Modern Period

 

Introduction

The Ahoms ruled Assam uninterruptedly for six hundred years. They established a strong and stable government, gave peace and prosperity and happiness to their subjects and successfully resisted many foreign invasions. But during the closing years of the Ahom rule, on account of the incompetence and inefficiency of the monarchs and mutual rivalry among nobles, the Ahom monarchy fell into decadence. For the Burmese it was a favorable opportunity to interfere in the internal affairs of the Ahom kingdom. So they invaded the country accepting the invitation of Badan Chandra Barphukan. The Burmese occupation of Assam may have been short lived, but it was marked by the total ruination of the country and its people. Raja Gaurinath Singha sought the help of the British to drive the plunderers out of Assam. Again Badan Chandra Bar Phukan tried to satisfy his own ambition with the help of British. On being refused, he went to seek Burmese help. After the first Burmese invasion, Badan Chandra regained his power, and taking a huge amount of indemnity they went back to Burma. The second invasion of Burmese took place in 1819. This time round, the Burmese wanted to annex Assam to the Burmese dominions. They soon became greedier and created disturbances in areas under British control – the British soon declared war against them. The Anglo-Burmese war began in 1824 and came to an end with the formal signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. According to the terms of this treaty, the Burmese renounced their rights on Assam as well as the neighboring kingdoms of Cachar, Jaintia and Manipur. The Treaty of Yandaboo also marked the end of the Ahom monarchy and established the British sovereignty in Assam. With this treaty we make the transition from the Medieval to Modern Age in Assam. 

Treaty of Yandaboo

Treaty of Yandaboo, 24 February 1826

TREATY of PEACE between the HONORABLE EAST INDIA COMPANY on the one part, and HIS MAJESTY the KING of AVA on the other, settled MAJOR-GENERAL SIR ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL, K.C.B., and K.C.T.S., COMMANDING the EXPEDITION, and SENIOR COMMISSIONER in PEGU and AVA; THOMAS CAMPBELL ROBERTSON, ESQ., CIVIL COMMISSIONER in PEGU and AVA; and HENRY DUCIE CHAD, ESQ., CAPTAIN, COMMANDING BRITANNIC MAJESTY'S and the HONORABLE COMPANY'S NAVAL FORCE the IRRAWADDY RIVER, on the part of the Honorable Company; and by MENGYEE-MAHA-MEN-KYAN-TEN WOONGYEE, LORD of LAYKAING, and MENGYEE-MARA-HLAH-THUO-HAH-THOO-ATWEN-WOON, LORD of the REVENUE, on the part of the King of Ava; who have each communicated to the other their full powers, agreed to and executed at Yandaboo in the Kingdom of Ava, on this Twenty-fourth day of February, in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-six, corresponding with the Fourth day of the decrease of the Moon Taboung, in the year One Thousand One Hundred and Eighty-seven Gaudma Era, 1826.

ARTICLE 1.

There shall be perpetual peace and friendship between the Honorable Company on the one part, and His Majesty the King of Ava on the other.

 

ARTICLE 2.

His Majesty the King of Ava renounces all claims upon, and will abstain from all future interference with, the principality of Assam and its dependencies, and also with the contiguous petty States of Cachar and Jyntia. With regard to Munnipoor it is stipulated, that should Ghumbheer Sing desire to return to that country, he shall be recognized by the King of Ava as Rajah thereof.

ARTICLE 3.

To prevent all future disputes respecting the boundary line between the two great Nations, the British Government will retain the conquered Provinces of Arracan, including the four divisions of Arracan, Ramree, Cheduba, and Sandoway, and His Majesty the King of Ava cedes all right thereto. The Unnoupectoumien or Arakan Mountains (known in Arakan by the name of the Yeomatoung or Pokhingloung Range) will henceforth form the boundary between the two great Nations on that side. Any doubts regarding the said line of demarcation will be settled by Commissioners appointed by the respective government's fur that purpose, such Commissioners from both powers to be of suitable and corresponding rank.

ARTICLE 4.

