Courtesy: Radical Notes
This article published in Radical Notes in three parts is a must to know Peoples’ History of Orissa’s Dispossessed. Hence it is here.(SCP)
If laws are meant to protect the people, then the only thing illegal in India must be the Government.
Only a morally bankrupt, democratically inept and humanistically regressive group of parasites can sustain corruptible power through twisted legal clauses organically designed to crush collective aspirations.
It is only logical that a group of vandals in active collaborations with their masters stationed abroad get united to use the name of a country to misappropriate authorities, subjugate millions of informed as well as ignorant people, and repress dissent as though indifferent silence on part of the people were a virtue, enforced cowardice a boon and act of their withdrawal from organized solidarity movement a progress.
Only a perniciously evil group of power-wielders can fantasize about their achievements through stamping out the radical roots deeply embedded within the humanity. Using the shield of a country and the notions of sovereign indivisibility can the ruling class throttle the dissent of its subjects.
MacMohan Singh regime’s control over the Republic of India and Naveen Patnaik’s monopoly over Orissa’s fortunes are instances of despotic tendencies masquerading as democratic setups. When fraudulent acquisitions of natural resources are forbidden even by laws of nature, then governments such as the above are instituted to play debased brokers. And when proscribed negotiations over what is entitled to the indigenous are maneuvered for private profits, legal injunctions are recreated by the State powers to arrogate the land, and assault the people.
Recent interventions by the Government of India to clamp down on the democratic rights of the dispossessed by prescribing 10 years imprisonment for any person who supports whoever the ruling classes feel free to declare as terrorists, is an incursion into a historical territory that must serve as a warning to the rulers and as a weapon for the ruled.
Indian government’s frontal assaults on a freethinking people’s ability to challenge administrative and police atrocities in their own lands is not of recent origin. Throughout its history, Indian subcontinent has been subjected to arbitrary rules by opportunistic royalists, colonialists and democrats. And all throughout, the majority of people have suffered immensely, dispossessed for the most part as they had been rendered.
The biggest sufferers of organized State assaults have been the indigenous. From the days of the Aryan invaders, to the trickery of the British traders, to electoral victories of the domestic capitalist class in cohort with Western imperialistic powers – the idea of India has triumphed at the expense of the Indians.
The indigenous tillers and cultivators, the forest dwellers, the river worshippers, the upholders of matriarchy, the huge majority of Indian population have been constantly harassed by their feudal lords – of various colors and races. And yet, never have the poorest section of the society suffered silently. Through rebellions and revolutions, through armed struggles and insurgencies, they have fought back against the perpetrators.
The peasants and the factory workers of India, the landless and the dispossessed of the biggest so-called democracy in the world, those that are the refugees in their own lands, who cultivate and yet never benefit, who withstand the worst natural calamities and yet commit suicides to avoid corporate banking penalties, those that consider their children as their only treasures and yet have to put them up on sale so the children can survive the bureaucratic assaults, those that tend to the forests and the rivers only to witness them being snatched away by the agents of the government at the behest of multinational firms – these are the people who have always known that they shall lose the battles against the mammoth militia, sponsored by unaudited parliamentary budgets. And yet, these are the people, the working poor that constitute the unfortunate majority of Indians, who have never given up in their resolution to fight the power.
They fight the power braving the scorching sun, bringing along bows and arrows, organizing in hand-weaved red flags, lining up to raise their voices, dry and hungry, with babies in arms, soiled towels to wipe away the sweats off the forehead. They miss several meals, several more working days in protesting against the encroachment of their lands. The lands that are their own, are the only thing they call their own. Without their lands, they are landless in settlements and statistics in slums. Just as India’s sovereignty is supreme with the states and union territories intact and untouched by foreign powers, their sovereignty is equally a matter of pride and dignity. After all, they are the majority Indians.
