Tag Archives: India’s Freedom struggle

Paika Independence Struggle Of 1817 in Odisha

By Jaideep Mazumdar

Few outside the state of Odisha know of the Paika rebellion – the first serious military challenge to British rule over Bharat.

Exactly 200 years ago, Odisha was the stage of a fierce revolt against the British that the white invaders put down with unparalleled brutality. But few outside the state know of the Paika rebellion – the first serious military challenge to British rule over Bharat. Historians who authored textbooks after Independence have chosen to ignore the rebellion, and successive regimes in New Delhi have, in their zeal to highlight the contributions of only a handful in Bharat’s freedom struggle, given short shrift to the insurrection which, had it succeeded, would have changed the history of this sub-continent.

The Paikas were the warriors of Odisha. They were given vast tracts of lands by the kings for their services. During peacetime, the Paikas performed the roles of policemen, and during war, became warriors for their kings. They were divided into three categories: praharis who were experts in using swords, banuas who were excellent marksmen using matchlocks and dhenkias who were archers and used to be at the battlefront. The Paikas find mention in many ancient texts for their bravery and battle skills.

The British, after taking over Odisha in 1803 from the Marathas, started putting in place a system of administration that angered King Mukunda Deva II of Khorda, which had become the capital of then Odisha kingdom. Khorda, where the present-day capital city of Bhubaneshwar is located, became the new power centre of the kingdom after Cuttack since 1592. Mukunda Deva II was the sixteenth in the line of kings of Khorda. He was planning a revolt against the British in collaboration with his Paikas, but the plot was discovered and he was deposed by the British. The British administrator of the deposed king’s estate also snatched away the lands of the Paikas.

This alienation from their hereditary rent-free lands, the extortion and oppression of the Paikas at the hands of East India Company officials, the introduction of a new currency system after the abolition of the prevalent cowrie currency (new British laws made it mandatory for revenue to be paid in silver, which was in very short supply and as a result, lands of defaulters were arbitrarily taken over by the British) and a ban on making salt from seawater gave rise to deep and widespread resentment against the British.

Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mahapatra Bhramavar Ray was the military chief of king Mukunda Deva II. Bakshi was the title given to military commanders of Odisha. He was also the jagirdar of Rodang estate that had been awarded to his forefathers by the king for their military service. Jagabandhu was tricked out of his estate by one K C Singha, the scheming and dishonest dewan of the collector of Puri. Singha, who hailed from Bengal, got possession of the entire Rodang estate through fraudulent means in 1814. This left Jagabandhu in penury, and the humiliation of their chief and the manner in which he was tricked out of his estate by a scheming East India Company’s native official acting in connivance with the British angered not only the Paikas but also the peasants and other subjects of Odisha.

In March 1817, a 400-strong party of Khonds (tribals) marched into Khorda from the neighbouring state of Ghumusar and declared their intention to free Ghumusar and Khorda from British rule. The Paikas of Khorda, led by Jagabandhu as well as Raja Mukunda Deva II, joined them. The rebels looted and torched a police station at Banpur and marched to Khurda town, from where the British fled. The rebels sacked the administrative offices and the treasury and killed some native officials of the East India Company. The rebellion enjoyed widespread support in the province with landlords, heads of small principalities, peasants supporting it. The rajas of Kanika, Kujang, Nayagarh and Ghumusar and the zamindars of Karipur, Mirchpur, Golra, Balarampur, Budnakera and Rupasa supported the rebels, and that is why the revolt spread quickly to many parts of the province, including Puri, Pipli and Cuttack. The rebellion was organised with Jagannath Deva of Puri as the symbol.

The British administrator at Cuttack, one E Impey, sent two platoons of (East India) Company soldiers under Lieutenant Prideaure to Khurda and Lieutenant Faris to Pipli on 1 April 1817. But the Paikas waylaid and firebombed both the parties, killing Lieutenant Faris. Impey himself marched towards Khurda town with 60 sepoys but was attacked and narrowly escaped. The British then sent another force under Captain Wellington to Puri. This British force defeated the ill-equipped Paikas. The British subsequently recaptured Khurda and declared martial law there. But the rebels, led by Jagabandhu, recaptured Puri, and the priests of Jagannath Deva of Puri proclaimed Mukunda Deva II as the rajah and conferred the title of ‘Gajapati’, or ruler of the ancient kingdom of Kalinga, on him.

But the victory of the rebels was short-lived. The British contingent under Captain Le Fevere that had recaptured Khurda then marched to Puri. Armed with canons and better guns, the British defeated the Paikas who had only swords and a few dozen matchlocks. They retook Puri and captured Mukunda Deva II while the latter fled the town. Smaller revolts in other parts of the province were also put down and by the end of May 1817, the British had managed to regain control of Odisha.