His Majesty the King of Ava cedes to the British Government the conquered Provinces of Yeh, Tavoy, and Mergui and Tenasserim, with the islands and dependencies thereunto appertaining, taking the Salween River as the line of demarcation on that frontier ; any doubts regarding their boundaries will be settled as specified in the concluding part of Article third.

ARTICLE 5.

In proof of the sincere disposition of the Burmese Government to maintain the relations of peace and amity between the Nations, and as part indemnification to the British Government for the expenses of the War, His Majesty the King of Ava agrees to pay the sum of one crore of Rupees.

ARTICLE 6.

No person whatever, whether native or foreign, is hereafter to be molested by either party, on account of the part which he map have taken or have been compelled to take in the present war.

ARTICLE 7.

In order to cultivate and improve the relations of amity and peace hereby established between the two governments, it is agreed that accredited ministers, retaining an escort or safeguard of fifty men, from each shall reside at the Durbar of the other, who shall be permitted to purchase, or to build a suitable place of residence, of permanent materials; and a Commercial Treaty, upon principles of reciprocal advantage, will be entered into by the two high contracting powers.

ARTICLE 8.

All public and private debts contracted by either government, or by the subjects of either government, with the others previous to the war, to be recognized and liquidated upon the same principles of honor and good faith as if hostilities had not taken place between the two Nations, and no advantage shall be taken by either party of the period that may have elapsed since the debts were incurred, or in consequence of the war ; and according to the universal law of Nations, it is further stipulated, that the property of all British subjects who may die in the dominions of His Majesty the King of Ava., shall, in the absence of legal heirs, be placed in the hands of the British Resident or Consul in the said dominions, who will dispose of the same according to the tenor of the British law. In like manner the property of Burmese subjects dying under the same circumstances, in and part of the British dominions, shall be made over to the minister or other authority delegated by His Burmese Majesty to the Supreme Government of India.

ARTICLE 9.

The Kink of Ava will abolish all exactions upon British ships or vessels in Burman ports, that are not required from Burmah ships or vessels in British port nor shall ships or vessels, the property of British subjects, whether European or Indian, entering the Rangoon River or other Burman ports, be required to land their guns, or unship their rudders, or to do any other act not required of Burmese ships or vessels in British ports.

ARTICLE 10.

The good and faithful Ally of the British Government, His Majesty the King of Siam, having taken a part in the present War, will, to the fullest extent, as far as regards His Majesty and his subjects, be included in the above Treaty.

ARTICLE 11.

This Treaty to be ratified by the Burmese authorities competent in the like cases, and the Ratification to be accompanied by all British, whether Europe or Native, American, and other prisoners, who will be delivered over to the British Commissioners ; the British Commissioners on their part engaging that the said Treaty shall be ratified by the Right Honorable the Governor-General in Council ,and the Ratification shall be delivered to His Majesty the King of Ava in four months, or sooner if possible, and all the Burmese prisoners shall, in like manner be delivered over to their own Government as soon as they arrive from Bengal.

ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL.

LARGEEN MEONJA,

Woonghee.

T. C. ROBERTSON

Civil Commissioner.

SEAL OF THE LOTOO.

HY. D. CHADS,

Captain, Royal Navy.

SHWAGUM WOON,

Atawoon.

ADDITIONAL ARTICLE.

The British Commissioners being most anxiously desirous to manifest the sincerity of their wish for peace, and to make the immediate execution of the fifth Article of this Treaty as little irksome or inconvenient as possible to His Majesty the King of Ava, consent to the following arrangements, with respect to the division of the sum total, as specified in the Article before referred to, into installments, viz., upon the payment of twenty-five lacks of Rupees, or one-fourth of the sum total (the other Articles of the Treaty being executed), the Army will retire to Rangoon. Upon the further payment of a similar sum at that place within one hundred days from this date, with the proviso as above, the Army will evacuate the dominions of His Majesty the King of Ava with the least possible delay, leaving the remaining moiety of the sum total to be paid by equal annual installments in two years, from this Twenty-fourth day of February 1826 A.D., through the Consul or Resident in Ava or Pegu, on the part of the Honorable the East India Company.

ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL.

LARGEEN MEONJA,

Woongee.

T. C. ROBERTSON,

Civil Commissioner.