They are the Indians that weakened the feudal structures, fought the exploitative kings, organized the movements against the British, and finally led India to a new awakening in 1947. And yet, the majority Indians are the unfree Indians. Little did they know that the concept of freedom is not universally applicable. That, equality and liberty do not distribute as democratically as the electoral promises of the free Indians.
The free Indians are different species altogether, forever exulting in their personal achievements, in career growths and televised glories. The free Indians are forever expanding their ambitions and territorial profit schemes. The free Indians are represented by political parties that actually work for them to set up engineering colleges and international airports. The free Indians read newspapers and watch television channels that reward the industrialists, update dinner minutes between Singh and Obama, immortalize Ratan Tata, interviews Anil Agarwal and manufactures opinion polls among urban youths that reestablishes the credibilities of Naveen Patnaik.
The free Indians are the ones for whom the country exists, the law and order system exists, the educational infrastructure exists, the collaborative business model exists. Even the official political parties – right, left and centrists – exist. The conversation about the country is an exclusive conversation among the free Indians.
During one such exclusive conversation among the free Indians, it has been decided that the long standing demands of indigenous peoples in Orissa and elsewhere should no more be ignored. Breaking all conventions in the past, it has now been decided that the demands of the poorest sections be heard. In fact, the demands be recorded well. Not only their demands, but also of those people who extend any amount of overt or covert support to them. For once, the free India has decided in favor of listening to the captive people, so that, for once and for all, they can all be forcibly silenced. 10 years or fine, or both – for all people who express solidarity with the majority Indians. At long last, the majority Indians are going to be recorded.
For most people, the corporate houses are faces of terror because it is they that expand their profiteering bases without consideration towards the inhabitants, especially the poor and destitute class. But the Indian government finds it otherwise. It paints the victims as the terrorists. And those that support the victims then are branded as sympathizers of terrorism.
History repeats itself. In India’s history, several times over. As in the past, the illusions of permanent freedom are once again fading away. For, one can use a transient administrative machinery to cowardly assassinate the revolutionaries, but no one can ever eliminate the historical inevitabilities of revolutions.
Arrest us all, if you must. Every person that cries in despair at the state of subjugation that is called India today, is guilty of supporting the victims in the class war waged against the expansionist politico-corporate nexus. Perhaps those of you that enjoy the power corridors and make way for the billionaires to spread their empires are enjoying the freedom of trickled down bribes. However, for the rest of us, our freedom is not conditional upon the success of the ruling class structures and your economic masters.
Our freedom is not about piecemeal compensations as agreed upon by corporate giants of South Korea, Japan and the United States. Our freedom is not open to half-hearted round table negotiations. We are yet to attain the freedom we have been dying for since generations. And we are yet to give up the hope that one day, we shall collectively inhabit the planet, without submitting any portion thereof to any greedy private capitalistic interests, irrespective of geographical territories.
You can call us unacceptable names, attribute us with political stigmas, categorize us into one way or the other for your divisive ruling habits. But the working people of the world demand immediate withdrawal of profiteering interests from common lands. From Orissa to Chiapas, we are united by our belief in formation of a world, devoid of imperialistic intents. And this collective conviction for human freedom is not up for demise within next 10 years, or anytime thereafter.
Freedom will not come
Today, this year
Through compromise and fear….
I do not need freedom when I’m dead
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread
Using brute police force to silence indigenous peoples’ mass uprising in Orissa is not just an act of sheer cowardice and criminality; it is a decision founded upon gross ignorance of the unique stream of struggles which characterize the class war in the land that has witnessed more organized revolutions than enforced reforms.
Orissan tribal uprising has a definitive historical pattern. It is not exclusive to the current state of unrest. The administrations – both Union and the State – deliberately fail to acknowledge the peoples’ organized movements as thus. It is not a Maoist prerogative
to envision the path of violent resistance among the oppressed in Orissa. Quite the contrary, actually – it is the continuation of radical dissent among the peoples of Orissa that has generated a certain Maoist character within the struggle.