What followed in June 1817, exactly two centuries ago to the current month, finds little mention in history books. But old records, including East India Company despatches, at the National Library in Kolkata and accounts by some chroniclers in Puri and Cuttack of those times detail the brutality with which the British suppressed the rebellion. After recapturing Puri, the British put 50 priests of the Shree Jagannath Deva Mandir to death in public. The bodies of the priests were left rotting in the summer heat for a week. Some prominent Paikas who the British captured were beheaded or shot dead and their bodies strung on posts for people to see. Even infant sons of the Paikas were put to death and their families banished from Odisha. Many of the Paikas and their families were sent away as slaves to work in British plantations elsewhere in Bharat and even shipped to British colonies abroad. June 1817 was a traumatic month for the people of Odisha and it is said that not a single family remained unaffected by the widespread retributory killings and imprisonments carried out by the British. Almost all families lost at least one male member to British brutality and vengeance.

But the Paikas, unable to match the superior strength of the British, resorted to guerilla tactics and kept up their fight against the white invaders. In 1818, the British raised a special force to track down and exterminate all Paikas. This force carried out raids all over the province and killed many Paikas and their families. Jagabandhu was captured by the British in 1825 and died in captivity in Cuttack in 1829. Jagabandhu’s capture severely demoralised the remaining Paikas and they were finally subdued in 1826.

A telling insight into the attitude of the British towards the Paikas is provided by Walter Ewer, a senior officer of the British East India Company who was on a commission set up to investigate the causes of the rebellion. Ewer wrote that the Paikas were dangerous and would have to be dealt with accordingly. “Still now where the Paikas are living, they have retained their previous aggressive nature. In order to break their poisonous teeth the British Police must be highly alert to keep the Paikas under their control for a pretty long period, and unless the Paika community is ruined completely the British rule cannot run smoothly,” read Ewer’s recommendation.

Surprisingly, the Paika rebellion has not been remembered even once over the past seventy years since the country’s independence. It was only this year that the National Democratic Alliance government decided to observe the bicentenary of the revolt. Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan wrote to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley last year requesting for a budgetary allocation to observe the bicentenary of the Paika rebellion this year. Jaitley obliged, bringing cheer to Odisha.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi honoured the descendants of the brave Paika rebels when he was in Bhubaneshwar on 16 April this year to attend the Bharatiya Janata Party national executive meeting there. He met the descendants of Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mahapatra and a few other Paikas at the Raj Bhavan that day. And Modi alluded to the long neglect of the rebellion in his short address: “Today, the (Paika rebellion) history was recalled with pride. It is my honour to see the descendants of martyrs. Unfortunately, the long years of freedom movement was confined in few persons and a specific period. We should recall the events and contribution of everyone who participated in the freedom struggle”.

A number of other programmes have also been lined up to commemorate the revolt which, say historians, could have altered the course of history in this sub-continent had it succeeded.

Jaideep is a journalist with many years of experience in The Times Of India, Open, The Outlook, The Hindustan Times, The Pioneer and some other news organizations.

Courtesy: Swarajya

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Bagha Jatin Or Tiger Jatin

Bagha Jatin

Bagha Jatin was one of the many freedom fighters who were inspired by Swami Vivekananda. When he expressed his desire to become a sanyasin, Swamiji exhorted him to become strong and consolidate youth for the nation.  2015 is the centenary year of this great revolutionary . His life has to be retold to millions of youth of our nation to spur them in the cause of this nation’s progress .

Two articles on the life of this relentless fighter are shared below.

The revolutionary nationalist’s action defined that key phase of our freedom struggle which seeded the Indian psyche with an urge for independence

Jatindranath Mukherjee or ‘Bagha Jatin’ (1879-1915), was unarguably one of the most astute, dynamic and fearless leaders of the pre-Gandhian revolutionary nationalist phase in India. A household name in Bengal and an inspiring legend in the annals of India’s struggle for freedom, Bagha Jatin was martyred at the age of 36 at Balasore, on September 10, 1915, while fighting a heavily armed contingent of British paramilitary forces. He and his associates had come to receive a shipload of arms meant to be used for a pan-Indian revolution of which he himself was the chief planner. Even in his dying moments Bagha Jatin exclaimed, that he was happy, that every drop of his blood “has been shed in the worship of the Mother.” His revolutionary motto and guiding philosophy — “Amra morbo, desh jagbe” (We will die, the nation will awake) — came to fruition through his death which ensured that the message of the Indian revolution spread far and wide.

In his Bengali classic Sadhak Biplabi Jatindranath (Seeker-Revolutionary Jatindranath), scholar-historian Prithwindra Mukherjee narrates in minute detail the impression that the “philosopher-revolutionary” made on some of the greatest minds of the epoch. Sister Nivedita, for example, who met young Jatin, then involved in relief work in the streets of plague hit Calcutta, was struck by his personality and noted how this “young man aspires to raise the youth of India in the name of the Swami, [and was] full of admiration for the Master himself”. “He is all strength”, she observed.

