natives in line.

Jagswar was one of thousands of coolies who spent his life ferrying Europeans on their shoulders through Shimla’s winding hills. In life, and in death, men like him were invisible to society.

This incident should have faded, like many others at the time, into obscurity, but it did not. Because on that fateful night, a group of Chaudharies who ran the rickshaw business decided to knock on the door of Lala Mohan Lal—a powerful politician, with a keen sense of justice. Lala’s involvement set off a series of events—the likes of which no one had never seen before.

This story, based on true events, recounts how a group of determined Indians negotiated various obstacles to pursue their cause for justice against a defiant administration that will stop at nothing to protect one of their own.

Atul Lal is a retired IT executive, who spent nearly three decades wearing suits and travelling around the world for work. He hung up his corporate boots (and the rest of his suits) in 2008 and embarked on a journey to rediscover his roots in Garli, his ancestral village in Himachal Pradesh, India.

When he discovered the connection between his grandfather, Lala Mohan Lal, and the once famous ‘Simla Coolie Murder Case’, he decided to put pen to paper, and tell the story as he imagined it.

An engineer by training, a marketing man by chance, and a social entrepreneur by choice, this is Atul’s first book. He currently lives a not-so-quiet life with his wife in Panchkula.


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