The indigenous in Orissa have never retired from their relentless rebellions against the land-grabbers. They have violently challenged the zamindars, formed alliances against the kings, conspired to overthrow the British, and have demonstrated ample courage in
battling caste supremacism. Tribal resistance movements in Orissa have consistently targeted foreign interventions via expropriation of their lands that threaten to result in economic distress.
Prof J. H. Hutton (quoted in G.S. Ghurye’s “The Scheduled Tribes”, 1961) observes, “All these rebellions were defensive movements: they were the last resort of tribesmen driven to despair by the encroachments of outsiders on their land or economic resources. As such they could have all been avoided had the authorities recognized the aboriginals’ grievances and taken steps to remedy them out… but before the pressure on the tribesmen had made an outbreak unavoidable. Indeed anyone with first hand experience of conditions in the backward areas must be surprised, not by the occurrence of risings, but by the infrequency of violent reactions on the part of the
aboriginals to the loss of their ancestral lands and to their economic enslavement.”
One of the first organized revolts by the indigenous, known as Ghumsar risings, during early 19th century, illustrates how the people have cried for freedom from invaders, both local and global.
Ghumsar, a small estate in Ganjam district was ruled by the Bhanja
dynasty. Owing to default in revenue payment to the Empire, the British intervened in the affairs of Ghumsar and its ruler Srikar Bhanja was deposed in 1800 CE. When the British took control of Ghumsar after overthrowing Srikar’s son Dhananjaya, it was Dora Bisoi, a leader of the Kandhs (who was awarded the title of Birabar Patra) who won the support of the common people as well as Kandh chiefs to decide on the fate of Ghumsar. Since a Kandh leader could not be allowed to rule, Bisoi brought a 12-yr old girl and substituted Dhananjaya’s son of that age with her and ruled the estate on her behalf. Dora Bisoi was the leader of the masses and this was the reason why the Collector of Ganjam failed to arrest him for over three years.
Administrative officers did their best to harass Bisoi and finally, he escaped to Torabadi at Soroda. The Kandhs then garnered support of the Savaras in this movement against the British and the royals. In the meantime, Srikar Bhanja was again placed on the throne, but he failed to manage the affairs properly upon which his son Dhananjaya was
reinstalled on the condition that he paid the dues to the British. British force under Sir Henry Taylor finally occupied Ghumsar in 1834.
Dora Bisoi, the leader of the anti-Bhanja rebellion now led a revolt against the British which claimed lives of several British soldiers and burnt down British camps. British Government appointed a special officer George Russell to capture Dora. Rebel leaders including Kollada, Galeri, and Durgaprasad lent support to Dora in their collective fight
against the British, while they found shelter in the mountains of Daspalla and Nayagarh.
Special Commissioner Russell unleashed one of the cruelest assaults upon a resisting people that changed the character of India’s freedom movement. The British offered an unprecedented Rs 5,000 as a reward to anyone who could capture Dora. Many rebel leaders were captured and hanged, but Dora escaped first to Patna before escaping to Angul. It was there that the Raja of Angul handed him over to the British and received the reward.
Dora Bisoi died tortured in a state prison of Madras.
But his ability to lead and create many rebel leaders in Orissa continued to inspire. Great Oriya patriot and nephew of Dora Bisoi, Chakradhar Bisoi took his place and Ganjam’s destinies were reshaped after what the people demanded, not what was imposed from above.
In Banpur, the Kandhs along with another low caste people Panas organized their struggle under the leaderships of Krutibas Patasahani, Sadhu Jani and Dunai Jani. Kandhs of Baudh also joined the movement and were united by leaders such as Nabaghana Kahnar, Bira Kahnar, and Madhab Kanhar. The Kandhs remained united in struggle for social justice and economic improvements against both the British and their
Rajas. All efforts by the British to divide and rule over the tribals drastically failed.
Elsewhere in India, people used to heed to their Kings as mediators between them and the British. Not so in Orissa.
When the British could not accept their defeat in the hands of the Bisois and people of Ganjam, they used the Kandh practice of Mariah sacrifice as a moral justification to attack the indigenous.
