NEW LIGHT ON THE RAIJMELS OF BAJALI
Dr. Tarun Chandra Bhagabati, M.A., M.Ed., Ph.D
The Muslim (Mopala) farmers of Malawar revolted against British exploitation from 1836-1854. This long twenty-two years considered to be the glorious chapter of the agrarian revolt in India.1 The rule of the East India Company ended in 1858 and India passed under the direct control of British Crown. But there were little changes in the character and internal administration of the British ruler. They continued their policy of exploitation of the resources of the country. Popular discontent increased with every assessment of land revenue at enhanced rate or with the imposition of new taxes. Income tax was introduced in 1860 and this was extended in the following year in the province of Assam 2. Excise duties were levied at Sadar stations in Kamrup, Darrang and Nowgong. Taxes for cutting timber, reeds, and grazing tax became common 3. This multiplication of taxes could not but be a matter of serious concern to the agricultural ryots.
The Mel is found to have been a unique feature of the socio cultural life of the people of Assam since time immemorial 4. Whenever there was any lapse in social behaviour leading to either a breach of privilege or omission and commission of established norms in the Assamese society, generally a Mel was summoned for the redress of the matter. It also functions as judiciary to settle the personal or public disputes within the locality. Raijmel was the highest form of the system as there was the projection of the cherished idea of the sovereignty of the people as expressed in the maxim Raijei Raja 5 ( People is the King). During the post mutiny period some of the scholars and thinkers in the socio political field of study are found to have projected the Raijmel as a phase of the freedom movement of the country. 6
Thus we in the post mutiny period of the nineteenth century we hear of the Raijmel, or Mels which were assemblies of the common people under the leadership of local leaders like Gosains, Dolois, Choudhurys or influential land owners, being held in different parts of the country to ventilate popular grievances and voice popular opinion on matters concerning the people, mainly in the social and economic spheres. The institution of the mel appears to have been a recognized features in the early stage of the company’s administration in Assam to which the authorities often looked for support of their administrative measures, these were now increasingly being organized by the people for the purpose of resisting imposition of new taxes or enhancement of the land revenue, matters that affected the people’s purse and tended to impoverish them 7.
Bajali is neither a village nor a town. It is a vast area consisting of 257 villages and a town. Geographically it falls within 260 15 N – 260 45 North latitude and 910 05 – 910 30 East longitude. It covers almost fifty kilometers from north to south and twelve and half kilometers from east to west. The total area is approximately six hundred twenty square kilometers. At different times this area was known as Bajali Chakla, Bajali Pargana, Bajali Tehsi l, Bajali Circle and at present as Bajali Sub division. 8 Historically during the Patshahi rule there were only villages ,no parganas. The pargana system was made by Seikh Ibrahim Karori and initially there were four Sarkar namely Kamrup, Dhekeri, Dakhinkol and Bangalbhoom 9. Bajali was under Sarkar Kamrup and was under the charge of Pani-Abhaypuria Rajkhowa 10. Pandit Pratap Chandra Goswami says that Bajali name is related with Bajaliya Konwar who ruled the area earlier. However about his origin and genealogy is yet to be known.11
During the Koch Ahom period there is no significant incident to record in the history of Bajali. The officials appointed by the royal court enjoyed total privileges under the Barphukan who administered Kamrup. In the later part of Ahom rule the northern part of Bajali was administered by Bajalia Choudhury, whose origin was Dhawalguru (Purusottam Dwija). 12 During the British period it was presumed that the old norms would be followed. But soon after that the native people could realize that they adopted new measures including land revenue system and other taxes. The abolition of Paik system caused hardship to the Choudhurys, Baruas, Patgiris and upper castes. Imposition of taxes and payment through cash was another discomfort among the natives who had no other source of income except the land received through royal grant.
The British government enhanced the land tax as double in the Assam Valley during 1868. As a result there was a general discontentment among the public. The people of Bajali became more conscious about the enhanced revenue and taxes. Already Raijmels were held at different places of Nowgong and Darrang and leading men of Bajali attended those mels in order to understand the situation. The agrarian revolt out broke in Bajali during the beginning of 1869 13. A number of mels were held at different places of Bajali but no official records are available about those except at Gobindapur 14. and Patacharkuchi as the proceeding of the mels were oral. The people protested against the government tax policies. They organised a Raijmel at village Gobindapur. The mel was held at open place. People irrespective of caste and creed attended the mel. Arrangement was made to feed the gathering. There was also provision for self-cooking as the upper castes generally hesitate to have the common meal. To meet the expenditure of the mel collection was made on the spot and people donated spontaneously in a big iron bowl.15.
