President Kovind recently laid the foundation stone for a memorial of 200 years of the Paika Rebellion, in Odisha. Describe the situation of Odisha at that time and what led to the rebellion.

Published: December 9, 2019

In the entire 19th century, on both sides of the great revolt of 1857, India’s rural from villages to the hinterland were burning with anger against the foreign rule that periodically flared up leading to resistance against ancient inequities and new hardships imposed. Various uprisings like these coincided with the military expansion of the British East India Company inside the India subcontinent which lead to disruptions in existing social order and relationships in peasant and tribal communities of India. These uprisings are seen as expressions of the native population’s resistance against British colonial rule

This is why several recent descriptions of the Paika Rebellion in Odisha describe it as the ‘first original’ war of independence.  

The Paikas were a class of military retainers who had been recruited since the 16th century by the various kings of Odisha from a large variety of social groups in the region in order to render martial services which paid back with hereditary rent-free land and titles. The arrival of colonial rule in the region brought in a completely new land revenue system, which eventually led to the Paikas losing their lands and titles.

Many uprisings of similar nature occurred both before and after the Paika rebellion, most of them were led by sections of the population whose position was severely undermined by the colonial administration. They managed to mobilise large sections of peasants and tribals against the British as these two sections were enraged by the disruptions to their very way of life by colonial agrarian settlements.

The colonials formally entered Odisha in 1803, where they only encountered minor Maratha resistance. Following the defeat of native kings by the hands of the British, such as Gajapati Mukund Dev II, the British introduced new revenue settlements in Odisha which lead to the ruin of many Odia landlords and  Odia traders, the land was transferred to absentee Bengali landlords who were very ruthless in extracting revenue.

The colonial administration changed the currency system which lead to increased pressure on tribals and other backward sections of society as revenue payments were demanded in rupees. The British also took complete control over salt by the year 1814 which increased hardship for the people living on the hills. The Rebellion lasted from 1817 to 1825 when the Paika leader, Bakshi Jagabandhu, surrendered to the British.

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