A warrior community hails from Khurda region of my home province, Odisha, called ‘Paika’ was assigned with the job of defending the motherland for their sheer bravery and unmatched martial apt. Best known Buxi Jagbandhu Bidyadhar like patriots are burning instances of this community’s dedication for the sake of motherland.
I have been urging the Government to term the Paikas’ war of independence (1817) as the first Indian freedom fight against Britishers by rewriting our history. I am to say that the ‘Paika Vidroh’ terminology is squarely unsuited to the first Indian war of independence, fought in Odisha by Paikas in 1817. They can’t be termed as ‘Vidrohis’ or rebels. Rather, it was the first ever Indian freedom fight against British colonialism. So called historians illustrated the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ as the first Indian freedom struggle. There was a very strong and visible glimpse of a mass revolt 40 years prior to that. It is Coastal Odisha, mainly in Khurda region, the village of Banapur to be more specific. Its in 1817, the declaration of war against colonialism was made.
This was a fight of the Paiks i.e. the militants of Odisha. Brave and undaunted as the Paikas were in comparison to the British Sepoys, the nature of our country and their intimate knowledge of it gave them an advantage which rendered the contest very severe. Sterling has written about the Paiks who combine with “the blindest devotion to the will of their chiefs, a ferocity of disposition which have ever rendered them an important and formidable class of the population of the Province”.
A body of local landed militia of this kind might have been a tower of strength for the British Government, had liberal and conciliatory measures been adopted from the beginning. But by a fatal and shortsighted policy, Major Fletcher was allowed to resume their service lands shortly after the confiscation of the Khurda estate. This was not all. Deprived of the lands which they had enjoyed from time immemorial, they were subjected to the grossest extortion and oppression at the hands of the Sarbarakars and other underlings to whom the Government entrusted the collection of the revenue. The tyrannies of a corrupt and venal police didnt help the cause at all.
A leader was all that was required to fan the lurking embers of rebellion into open flame. And then enters Baksi Jagabandhu Mohapatra, an officer who had inherited his ancestors post of Commander of King of Khurdha’s army. All his property and belongings were taken over by the britishers at the time of conquest of Khurdha in 1814. Because of his lack of faith in the court system of the British empire, he had chosen not to appeal against the confiscation of his property. He was reduced to begging and survive on alms and voluntary contribution made by the people of Khurda in his support. He was constantly attended by a ragged tribe of followers bearing the insignia of state pertaining to his former condition. In March, 1817 when a body of 400 Kandhas, from the State of Ghumsur crossed over into the Khurda territory and openly unfurled the banner of revolt, the Paiks rose as one men and joined them under the their former leader, Jagabandhu. They proceeded to attack the police station and other government buildings at Banpur where they killed over a hundred men in the employed by the foreign government and carried off some fifteen thousand rupees worth of treasure.
The warriors then marched on to Khurda itself, increasing in numbers as they proceeded. Their success at Banpur had set the whole country in arms against the British and seeing the hopelessness of resistance the whole of the government officers stationed in Khurda sought safety in flight. All the civil buildings were burnt to the ground by the rebels and the treasury sacked.
Several other encounters took place between the British troops and the insurgent Paiks, and the rising spread to Cuttack, where it was stamped out without much difficulty. British authority soon re-established itself everywhere, although the country did not at once recover its accustomed tranquility and security.Bands of Paiks continued to infest the jungles of Khurda for sometime after the pacification of the rest of the country, and disturbed the Britishers in their administration. In May, 1817, two English Judges were posted at Khurda to award punishments of death, transportation and long term imprisonment to the imprisoned warriors. In the early part of the year 1818, the British Government had also to take recourse to military operation in the jungles of Khurda which lasted till the year 1826. In this operation bands of Paiks, including Bakshi Jagabandhu, were hunted down and many were brutally murdered.
The British Government appointed a Commission to investigate into the causes of this outbreak. The Commissioners reported that the Government itself was to a large extent to blame and that the peasantry had many real grievances to complain of. The resumption of large tract of service land, the currency regulation which compelled the people to pay their land tax in silver instead of in cowries as before, the heavy salt duty, the extortions and chicanery of subordinate officials, were all bitter grounds of discontent. These grounds can very well show that the Paik Rebellion of 1817 was a common man’s agitation, it was not initiated by any aristocratic blood. In fact, the Raja of Khurda and Bakshi Jagabandhu joined the rebellion were accepted as leaders by virtue of their past postions.
Being the convener of the ‘Odisha Swabhiman’, along with a valiant group of Odia youths, I attempted to rejuvenate the historic bravery and war tactics, the ‘Paikas’ used to exhibit frightening the then invincible English army. Since the inception of ‘Odisha Swabhiman’, besides arranging several ‘Paika Akhadaas’ (Martial Art Exhibitions & Competitions). I have been urging the Government to term the Paikas’ war of independence (1817) as the first Indian freedom fight against Britishers by rewriting our history.