Wednesday, 15 August 2018

India's earliest freedom fighters Palayakarars of Tamil Nadu

Maps of India
To day we're celebrating 72nd independence day of India which was under the British rule for too long a time. On this day, it is the bounden duty of every Indian citizen to express his/her debt of gratitude to countless freedom fighters - both men and women who gave their lives to see India as Free Country. The entire Indian subcontinent and the natives of several regions underwent untold story of unjust rule, exploitation, racial discrimination and insults both under the East India Company and later under the British Crown. Indians patiently brooked all the evils committed by the colonial rulers with patience and, at last, got our  freedom.  When leaving the Indian shores for good in August 1947, Britain did injustice by dividing the Indian subcontinent into India (a Democratic country) and Pakistan (a Theocratic country).
The British, in particular, under the leadership of Winston Churchill never wanted to grant freedom to India as this country happened to be their cash-cow. The British got enormous revenue from India which is endowed with lots of natural resources.  Historical events like Rowlett Act, Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre of Punjab  (April 1913) and, at last, the Bengal Famine of 1943 accelerated India's independence moments. Britain's involvement in WWII was a blessing in disguise and its active participation drained its economy badly. When Attlee became the PM of Britain, replacing Churchill, the new government understood the aspirations of Indians and their long cherished goal and granted independence. Sri C. Rajagopala Chari (Rajaji) became the first and last Viceroy of India replacing Lord Mountbatten. Pandit Nehru was to take the reigns as the PM of India with limited money in the coffers  to tackle a plethora of problems on many fronts; indeed a Herculean task for a young country just out of iron fritters.
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
Above image
Veerapandiya Kattabomman, a well-known freedom fighter  was an 18th-century Palayakarrar and chieftain from Panchalankurichi (Tirunelveli district) in Tamil Nadu, India. He despised the English company and its officials. He and his associates refused to accept the sovereignty of the British East India Company and revolted  against them when they asked him to pay land tax (Kisti). The british defeated him, killed hi relatives and finally captured him by an Indian traitor who otherwise would have lost his kingdom and his family. Kattabommen  was hanged to death at Kayathar, close to Thirunelveli city  on 16 October 1799 with biased trial. Reason: He refused to pay land taxes, revolted against the British and instigated others local 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.