SEAL OF THE  LOTOO

HY. D. CHADS,

Captain, Royal Navy.

SHWWAGUM WOON,

Atawoon

Ratified by the Governor-General in Council, at Fort William in Bengal, this Eleventh day of April, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-six.

AMHERST.

COMBERMERE.

J. H. HARINGTON.

W. B. BAYLEY.

From: C. U. Aitchison, ed. A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads: Relating to India and Neighbouring Countries. Vol. XII. Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch, 1931, 230-233.

In accordance with the treaty of Yandaboo,1826, the king of Ava surrendered his claims over Assam and the neighboring states of Cachar, Jaintia and Manipur hills to the British government. By the right of conquest these territories might be bought directly under the control of the British government, but they preferred to continue the policy of conciliating the neighboring chiefs and tribes. Already in 1824, David Scott, the Agent to the Governor-General, North-East Frontier, had entered into an alliance with Raja Gobind Chandra of Cachar under which the British would return his kingdom; and he would pay a tribute of Rs 10,000 per annum for the protection of his country. Raja Ram Singh, the king of the Jaintias was under the British authority. Lastly, the king of Manipur was under the British but he was allowed to maintain a strong army. The British government recognized him as a ‘protected' ruler of Manipur. In the South-East, to ensure the security of the frontier, Scott entered into agreements with several chiefs of the Singphos. The Khamti and the Muttocks chiefs, in their separate treaties, undertook to furnish labor and militiamen in the case of an emergency.
Scott wanted to pursue the same policy with Assam too. But he did not find anybody from the royal Ahoms with whom he could negotiate. This was because after the first Burmese invasion, followed by the death of Purnananda Burha Gohain, the Ahom monarchy was already past its prime.
Badan Chandra had been murdered and King Chandrakanta, deposed. Meanwhile Purandar Singha had been raised to the Ahom throne. Upon hearing this, the Burmese sent its second invasion to Assam; and Purandar Singha fled to British territory. Once again Chandrakanta was made the puppet king, but he too, lost faith in the Burmese, and fled to Calcutta. The Burmese now placed another puppet king – Jogeswar Singha – upon the Ahom throne.  Such was the state of affairs in Assam at the time of the advent of the British.
The Treaty of Yandaboo constitutes an important landmark in the history of Assam. It marked the end of the six hundred year long rule of the Ahoms and ushered in British rule in Assam. Thus the 19th century proved to be a very significant period of the history of Assam.

Beginning of the British Administration in Assam(1826-1828)  

After the treaty, the British declared that they had no intention of ruling the country; and that they had only come to expel the Burmese. But soon they had occupied the whole of the Brahmaputra valley.

(i) Annexation of lower Assam.

After the occupation, the British divided Assam into two provinces, Lower Assam and Upper Assam. Lower Assam comprised of Kamrup, Nowgang and parts of Darrang with its head quarters at Guwahati. Upper Assam comprised the other parts of Darrang, from Biswanath to the river Buridihing with its head quarters at Rangpur.
 The Treaty of Yandaboo marked the termination of Ahom rule in Assam. Since the prospect of revenue income from Lower Assam was bright, it was brought directly under the British dominion. Under the Burmese invasion Upper Assam had suffered a lot; the administration had broken down; the people had lost all confidence in the government. It was therefore necessary to put Upper Assam under direct military control. David Scott was appointed as the Senior Commissioner of Lower Assam and Colonel Richard was appointed as the Junior Commissioner of Upper Assam.In the beginning, the people of Assam were very happy with the British administration. The common people of Assam had suffered a lot during the Burmese invasion – they now saw hope for peace and prosperity under the British. Also, the ruling classes thought that under the British rule their power and privileges would be secured. But this, however, was not to be. It was soon palpable that the British administration was different; all they cared for was their business, and their own prosperity. Soon, discontent among the people started growing. 

(ii) The Revolt of Gomdhar Konwar:-

The Ahom nobility understood that their rights and privileges were not secure under the British administration. They were therefore, unsatisfied with British rule. Soon a revolt against the British was organized under the Ahom prince Gomdhar Konwar, a scion of the royal family. The time was favorable, because the Khasis and the Singphoes were also prepared to revolt against the British. At Bassa, Gomdhar was formally enthroned. In November, the revolutionary forces advanced towards Mariani, but they lost the battle against the British who were led by Lieutenant Rutherford. Gomdhar was arrested and imprisoned.

