The calls for recognising and declaring the ‘Paika Bidroha’, or the rebellion by the Paikas against the British in 1817, as the first war of independence gathered strength in Odisha as the community took out a protest rally in the state for their demands to be met.
People belonging to the community held a rally in the capital city of Bhubaneswar on Friday, demonstrating their martial skills with traditional swords and other weapons, demanding the recognition of their ancestors’ rebellion against the British as India’s first war of independence. Currently, the 1857 rebellion or the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ that began in Meerut is referred to as the first major uprising in the country against the British.
Who are ‘Paikas’?
The ‘Paikas’ were originally a group of farmer-soldiers who constituted the army of Khurda king and battled against the occupying British forces in 1817 under the leadership of Bakshi Jagabandhu, according to a report by PTI.
The rebellion preceded the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 by at least 40 years and from this rises the demand for recognising this as India’s first war of independence.
The Paika rally
Several members of the community, led by the president of Veera Paika Sangathan Prakash Shrichandran marched from the Barunei shrine to Bhubaneswar. They then proceeded towards the Ekamra Haat in the city where they also held a large meeting, according to a report by local news agency Odishatv.in.
The group has also warned of intensifying its agitation if their demands are not met.
“Our fight will continue till the Central government gives the status of First War of Independence to ‘Paika Bidroha’… Next time, to make our demands louder, a similar Paika procession will be organised at Red Fort in New Delhi,” Shrichandran told news agency PTI.
Reactions in Odisha
Meanwhile, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJP) in Odisha has extended its support to the cause and pressed the Centre in the past regarding the demands.
The party protested inside Parliament during the ongoing Winter Session regarding the recognition of the 1817 rebellion. Several delegations, consisting of party MPs and leaders, have met with the Centre, notably Union minister of state for culture Arjun Ram Meghwal, and submitted their demands.
‘Paika rebellion can’t be called the first war’
The Centre has, however, said the rebellion can not be called the ‘First War of Independence’ but yielded that the war “set an example for the classes as well as the masses in India to follow later on.”
In a written reply to the Rajya Sabha, Union minister of culture G Kishan Reddy said, “Ministry of Culture received a reference from Chief Minister of Odisha through Ministry of Home Affairs requesting for declaration of Paika Rebellion 1817 of Odisha as the first war of independence. The matter was examined in consultation with Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) under Ministry of HRD (Now Ministry of Education). As per comments received from ICHR, Paika Rebellion cannot be called the First War of Independence.”
“However, from a historical point of view, it can be said that the Paika Bidroha”, which was set off in March, 1817 and continued until May, 1825, had set an example for the classes as well as the masses in India to follow later on. Accordingly, considering that this is one of the beginnings of popular uprisings against the British in India, it has been decided to include it as a ‘case-study’ in the Class VIII history textbook of NCERT, which deals with the 1857 event,” he further noted in the reply.