On the 23rd of January 1869, while Campbell, the Sub divisional officer, Barpeta was encamping at Hadira, 16 the western extremity of the subdivision, he received a report from inspector Omnath of Barpeta Police station to the effect that about three to four thousand people had assembled at Gobindapur at the eastern part of the subdivision for the purpose of discussing the subject of the assessment. The inspector asked for Campbell’s order, as he did not know what would be the result of the meeting and reported that he had also sent intimation to the Superintendent of Police. Campbell immediately sent a messenger with the instruction to the inspector to proceed to the spot, inquire in to the matter and report the names of the ringleaders. The order, Campbell believed, must have reached the inspector at noon on 24th January, but the latter did not move from Barpeta till 26th. In the meantime, the Munsiff of Barpeta who was in charge of the headquarter of the sub division, had also urged him to visit the scene of occurrence which the inspector declined to do so stating that “there were only seven to eight inspectors (constables) in the station and he was afraid of his life would be in danger were he to go amongst so large a crowd”. 17
However, the inspector did move out of Barpeta but as Campbell pointed out he timed his journey in such a way as to pass Gobindapur on his way to Bajali in the dark, thus avoiding an encounter with the assembly. Moreover while at Bajali he conducted his investigation within the wall of police station never venturing to go near the people or trying to remove their grievances. On 29th January he dispatched a report to Campbell queering the name of the ring leaders, and making no reference to a fact which Campbell afterwards detected, viz. that the assembly had concocted the measures for resisting by force any attempt on the part of the Mauzadar to collect the revenue.18 With developments in Bajali, Campbell stated that the Head Constable in charge of Bajali Thana (Present Patacharkuchi Police Station) could see the crowd from the police station each day , when they assembled in the open field within a mile of the police station “but he never went near them nor took any steps to make himself acquainted with their organization” . He submitted a report stating that about four thousand men had assembled together near his thana and “they had sworn on the Shastras not to pay the new rates of revenue”. Campbell sums up the conduct of the police in these words: “on the whole the conduct of the police of the subdivision throughout the matter was marked with poltroonery an entire want of tact and ability and the assistance which they rendered me was most inefficient”19. In view of this both the Inspector and the Head Constable were prosecuted for neglect of duty. The then Head constable (Daroga) of Bajali Thana Mr. Debendra Nath Sarma was discharged from service for not able act as per government directives. 20 The ringleaders of the assembly whose names were forwarded were either fined or imprisoned. Thereafter, no mels were held in open places, but people continued to held meeting in Satra, Namghar, Devalaya and Mosque. The government issued order that without prior permission of the Deputy Commissioner meeting or the mels were banned within the tehsils of Pati Darrang, Rangiya, Nalbari ,Tambulpur, Hajo, Barama, and Bajali.21
The second phase Raijmel (Patacharkuchi)
In 1892, Sir William Ward, the chief Commissioner of Assam raised the rate of land revenue from 70 to 80 percent. In certain cases the rates were raised to 100 percent. 22 A no tax campaign on a vigorous scale was launched by the ryots of Kamrup and Darrang. During the month of December along with the other places the people of Bajali in their mel resolved not to yield to the government demand and to fine and excommunicate those who would pay revenue to the government. 23 The mels continued to be as active as before. At Bajali the mel appointed it own Dak (post) peons to carry its order from one village to another and organized a corps of lathial (clubsman) to resist attachment of property. 24 Raijmels were held at Bamakhata, Jogdala and Helana and resolved not to pay the taxes. In Bajali, a government officer, Hareswar Tehsildar along with his companion pressurized the public to stop the anti tax drive. When he could not succeed, he forwarded a list of the leading men of the organization to the police. They were arrested and engaged in construction of a bamboo barricade to keep the arrested person at Patacharkuchi, near the Bajali Circle office. 25