A direct meeting with Swami Vivekananda, facilitated by Sister Nivedita, changed the course of Bagha Jatin’s life. The Swami, impressed by the radiating strength of this young acolyte, advised him to join a gymnasium, channelise his energies into consolidating physical and spiritual strength and dedicate himself to the service of his country. Historians have often discerned a striking resemblance between Swami Vivekananda and Bagha Jatin.

To Sri Aurobindo, Jatindranath Mukherjee was his right hand man, whom he entrusted with the responsibility of creating a secret network of revolutionary groups. Struck by his “beauty and strength”, Sri Aurobindo once observed how his “very stature was like that of a warrior, a man who would belong to the front-rank of humanity.”

On September 9, 1923, when Balasore Day was being observed countrywide by revolutionary networks, Bhagat Singh requested one of Bagha Jatin’s erstwhile colleagues, to send him the martyr’s “photo and some literature on Balasore” so that he too could narrate the saga. Even Bagha Jatin’s pursuer, the redoubtable Charles Tegart, commander of the British forces, struck by his heroism, had remarked that “if Jatin were an Englishman, then the English people would have built his statue next to Nelson’s at Trafalgar Square.”

To Mahatma Gandhi, Bagha Jatin was a “divine personality” and to Syama Prasad Mookerjee, “Jatindranath was the well known and principal leader of the second episode in the history of the revolutionary movement” who belonged to that band of fighters, who “had written a blood-red chapter of their country’s fight for freedom. Sacrificing all they had…they rushed to the ritual call of death and, inch by inch, by shedding their lives, they had left for us the relish of a greater life.”

The Battle of Balasore announced the end of the first phase of the Indian revolution, having firmly embedded the aspiration for freedom in the psyche of the people. It was this contribution of Bagha Jatin’s in awakening a settled will for freedom that had perhaps, decades later, impressed the legendary French political philosopher Raymond Aron, who supervised Prithwindra Mukherjee’s work on the pre-Gandhian phase of the Indian revolution. In Bagha Jatin’s action Aron discovered that missing lien — that phase of nationalism which had seeded the Indian psyche with an unalterable urge for freedom. The centenary of Bagha Jatin’s martyrdom offers a great opportunity to re-discover and to re-evaluate our lost revolutionary past.

End of Article.

Another Article in Odiya.org by Sri Bhupendrakumar Dutta gives an account of his life and contribution

A Debate – Netaji vs Nehru by Maj Gen Bakshi

Source Post

Ahead of Netaji’s birthday on 23 January, his contribution to Independence movement vis-a-vis Nehru’s must be discussed.

MAJ GEN G.D. BAKSHI (RETD)  New Delhi | 17th Jan 2015

In the last year, a lively historical debate about the comparative roles and contribution of Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel appeared in our media. A far more seminal debate, however, is needed today about the comparative contributions of Nehru and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose toward the achievement of Indian independence and even more important, to the very nature of the nation state that emerged from our freedom struggle.

A curious fact about our freedom struggle is that Nehru and most of our leaders of this struggle, were lawyers. Dr M. Mukherjee of the University of Colorado has opined that these lawyers had evolved a juridical approach to the freedom struggle. They placed inordinate levels of faith in the concept of imperial justice, wherein the Queen’s subjects would appeal to the Empress for redress of their grievances against the colonial state in India. The trial of Warren Hastings had provided the model for such imperial intervention, ostensibly in support of her subjects. It was a rather quaint model of a freedom struggle. In fact, the furthest that the lawyers of the Congress would go was to ask for Home Rule. By the time the First World War ended, this effete model of a freedom struggle was somewhat out of tune with the emotive upsurge in India and the aspirations of its people. It may be recalled that some 1.3 million Indian soldiers had fought in the battlefields of Europe, Africa and the Middle East on slogans of liberty, fraternity and equality. The very least they expected from the British was a measure of gratitude. What they got instead was the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. It was accompanied by a rather racist phase of repression.

It was Mahatma Gandhi who sensed the inflamed feelings of the Indian pubic and decried the legalistic approach of the anglophile lawyers of the Congress. He, in fact, reached out to the rural masses to give a mass based character to this struggle. The Congress evolved from an effete debating society to a more serious form of a freedom movement. Gandhi, however, insisted that this struggle be kept non-violent. In fact as the post-Jallianwala phase movement was reaching its crescendo, Gandhi astonished everyone by calling off the movement because it had turned violent and some Indian policemen had been killed by the infuriated mobs.

