Bhubaneswar: The Paika Rebellion, also called the Paika Bidroha, has been popularly regarded as the first war of independence.
The Paika Bidroha (Paika Rebellion) of 1817 in Odisha, that sent tremors in the foundations of British rule in the eastern part of India completed 200 years and has earned attention for being a significant event of the history in India. The Government of India has started to give the event its due recognition by commemorating its 200 anniversary in a befitting manner.
Paikas were essentially the peasant militias of the Gajapati rulers of Odisha who rendered military service to the king during times of war while taking up cultivation during times of peace. They unfurled the banner of rebellion against the British under the leadership of Baxi Jagandhu Bidyadhara as early as 1817 to throw off the British yoke.
The Paikas were the traditional land-owning militia of Odisha and served as warriors. When armies of the East India Company overran most of Odisha in 1803, the Raja of Khurda lost his primacy and the power and prestige of the Paikas went on a decline. The British were not comfortable with these aggressive, warlike new subjects and set up a commission under Walter Ewer to look into the issue.
The commission recommended that the hereditary rent-free lands granted to the Paikas be taken over by the British administration and this recommendation was zealously adhered to. They revolted against the British.
However, the rebellion had several other underlying causes – like the rise in the price of salt, abolition of the cowrie currency for payment of taxes and an overt extortionist land revenue policy.
At that critical juncture, Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar, the military chief of King of Khurda led army of Paikas forcing the East India Company (British) forces to retreat in 1817. During the rebellion, Paikas had attacked British symbols of power, setting ablaze police stations, administrative offices and treasury during their march towards Khurda, from where British fled. They were supported by local rajas of Kujang, Kanika, Nayagarh and Ghumusar and zamindars, village heads and ordinary peasants.
The British were initially taken aback and then tried to regain lost ground from the rebelling Paikas. Many a battle ensued with some victories to the rebel Paiks but the British finally managed to defeat them within three months.
Although initially, the Company struggled to respond they managed to put down the rebellion by May 1817. Widespread suppression followed by many killed and imprisoned. Many more were tortured. Some rebels fought a guerilla war till 1819 but were captured and killed.
Baxi Jagabandhu was finally arrested in 1825 and died in captivity in 1829.