During the month of April 1894, another Raijmel was held at Patacharkuchi. The place is believed to be in the open field close to Patacharkuchi Girls High School. 26 As the mels were banned the people assembled during night in the pretext of celebrating a Nam which is common in Assam particularly in the rural area on the eve of the new year. By that time Bajali Thana had been shifted to Patacharkuchi and it was housed in a thatched building. The atrocities of the police drew the attention of the public and it was decided in the mel to burn the police thana in the mid night. But all of a sudden heavy thunderstorm and rain disturbed the plan and people were scattered here and there. The very next day government could collect the information through the intelligence source and the following persons were arrested and sent to jail. Atiram Choudhury of village Bamakhata, Samar Bayan of Kaljirapara, Manjura Choudhury of Bhogpur, Dhanoram Mahajan of Gohainpara, Jagyneswar Goswami of Anandapur, Jaychandra Sarma of Bhogpur, Mermeria Choudhury of Khandopar (Barbang) and Sukaru Talukdar. 27
It is heard that Atiram was arrested from his house, brought to thana by knocking with rifle, made necked and tortured brutally.28 The other arrested persons were engaged like bullock to plough in the open field near the thana.29
The press as a very serious affair considered the popular uprising the “Assam riots” as the official circles called it, and the manner of suppressing them was regarded as more serious. 30 The people of Bajali exhibited their sense of nationalism in a silent and non-violent manner thus making a difference of the other assemblies. Though the historians narrated the episode without much detail it will be unjust to consider the Bajali Raijmels as similar to the Raijmels of other places, thus leaving an impression that Bajali in general a peace loving area from time immemorial.
Notes and references
1. A.N.Charavorty & N.N.Sarma, Bharatar Swadhinata Sangram aru Asom, first edition. Guwahati, Jyoti Prakashan, 1933, p.26
2. H.K.Barpujari,(ed) Political History of Assam, vol.i, second edition, Guwahati, Publication Board, 1999, p.88
3. A.J.M. Mills , Report on the Province of Assam, second edition, Guwahati, Publication Board, 1884, p.24
4. Santo Barman, The Raijmels: A study of the Mel System in Assam, first edition, Guwahati, Spectrum Publications, 2005, preface
7. K.N. Dutta, Landmarks of the Freedom Struggle in Assam, first edition, Guwahati, LBS Publication, 1958, p.28
8. Ratnadhar Barman, Aitiyapurna Bajali, Bajai Darpan, Pathsala, 1987,p.2
9. S.K Bhuyan, (ed) Kamrupar Buranji, third edition, Guwahati, D.H.A.S., 1987, p.31
11. P.C. Goswami, Karrupar Buranjir AhilaPati, first edition, Guwahati, 1986,p.45
12. M.N. Sarma & S.C. Choudhury, Pathsalar Itivritta, first edition, Tihu, Chandra Prakash, 1987, p.9
13. H.K. Barpujari, op.cit. p.95
14. A village under Pub Bajali Mauza of Bajali Revenue Circle, on the side of historic Gohain Kamal Ali, a famous Damodari Vaishnavite Satra.
15. M.N. Sarma, Bajalir Itivritta, first edition, Pathsala, 1987,p.37
16. Popularly known as Hadira Chaki, the western extremities of Assam.
17. Assam Secretariat Report, Vol.38 Jan-May 1869.
18. Ibid, Cited Chandana Goswami, Nationalism in Assam, first edition, Delhi, Mittal Publications, 2008, p.44
20. M.N. Sarma, op.cit. p.36
21. Assam Secretariat Report No. 257 Camp Rangiya, Notification Dt. 10 January 1894.
22. Santo Barman, op.cit. p.77
23. H.K. Barpujari. op.cit. p.96
25. Narakanta Das, Swadhinata Yuddhat Bajali, first edition, Pathsala-------p.16
26. J.N. Sarma, Patacharkuchir Itivritta, first edition, Patacharkuchi Sahitya Sabha, 2004, p.52
27. Gaurikanta Sarma, Swadhinata Andolanat Bajalir Bhumika, Bajali Darpan, Pathsala, 1987, p.98
29. M.N.Sarma, op.cit. p39
30. The Indian Nation, editorial, 12 Feb1894, cited in H.K. Barpujari, opcit. p.10