Chakra Bisoi flat refused to negotiate and the British brought the King of Baudh to intervene. Chakra Bisoi and his comrades not only defied the Baudh King, they burnt down the camp of the British agent and forced the Raja to be sent back with them.
Chakradhar successfully organized the Kandhs in the territories of Angul, Ghumsar, Boudh, Patna, Kalahandi and Paralakhemundi. He also led the Savaras in Paralakhemundi, the peasants in Nayagarh, as well as the Kandhs of Ranpur and Daspalla.
In 1846, right after rainy season, British officer Macpherson marched into Kandhamal to recover his prestige. His troops managed to burn down some houses of the Kandhs.
But the Kandhs organized to strike back and plundered in every direction, making the revolt more widespread than before. Orissa’s tribal revolt against the royal thrones as well as British officers became such a matter of concern that the Madras unit of British Government sent a whole army under the command of General Dyee to control the
situation. Government of Bengal cooperated with General Dyee to put an end to indigenous revolts.
Tribal leader Nabaghan Kahnar of Baudh and Chakra Bisoi harassed the British no end.
Rani of Sonepur, Raja of Angul and Raja of Baudh tried their best to apprehend them and a reward of Rs 3,000 was declared this time. Failing in all their efforts to suppress tribal resistance, Raja of Baudh had to cede Kandhamal to the British.
Governments – both British and the feudal – tried all measures, including arresting Rendon Majhi, head of Borikiya Kandhs of Kalahandi on charges of performing human sacrifices.
Most warrior class among the Kandhs, the Kutiya Kandhs joined the larger tribal movements and demanded the release of Majhi.
Zamindar of Madanpur was removed when he failed to act against the rising violent rebellions.
In the meantime, Chakra Bisoi escaped to Ganjam and joined with the Saoras to rise in rebellion under leadership of Radhakrushna Dandasena. The British ruthlessly attacked and burnt down scores of villages and hanged Dandasena.
Many rebel leaders were hanged and eliminated by the British forces. But this never stopped the march of the revolts. When the Baudha Raja in collaboration with the British oppressed the downtrodden in his state, a new leader Narayan Maliah led the Kandhs to lead yet another violent rebellion.
In 1868, the Bhuinya revolts determined the shape of things to come in Keonjhar.
The newly appointed King Dhanurjaya was not recognized by the Bhuinyas. Tired of being brutalized by the royal family, tribal leader Ratna Naik led a popular agitation against the king. The Dewan of Keonjhar Nanda Dhal took help of officer Ravenshaw, the Superintendent of the Tributary Mahals.
But the Bhuinyas did not remain silent for long. They rose in revolt, captured Nanda Dhal and Raja’s other associates, and plundered Keonjhargada, the kingdom.
The Bhuinyas found support from the Juangs and the Kols. The Deputy Commissioner of Singhbhum marched to Keonjhar and demanded that the indigenous groups return the captives. The Bhuinyas refused to cooperate and the Deputy Hayes requisitioned for another contingent of army from Singhbhum. Equipped with bows, arrows and swords, the Bhuinyas bravely confronted the British armies but had to finally surrender.
Ratna Naik was captured by the Paiks of Pallahara on August 15, 1868 and brought to Cuttack.
Paiks who were agents of the British helped arrest several hundreds of tribal revolutionaries. In a show trial, seven were sentenced to death, 27 were transported for life and 149 revolutionaries were imprisoned. Ratna Naik and three of his comrades were hanged in Cuttack.
Minor in age, but a boy of immense moral courage, Dharanidhar Naik of Bhuinya tribe was well educated for his age. The Raja of Keonjhar even appreciated his talents. But when he attempted to educate the fellow Bhuinyas, it did not sit well with the king.
Dharanidhar, his brother and friends did not bury the lessons of their education. They organized the bonded labor class of Keonjhar against the King and demanded that they be paid for their work.
