|Maps of India|
Many of us may not be aware that prior to the major rebellion of 1857 called Sepoy 'Mutiny' against the British that gripped the northern states, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu there were many small uprisings against the British by the natives called Palayakarars (polygars) who were small local rulers/chieftains
They were the descendants of Nayaks who originally migrated from Andhra during the Vijayanagara rule and later during Nayak periods. Of particular interest to us is their 1801 revolt against the British. The Palayakarars refused to pay land tax to the colonial rulers. The East India Company had a subsidiary alliance with the Nawab of Arcot to protect the latter's establishment on a specified annual fee plus meeting the maintenance cost of their army. At one stage, the Nawab could not pay the heavy fees and asked the English company to collect the land rent from Palayakarars on their behalf. These local rulers ( who hailed from Tirunelvali and other southern district of Tamil Nadu) who had been enjoying rights for several centuries refused to pay taxes to them. Consequently several wars and skirmishes broke out between the local rulers and British forces backed by the Nawab.
According to Mr. M. Rajendran, IAS officer, the 1801 revolt by the Palayakarers was the first war of independence predating both the Vellore Mutiny (10 July 1806) and Sepoy Mutiny. And one interesting fact is this revolt was well organized and nicely planned by the Palayakarars who were in touch rebels from places like Pune and Nanguneri. Their aim was to free the land from the British. Historian Prof. Rajayan of M.K. university, Madurai requested the central government - ICHR to consider this revolt as the earliest war of independence. Some well-known historians like Ramachandra Guha are of the opinion that none of these revolts including the 1770s Sanyasi-Fakir revolt of Bengal can be classified as the war of independence because they did not have any national character and these wars against the colonial rulers were fought for certain specific purposes. The war of independence assumed a national character and ethos only after the arrival great patriots like Gokhale, Tilak Gandhiji, et al., particularly after the formation of the Indian National Congress which attracted the people across India cutting across caste, religion, languages and culture.