Paika revolution as first war of independence

Source: By Aishwarya Mohanty: The Indian Express

The Centre through a written reply in the Rajya Sabha 2 December 2021 said the Paika rebellion cannot be called the first War of Independence. Union Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy stated this in a written reply to a question by BJD MP Prashanta Nanda. Since 2017, Odisha has demanded that the rebellion of Odisha be declared as the first war of Independence. At present, the Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 is called the first war of Independence against British Rule.

The Paika Bidroha (Paika Rebellion) of 1817 took place nearly 40 years before the first sepoy mutiny. The Paikas were peasant militas of the Gajapati rulers of Odisha who offered military services to the king. The Paikas lost their estates when the new colonial establishments and land revenue settlements of the British came into force. The continuous interference in the economy and revenue systems led to exploitation and oppression of the peasants and farmers eventually triggering a rebellion against the British. A large number of Paikas were mobilised under the leadership of Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar, who then confronted the British on 2 April1817.

Government buildings in Banapur were set on fire, policemen killed and the British treasury looted. Over the next few months, the revolt continued but was eventually overpowered by the British army. Bidyadhar was imprisoned in 1825 and died while still in jail four years later.

For the first time in 2017, the Odisha state cabinet under the leadership of CM Naveen Patnaik had passed a proposal to formally urge the centre to declare the Paika rebellion as the first war of Independence. In his letter to the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Patnaik had said, “I request the Government of India to consider this proposal positively so that the people of India appreciate, in correct perspective, the events that led to the Indian freedom struggle and our historic independence from foreign rule.”

In the state cabinet’s proposal, the rebellion was described as a mass agitation and “the first struggle for freedom in the country against the foreign rule in which the people of Odisha had actively participated.” In 2019, CM Patnaik had reiterated the demand at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the Paika rebellion memorial at Barunei by President Ram Nath Kovind.

The Centre had considered the proposal and examined the matter in consultation with the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, now renamed Ministry of Education. And as per recommendations from ICHR, the Paika Rebellion cannot be called the first War of Independence, Union Culture Minister had informed the Rajya Sabha.

However, considering that the rebellion which started in 1817 continued till 1825 and “is one of the beginnings of popular uprisings against the British in India”, the minister declared that it would now be included in the curriculum of Class VIII history textbook of NCERT.