This infuriated the King of Keonjhar who had fancied that his tribal subjects were forever deemed to remain as slaves. Dharanidhar, even at such young age, did not submit to various temptations as offered by the King, and went ahead to foster a spirit of resistance among the oppressed indigenous peoples. Many of them then joined Dharanidhar in submitting a petition to the Superintendent of Tributary Mahals. The
Superintendent obviously did not act upon the petition and the Raja arrested the petitioners.
Dharanidhar then went on to organize the people to revolt against the Raja. This shocked the ruling class. Dharanidhar led the people inside the palace and looted the palace and distributed the ill-gotten wealth among the people. The King of Keonjhar fled to Anandapur and sent his Assistant Dewan Fakirmohan Senapati to control the situation. Superintendent Ravenshaw also helped the King by sending a detachment of British force to Keonjhar.
Fakirmohan resorted to ugly tricks against the tribal leader. He assured Dharanidhar that the British police was there to help the tribal people. Dharanidhar on good faith appeared before the police officer, but little did he know that Fakirmohan was acting on behalf of the King and the British to punish the poor people who demanded their rights to dignity of life. Dharanidhar and his comrades were arrested and sent to years of rigorous imprisonment by the royal-feudal-bureaucratic-British nexus.
Not only were the Adivasis exploited economically, they were also culturally forced to submit to higher-caste whims. The tribal deities were Hinduised and the indigenous were compelled to show allegiance to the protectors of their new Gods. In the guise of developing personal relationships between the rulers and the ruled, the indigenous
peoples were routinely recruited to fight on behalf of the ruling class.
Sambalpur was a classic instance of cultural exploitation during the Sepoy Mutiny.
Surendra Sai, a claimant to the guddee of Sambalpur used the Gond and Binjhal tribal chiefs to wage a war against the British Government because the British opposed Sai’s demands. The Gonds of course cooperated in resisting the British, but they also figured out that they were being manipulated by the ambitious ruling class hierarchies.
Sambalpur and adjoining areas were inhabited by the Gonds and the Binjhal tribes who enjoyed autonomy in governance, economic and political. When the king of Sambalpur died without a son, the British Government let his widow Rani Mohan Kumari to succeed him. The patriarchal upper-caste mindset prevalent in the kingdom could not
allow a woman to govern the state. The biggest opponent happened to be Surendra Sai, a royal descendant from the Chauhan Raja of Sambalpur, who himself aspired to the throne.
Under the prevailing tensions, the British removed the Rani and replaced her with Narayan Singh who was also from the royal family. The Gonds agitated against Narayan Singh who was appeasing the higher castes by creating 37 Maufi tenures. The Gonds made remarkable progress in Sambalpur. They shook the foundation of royal families which were ambitious in their designs and atrocious in their actions against the dispossessed indigenous.
The Gonds brought Sambalpur to a standstill and organized mass movements to teach a lesson to the Brahmins and the royal family collaborators. In a historic episode now described as “Gond Maru”, the Gonds attacked higher caste people, burnt down their ill-gotten wealth and killed the caste supremacists who were encouraged by the royal
families. King of Sambalpur entrusted a Brahmin talukdar of 96 villages with the task of putting down the tribal agitation. The Adivasis rose in revolt against the prescript and killed several Brahmin landlords. The British Government directly intervened to suppress the uprising, but considerably failed to.
Kalahandi revolt was a direct result of economic exploitation of the Kandhs by the Koltas, a class of prosperous agriculturists from Western Orissa.
Kandhs had been the pioneering agronomists in Kalahandi for generations, and yet, the Koltas, with financial and military backing of the kings expanded their reach. The Rajas supported the Koltas under the pretext of receiving higher rents, and the Koltas stopped at nothing to exploit the Kandhs, resulting in an agrarian revolt by the latter.
In May 1878, the Kandhs organized a meeting in Balwaspur where they decided to defend themselves against the Koltas.
