Sunday, 12 May 2019

The first and early revolt (1817) against the oppressive British rule - Paika Rebellion of Odisha

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This being an election month (the 'General Election' to the Parliament is held in phases across India), here is yet another brief note on the earliest  rebellion /struggle for  independence called  Paika rebellion organized by the Odisha's Paika community.  The Vellore mutiny on 10 July 1806 was the first instance of a large-scale and violent rebellion by Indian sepoys against the East India Company, predating the Paika Rebellion and the  major Indian Rebellion of 1857 by half a century. The revolt took place in the city of  Vellore, Tamil Nadu in which 200 British troops were killed and wounded in the Vellore fort. The struggle lasted for  just a day and roughly 100 sepoys were executed by the British military. Many were blown before the canon. Reason for the trouble: The British asked the Hindus to remove the religious marks on the forehead and the Muslims were advised to forego their beard. But the Paika rebellion was a large scale protest predating the 1857 Indian rebellion.
Vellore Mutiny, 1806. Live History India

The East India company's repressive rule and atrocities in India reached the summit, pushing the tolerant natives to the fag end. This resulted in armed rebellion against the English before the major one that later took place in 1857. Almost every Indian region  across the subcontinent had a taste of the unjust British rule and their exploitation of the land and people. Besides, the discriminatory attitude of the English men toward the natives got them as much bad name as their disgusting wheeling and dealings in trade practises. 
Have you ever heard of the famous armed rebellion of 1817 against the British East India Company's rule in the state of Odisha  called  the Paika Rebellion (also known as the Paika Bidroha)? What was the root cause of this rebellion in this part of East India? The controversial and  contentious land revenue policy of the British was the primary cause of the rebellion. The biased policy affected every section of people in the society; the people were left with no revenue, having lost their hereditary rights to their lands, whereas the company's coffer was full to the brim through out the season. 
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 Tinkering with the revenue system by the British earned the ire of the farming community of Odisha.  The sustained struggle  had caused  a large section of the people to let out their pent up anger and frustration against the English company ( Proxy government of the British Crown) who overstepped on their  freedom and fundamental rights. Led by one Bakshi Jagabandhu, leader of the revolt,  the armed rebellion was a symbol of Odia unity and  their  indomitable spirit  to fight  for a common purpose. The rebellion quickly gathered momentum  and spread across  most of Odisha like gossips among women. Surprisingly not only Paikas, but also zamindars, farmers and other sections of the community took the cudgels against the wily   British and their biased land polices. Bakshi Jagabandhu Mohapatra Bhramarabar Ray was the former bakshi or commander of the forces of the Raja of Khurda.  In 1814, the British took over Jagabandhu's family estate of Killa Rorang  forcing him to lead a hand to mouth life.  Once a rich and well-known commander  now became a poor soul  by the British
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It is to be noted that the  Paikas  of Odisha were  traditionally  courageous warriors.  They were the landed militia under the state's Gajapati rulers. Believed to be daring and  fearless in dealing with enemies, they were entrusted with the job of safeguarding the state's security and safety of people during peace time. The  Paikas were divided into  three groups/ranks  based on  their occupation and the weapons being used by them. They did different duties in the army and, it is said, they were always duty-bound and would give due importance to their pride. 
East India co. Battle with the Marathas. Live History India
As ill-luck would have it, the political scenario in Odisha changed in 1803 with the English company taking over the reign from the ruler of the land -  Raja of Khurda. Consequent upon the company rule and the use of their army, the power and prestige of the Paikas declined  drastically.  As the English company did not need the services of Paikas, they showed scant respect for them. What angered the natives was the greedy and grasping company officials had set their eyes on the lands owned by the Paikas. They wanted to take over their land - rent free lands given by the ex-ruler to the Paikas for their military service to the state.  The EIC had some reservation about the paikas: they suspected their loyalty to them and their support to the ex-ruler. As they were no longer in the Military services, they forfeited their rights to the land and the revenue. The company considered them  as common Ryots and, as such, like others should pay taxes, etc to the company.  It meant they had no rights whatsoever on the former Jagir lands. So, now they were pushed to the verge of losing  their livelihood -their  main source of income for their families. Besides seizing their hereditary rent-free lands granted to them, the British subjected the Paika to insults, intimidation and extortion. A disgusting fact was the natives were asked to pay taxes in silver on salt!!Being shrewed as they were, the English wanted to take over their lands by driving a wedge in between them to disrupt their unity and economic status. It is something like removing the poisonous flanges and teeth from  Cobras to subdue them as Indian snake charmers used to do in the past. In the mean time, the company kept their police force on high alert to tackle the brewing revolt. 

The Paika community and others, having driven to the end of the cliff, decided to fight it back and revolted under the direction of Raja of Khurda against the unjust English company.  In March 1817 under the leadership. Raja Mukunda Deva, the last King of Khurda there was a large-scale revolt backed by every section of Odia people, including countless land owners and zamindars, not to speak of other rulers of Odisha. At may towns and villages there were riots, many British commanders lost their lives in controlling the revolting Paiga. Only in May 1817 situation came under the control of the British. 
The EIC officials  between 1816 and 1826 searched the jungles and other remote places for the rebels, captured  many of them and  put some  to death.  Jagabandhu, the rebel leader,  was caught in 1825 and  sent to jail till 1827. The Raja of  Khurda refused any concession and died a British prisoner in November, 1817.
At Bubaneswar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2018 released a stamp and a coin to commemorate the Paika rebellion of 1817 in Odisha. 
Paika revolt, Odisha,YouTube