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Kerala disputes Odisha's claim to first war of independence

Source: PTI
October 31, 2017 13:06 IST
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Image: Actor Mammootty played the titular role in Pazhassi Raja, based on the life of the king of Malabar who battled British forces, in the 2009 Malayalam film by director Hariharan.

Historians say the coastal state had witnessed a number of minor and major struggles against foreign powers even before the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, which has so far been regarded as the first war of Indian Independence.

A section of historians in Kerala on Tuesday disputed the Centre's move to announce Odisha's 1817 Paika rebellion as the ‘First War of Independence’, saying various uprisings against foreign powers had occurred in the southern state much before it, but never got due recognition.

 

They said the coastal state had witnessed a number of minor and major struggles against foreign powers even before the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, which has so far been regarded as the first war of Indian Independence.

A few among the historians wanted the tag of first war of independence for 'Attingal Revolt,' an agitation by locals in the then princely state of Venad against the English East India Company in 1721 over the latter’s arrogant approach and unjust measures that they tried to implement in the land.

As many as 133 English East India Company soldiers were killed during the revolt which, according to state historians, was the first organised uprising against the foreign powers in the country.

The struggles led by legendary king of Malabar, Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja, who locked horns with the British during the period 1795-1805, the strike by Nair Brigade in Travancore in 1804 and the agitation led by Travancore diwan (prime minister) Veluthambi Dalawa in 1809 were some of the other uprisings against foreign powers witnessed by the state, they said.

The fight of 16th century naval captain Kunjali Marakkar against the Portuguese forces was also prominent among them, they added.

'History Protection Council,' a state-based outfit, is planning to submit a memorandum to the state government to press the Centre to declare the 'Attingal Revolt' as the first freedom struggle of the country instead of 'Paika Bidroha.'

Eminent historian and former chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), M G S Narayanan, said facts should be examined before including Odisha's "Paika Bidroha as the first war of independence" in school textbooks.

"The matter should be examined thoroughly before taking a decision to include it in school textbooks," he told PTI.

Noted historian K N Ganesh questioned the government’s right to decide the prominence and value of historical movements and struggles.

"I am not questioning the significance of Paika rebellion.. But how can a government decide the merit and significance of revolts, struggles and agitations in history?" he asked.

"It should be decided by the academicians and the bodies like history research council and so on.. No minister can simply say that Paika rebellion is the first war of independence in the country without due consultation with historians and academicians concerned," he said.

Historian and academician P M Rajan Gurukkal said many local struggles happened in this part of the country including the historic Colachel War which did not get the recognition they deserved.

"It is true that many local uprisings had gone unnoticed in the history.. One of the most significant among them is the Colachel War between Travancore king Marthanda Varma and Dutch East India Company in the year 1741."

"It was the first ever victory of a princely state against a European power in Asia. But, it did not get due recognition," he told PTI.

A debate on the first war of independence was triggered off after Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar's recent announcement that 'Paika Bidroha' of 1817 would find a place in the history books as 'the First War of Independence' from the next academic session.

The announcement was made at a function marking the bicentenary of the historic rebellion.

According to historians, Paikas, the peasant militia under the Gajapati rulers of Odisha who rendered military service to the king during the times of war, had rebelled against the British rule under the leadership of Baxi Jagandhu Bidyadhara as early as 1817.

Earlier, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had, in a letter to the Centre, urged that it should recognise 'Paika Bidroha' as the first war of independence against the British rule as it took place four decades before the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, which has so far been regarded as the first war of Indian Independence. 

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