The British Superintendent of the State intervened to stop the Kandhs agitation. The Kandhs resolved to attack whoever came on their way. Several Koltas were killed and many more taken captives by the Kandhs in a mass agitation movement.
The British, acting on behalf of the wealthy, sent additional forces from Raipur, Ganjam and Sambalpur to suppress the Kandhs’ agitation. Ten Kandh leaders were hanged.
Although “peace” was restored, the Koltas were afraid of committing any more atrocities upon the Kandhs in the region.
Attacks on the tribal sovereignty in Orissa continued from both the British regime and the rulers of the princely states.
In 1897, several tribal village chiefs were forcibly replaced by the royal ruling class. In Gangpur, the Raja installed the aristocratic oligarchy of Sambalpur in charge of the tribal population.
The indigenous peoples led by Madri Kalo organized a mass agitation movement against Agharia and the rich elites. The Raja sought help from the British to suppress the tribal agitation, but open revolt by the oppressed remained difficult to counter. Many poor people were captured on charges of committing dacoities, but the class/caste war
in Gangpur continued without a pause. In 1938, Gangpur witnessed a serious agrarian discontent when Mundas were forced to pay higher rents. The Munda uprising led by Nirmal Munda demanding exemption from payment of land revenues to the colonialists resulted in British intervention causing the Simko firing which killed 41 tribal rebels.
Revolution Never Ends:
Orissa’s indigenous never ceased their strikes against the oppressors. Countless revolts – varying in scale – resulted from the organized dissent. This is the nature of struggle that the poorest section of Orissa have engaged in since centuries. It is unlikely that they shall abandon their freedom movement now, simply because the seat of power has been transferred from the white-skinned elites to the brown-skinned ones.
And just as the indigenous organizers were correct in their assessment of human values in the past, it is more likely that keeping in view the status quo of power dynamics in independent India, their dissent towards the power this time around, too, is indicative of appropriate impatience towards prevailing rampant social injustice.
Tribal uprisings in Orissa were the first of organized assaults on the British, against the Hindu Kings, as well as on the caste supremacists.
The indigenous were united against oppression way before the Sepoy Mutiny took shape. They had no loyalty towards the kings and unlike the Paikas and Sepoys, they had no interest in releasing the royal families from British domains.
In fact, the tribals shone in their capacity to challenge the Rajas as much as they expressed disdain towards British agents.
Therefore, when the native Kings of Khurda, Kanika and Kujang made a confederation to oppose the British invasion, the tribal agitators knew the kings had no motives other than to safeguard their royal privileges.
Although Khurda Movement is usually declared as the first mass movement against the British following hanging of Jayakrishna Rajguru who has been eulogized profusely, its anti-imperialistic nature is highly suspect.
Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar and his chief associate Krushna Chandra Bhramarbar Ray have been equally immortalized in history for their involvement in the anti-British movement. But the true champions of the organized revolt upon which the royal clan depended for survival were the forgotten tribal masses of rebels.
Khurda Movement did not start with Bakshi Jagabandhu, it started with 400 Kandhs in Banpur who came from the neighboring territory of Ghumsar. For seven years the movement lasted with the help of fellow tribals – the Kandhs, Savaras and Panas of Banpur, Nayagarh, Boudh and Daspalla. It was not the loyalists of the royal families, but
their dissenting and oppressed subjects who took to arms and fought the British which indirectly benefited the needs of the local kings of the time. But the tribals never gave in to the manipulative designs of the kings either, thus constituting an independent stream in Orissa’s freedom movement, inviting wrath from the mainstream historians.
A. Das in “Life of Surendra Sai” (1963) decries the tribal revolts in Sambalpur. While glorifying Surendra Sai as a freedom fighter, the actual heroes of the revolt – the indigenous masses – have been portrayed as nothing less than crazy looters. Tribal uprisings have been compared with “the tyranny and lootings carried on by the Burgees of the Maratha days.”