Bose (and revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh) differed radically from Gandhi about the non-use of force. Bose very correctly identified the centre of gravity of the British rule in India as its ability to retain the loyalties of the Indian soldiers of the British Indian Army. When the Second World War started, he correctly identified it as a historic opportunity to seek the help of the Germans and the Japanese and overthrow the British Empire in India. Gandhi saw to it that Bose was marginalised completely and did not become president of the Congress for a second term. Undeterred, in 1941, Bose staged a dramatic escape from house arrest in India and reached Germany. There he met Hitler and the top Nazi leadership. He formed a 3,000 strong Indian League from Indian PoWs held with the Germans. Bose, however, was soon disillusioned by the racism of Hitler and his lack of support for the cause of Indian freedom. The Japanese, meanwhile, had achieved a remarkable series of military successes in the Asia-Pacific and were inching closer to the British Empire in India. By 1943, they felt a clear need for Bose to galavanise the Indian National Army. Accordingly, they asked the Germans for Bose. Bose now undertook a perilous voyage by a German U-boat in early 1943. He transferred to a Japanese submarine I- 29, just off the coast of Madasgascar in a fierce sea-storm. In Japan, he met Prime Minister Tojo and impressed him greatly. He formed the provisional Government of Free India in exile and declared war against Great Britain. His government was recognised by all the Axis powers and their allies. Bose went beyond the prisoner of war pool and reached out to the Indian Diaspora in South East Asia. He expanded the INA to a respectable size of 1,500 officers and 60,000 men which were organised in three divisions. In early 1944, some two divisions worth of the INA joined the Japanese 15th Army (under Lt Gen Rene Mutagachi) in the famous battle for the Imphal-Kohima plains in India. It was a very grim and hard fought battle. It was only Allied airpower that tilted the scales finally. It is however noteworthy, that even though Bose and his INA lost the battles of Imphal-Kohima, they won the war for Indian independence. This happened, as after the war, the British, in a very foolish gesture of triumphalism, put INA officers on trial in the Red Fort. This inflamed public opinion in India. What was far more significant was the series of rebellions that it triggered in the Royal Indian Navy, the Royal Indian Air Force and the units of the British Indian Army. The revolt in the Navy was particularly alarming as it affected some 20,000 sailors on 72 ships and over 20 shore establishments. Some 2.5 million battle-hardened, Indian soldiers were being de-mobilised after the war. They were furious and the British panicked. They decided to quit with grace while they still had the chance. That then is the true story of how India got its independence.

The key British decision maker of that era, Prime Minister Clement Attlee has said as much. He identified Bose and his INA and the subsequent mutinies they triggered as the sole and primary reason for the British decision to quit India in such a tearing hurry. He also sarcastically characterised the impact of Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement as, “minimal”. The historical truth is that out of some 60,000 INA soldiers, some 24,000 were martyred. This is a colossal level of casualties and India’s freedom struggle can hardly be characterised as non-violent. Yet, the British, as a parting shot, handed power to the anglophile grouping of lawyers in the Congress, led by Nehru. Gandhi was marginalised and Bose was buried. A patently false narrative of state was propagated, which stridently claimed that freedom came solely from non-violence and was the gift of ahimsa. The lawyers had pleaded and argued their way to win freedom for India and now deserved to rule. India as such did not need military force. The Nehruvian battery of lawyers replaced the concept of British imperial justice with the new concept of the UNO and its General Assembly and Security Council before which the lawyers would plead India’s case in times of war or aggression.

The new nation state of India, therefore, did not believe in war, violence or the use of force. Nehru went so far as to say that India did not need armed forces. It only needed the police. It was only the conflicts in J&K and Hyderabad and realists like Patel who did not let Nehru have his way. Patel however, died very early and after his demise Nehru completely marginalised the armed forces from decision making and starved them of resources. After the coup in Pakistan, they were viewed with suspicion and hostility and a concerted attempt was made to promote yes-men and family loyalists. This led to the military disaster of 1962. This shook up the country and led to the demise of Nehru.

The pity is that under the UPA, India returned once more to the Nehruvian narrative. Non-alignment was dusted out in a new avatar — Non Alignment 2.0. The use of force was totally ruled out and a new set of lawyers told the nation that India would not strike back at Pakistan, but would plead with the US and also in Pakistani courts. Indian armed forces were severely neglected and under-funded. An Army chief and a Naval chief were hounded and victimised. Civil-military reactions were once again reduced to a nadir. India was again reaching the level of helplessness that it had come to in the pre-1962 era. The UPA had almost concluded that force had no role to play in dealing with Pakistan. Mercifully that dispensation has been voted out of office.

That is why the Nehru vs Netaji debate is critical to who we are and what kind of a nation state we want to become. It is the right time to ask ourselves some seminal questions. What was the role of the use of force in our freedom struggle? What is our view about the use of force in international relations and especially in responding to overt or covert military or asymmetric aggression? Ahead of Netaji’s birthday on 23 January, we need to ponder about some seminal questions about how we were formed and what kind of a nation state we intend to become.