The ‘Paika Bidroha’ (Paika rebellion) of 1817 will find a place in the history books as ‘the First War of Independence’ from the next academic session, according to HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar.
Mr. Javadekar had first made the announcement on Sunday here at a function to mark the bicentenary of the Paika rebellion, and added that the Centre has allocated Rs. 200 crore for commemorating it across the country.
Paikas were peasant militia under the Gajapati rulers of Odisha who rendered military service to the king during times of war.
The Paika Rebellion also called the Paika Rebellion was an armed rebellion against the British East India Company’s rule in Odisha in 1817.
The Paikas rose in rebellion under their leader Bakshi JagabandhuIt projected Lord Jagannath as the symbol of Odia unity.
The rebellion quickly spread across most of Odisha before being ruthlessly put down by the company’s forces
The Paikas were the traditional landed militia of Odisha.
They served as warriors and were charged with policing functions during peacetime.
The Paikas were organised into three ranks distinguished by their occupation and the weapons they wielded.
With the conquest of Odisha by the East India Company in 1803 and the dethronement of the Raja of Khurda began the fall of the power and prestige of the Paikas.
Causes of the rebellion
The Paika rebellion had several social, economic and political reasons
The Paikas were alienated by the British regime, who took over the hereditary rent-free lands granted to them after the conquest of Khurda.
They were also subjected to extortion and oppression at the hands of the company government and its servants.
Had conciliatory measures been adopted towards the Paikas from the beginning, it is possible that they would have become a source of strength to the company rule in Odisha.
The extortionist land revenue policy of the company affected the peasants and the zamindars alike.
A source of much consternation for the common people was the rise in prices of salt due to taxes imposed on it by the new government.
The company also abolished the system of cowrie currency that had existed in Odisha prior to its conquest and required that taxes be paid in silver.
This caused much popular hardship and discontent. In 1804 the Raja of Khurda planned a rebellion against the British in alliance with the Paikas, but the plot was soon discovered and the Raja’s territory confiscated.
Outcome and impact:
In May 1817, the British posted judges to Khurda to sentence the captured rebels.
The rebels were awarded sentences of death, transportation and long-term imprisonment.
Between 1818 and 1826, the company’s forces undertook combing operations in the jungles of Khurda to capture and put to death rebels who had managed to escape. In these operations numerous Paikas were killed.
Their leader, Jagabandhu, surrendered to the British in 1825 and lived as their prisoner in Cuttack until 1829, when he died.
On capturing Puri, Jagabandhu had offered to reinstate Raja Mukunda Deva – whom the British had dethroned in 1804 and exiled to Puri – as the Raja of Khurda.
Although he turned down the offer and asked for British assistance, he was arrested when the British retook the town and was imprisoned at Cuttack.
The Raja died a British prisoner in November, 1817.
The East India Company also appointed a commission to inquire into the causes of the rebellion.
The British set about reorienting their administration under the newly appointed Commissioner of Cuttack Robert Ker to ensure such a rebellion would not repeat itself.
These attempts remained halfhearted at best, the British viewing Odisha largely as a convenient land link between their presidencies of Madras and Bengal.
Odisha continued to be wracked by localised insurgencies including at Tapanga in 1827 and the Banapur Rebellion of 1835.
The revenue policies of the company in Odisha, which was a major cause of hardship to the people, remained unchanged.