Surendra Sai, despite being a rebel claimant to the guddee of Sambalpur, was solely interested in the throne. To eulogize him as the charismatic anti-British hero while attacking the Gonds upon whose abilities he rode high, would be to use history as a paternalistic tool. And yet, for years into historical research, this is exactly what has been done. Surendra Sai has become a hero, while the tribal uprisings have been denounced as daylight robberies.
Ramnarayan Mishra in his paper, sponsored by Indian Council of Historical Research (1980), writes about Sambalpur following tribal uprising, “Life and properties were quite unsafe, the ryots could not raise their crops in their lands and as soon as they were ripe, they were looted and removed from the fields by these bands of robbers. There were day-light robberies and dacoity; the economic and social life of the people were completely paralyzed…Even now the days are remembered with alarm as the memories have come down from generations to generations. The atrocities of minor nature were
the looting of cakes, which were being prepared by the housewife a certain evening, and the looting of all the belongings of the bride when she was on a procession to her father-in-law’s house for marriage….”
It is astounding to notice how the historians have continually felt sympathies with the landlords and the propertied class of Orissa.
Mishra recalled the days with alarm when the tribal rose in revolt against the Brahmins in Sambalpur. Little did he pause to imagine the days from the lens of those that were forced to revolt. Much of the histories about Orissa still continue to be produced from the ruling class elitist visions of the past, part of the reason why the true history of peoples’ struggles is yet to be documented in totality.
Andrew Fraser speaking of his days Among Indian Rajahs and Ryots (1912) describes the Kalahandi revolution as though it were the responsibility of the Kandhs to forgive the Koltas. “The wretched prisoners fell at the feet of the leading Khonds and begged them to spare their lives; but they were told that none of the men among them would be spared,” he writes.
L.S.S. O’Malley in “Modern India and the East: A Study of the Interaction of their Civilization” laments the passage of the British interventions.
Ramnarayan Mishra agrees with the old British thesis and writes, “The old ceremonies called the Mariah sacrifice which had been put down with great difficulty by the British officers some years before was revived. The sacrifice involved killing captives and hacking off pieces of their flesh which they buried in the fields as an offering to the earth goddess which would ensure their fertility.”
What O’Malley and subsequently, Mishra have omitted out of their deconstructions is that Mariah sacrifice was not merely about human captives. The tribal resistance was not nonviolent in nature, principally because it was always part of a defensive reaction, as opposed to the oppressors’ tactics which were premeditated murders.
It is presumptuous to assume that the historically oppressed and dispossessed tribal population of Orissa show solidarity with the ruling class hooligans of Rajput and British origin who were profiting from the lands of the indigenous by imposing bonded labor terms upon them.
Therefore, even as ruling class histories suggest Orissa lost her independence after death of the last Hindu King Mukunda Harichandan, the tribals never really thought so.
Contrary to mainstream belief that Muslim rule in Orissa was oppressive, there was no recorded revolt by the tribals against the Muslim rule.
Prasanna Kumar Mishra in “Political Unrest in Orissa in the 19th Century” (1983) writes, “The people of Orissa lost their independence from the sixteenth century, but could not fully express their dissatisfaction against the aliens throughout the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. Only when a foreign trading company began to rule through exploitation and oppressed them socio psychologically, the people woke up from their slumber and began to raise their voice against this foreign rule.”
What is crucial here is the fact that the first organized mass rebellions were organized by the tribal people of Orissa. They were organized against the British as well as against the Hindu (of Rajput origin) rulers of Orissa. Both the anti-British and anti-royal movements were part of the larger national struggle that were to arrive following the footsteps of the Orissan tribal revolutions.
In this context, it is important to observe the Mariah sacrifices.
Dismissing them as mere tribal superstitions bordering on criminality is also a dismissal of their roles in the national freedom movements orchestrated by the oppressed subjects against the ruling classes.
The human “sacrifices” had elements of not just violence as a last resort, but also of targeted violence with a distinct class character that eliminated landlords, dewans, British agents and associates of royal families.
The British were afraid of the tribal movements precisely because of the violent nature of their resistance. It was an economic war justly organized by the majority oppressed against their minority oppressors. Not some religious abstractions, as later historians tend to stress.
Ramnarayan Mishra dismisses the tribal movement as nothing other than a selfish pursuit to guard their traditional interests, that had no bearing upon the freedom movement against the British. He writes, “The resistance movement (against the British) in the States was a middle class movement sponsored by the people of coastal areas and it had nothing to do with tribal solidarity.”
P. Mukherjee in “History of Orissa” (1954) writes that the reason behind tribal uprisings in Orissa was their apprehensions that alien rule intended to “assess their lands, punish their leaders for the religious rites performed by them.”
H. K. Mahtab in “History of the Freedom Movement in Orissa (1957) writes, “The Khond risings in Baudh, Ghumsar and Khandmal during the years 1846-1848 were just temporary show of disaffection and resentment of the Khonds at the governmental interference in their religious rites.”
Not only have the tribal contributions been grossly overlooked, and their participations have been looked down upon as anarchical, even many false heroes have been recreated in the process to overshadow the real ones.
Fakir Mohan Senapati is one such historical character who has been eulogized at the expense of Dharanidhar Naik.
Collective celebration of Fakir Mohan as a literary champion has also necessitated the destruction of his challenger, the other literary genius in Dharanidhar. Dharanidhar was duped not only because Fakir Mohan was a state agent interested to earn loyalty points from his beloved king who was otherwise an oppressive ruler, but also because Naik belonged to a lower caste not worthy of literary celebration.
Likewise, British agent Superintendent Ravenshaw who organized military tactics to capture Dharanidhar remains immortalized to this day, whereas his roles in suppressing the tribal uprisings have been held with esteem.
It is again astounding as to how an entire state can celebrate the act of immoral trickery on part of the oppressive ruling class to capture a tribal hero. And yet, every primary school student in Orissa is taught precisely this. Capture of Dharanidhar is almost a climax in Oriya nationalism, whereas nothing could be farther from the truth.
And when Dharanidhar emerged more popular after his imprisonment in the hands of Fakir Mohan, the upper caste upholders of Brahminical education started portraying the tribal revolutionary into a universal saint. Pandit Nilakantha Das and Pandit Gopabandhu Das subsequently claimed to have learnt from Dharanidhar, the saint, about life’s essences. Apparently, Dharanidhar gave them an apt philosophical lesson, “First try to be a true human being, and then only free the country.”
Ironically, the last of the tribal revolutionaries in the pre-1947 era, Laxmana Naik is celebrated today as the foremost tribal leader. It is so understood because Laxmana Naik led the movement which for the first time collaborated with the mainstream Congress strategies.
Naik was beyond doubt one of the bravest and most courageous of leaders to have emerged anywhere. But he was only a successor to a long history of indigenous revolts in Orissa that witnessed countless distinguished tribal leaders like Dora Bisoi, Chakra Bisoi, Sadhu Jani, Nabaghana Kahnar, Bira Kahnar, Ratna Naik, Dharanidhar Naik, Nirmal Munda among others.
And more importantly, these leaders found their subsistence not through royal scriptures or British mentions of honor, or national awards by the independent republic, but through innumerable masses of people who supported them throughout their long and historic struggles against land-grabbers – both foreign and domestic. Their historic struggles ever so radical, fundamentally unforgiving towards their oppressors.
And no matter how much the lousy, corrupt, and incompetent administrations of this day work overtime to ignore the vision of the indigenous for a socially just world of equality and prosperity, of ecological respect and communitarian solidarity, the courageous
blood of the tribal ancestors still boils in the veins of their successors. And through the movements today once again against the oppressive ruling elites stationed in Bhubaneswar, New Delhi, Washington DC, London, Kolkata and Seoul – the blood shows.
The blood narrates Orissa’s history as the history of tribal uprisings against socioeconomic injustice. And that, her future, too, shall be shaped by the mandates of the dispossessed, not by the whims of the oligarchs.