The Administration of David Scott (1824-31):

With the improving situation, martial law was lifted from Upper Assam in 1828. Now, the entire Brahmaputra valley came under civil administration. David Scott was appointed as Commissioner. Civil and criminal justice were under him, and he also presided over collection of revenue. He was the chief of police as well. In other words, David Scott was placed in overall charge of the entire valley as a Commissioner. He directed all his energy towards revenue collection; and judicial and police administration in the valley. Scott's principle was to retain the old system as far as possible and implement new rules as little as possible. In Upper Assam, the old ‘Paik' and ‘Khel' system was retained. The Barbarua was appointed to collect the tax. In Lower Assam, the ‘Pargana' land division system was retained; each Pargana was placed under the charge of a Choudhury to collect taxes. Payments were accepted in cash. Professional tax, rent tax, stamp duties were among the various taxes imposed on the people of Lower Assam. To maintain law and order, the British Police system was followed. It consisted of one Daroga, one Jamadar and a number of constables. For Judicial administration, the post of Barphukan was retained. Civil cases were placed under him. Some Panchayat Courts were also present to solve petty civil cases. All the work done by Scott was for the welfare of Assam. It was David Scott who steered t he administration of Assam through one of the most crucial period of her history. He successfully faced all difficulties to lay a foundation of the British rule in Assam. Although in some cases he failed, but he was by far the best among all British administrators.

On the basis of the economic and social points of view, David Scott did not annex Upper Assam.  He thought that it would become a liability for the British. After the Burmese invasion, the people were devastated and had lost faith in government administration. Also, he noticed that the Ahom nobles were in a hostile mood. The revolt of Gomdhar Konwar followed by a conspiracy led by Dhanjay Pealia Bargohain expressed anger against the British. Therefore, Scott recommended the restoration of monarchy in Upper Assam rather than its annexation to the British dominion. Accordingly, the Ahom prince Purandar Singha was enthroned as the Raja of Upper Assam. The British signed an agreement with the King that: (i) the Raja would pay a sum of Rs 50,000 annually as tribute; (ii) the Raja would act according to the advice of the British Political Agent; and (iii) the Raja would be protected against any foreign aggression. The British very tactfully served its purpose, which was to satisfy the nobles momentarily, and then annex Upper Assam in due time because the conditions of the agreement would be impossible to fulfill for Purandar Singha. Purandar Singha was a young man of about 25 years. He did not realize the difficulties of his new position when he accepted the treaty imposed upon him. His administration was financially crippled from the beginning, and there were political difficulties galore. He was approved by the British, but the Assamese people and the nobles wanted Chandrakanta Singha as king instead of him because Purandar Singha had spent his early days in Bengal.  When the British took possession of Assam, they introduced new rules which made the common people very unhappy with the government. As a result, Purandar Singha could not keep up the agreement with the British. From 1835 there was a rapid fall in revenue and Purandar Singha could not make regular payments of the yearly amount to the British. This violation of agreement gave the British ample and legitimate reasons to support their annexation of Assam. Finally, in 1838, Upper Assam was formally annexed to the British dominion in India. In other words the foundation of the British rule in Assam was laid.

 

The Administration of T.C Robertson (1832-34):

In 1832, after Crack Fort, T.C Robertson was appointed as the Agent to the Governor-General and Commissioner of Assam. A man of tact, prudence and sound judgment, the Agent soon apprised himself of the whole situation in the province. With his prejudice against the ‘native agency', he realized that the supervision of British officers was a must in Assam. He divided Lower Assam into four provinces. Each district was headed by one officer called the Principal Assistant and paid a salary of one thousand rupees. He had to act as Judge, Magistrate and Collector. The Principal Assistant was to decide original civil cases from five hundred to one thousand rupees; he also could hear appeals from Lower Courts. In criminal cases he had the same authority as the Magistrate of Bengal. In each district, there were two other courts – the munsif's and the panchayat. The munsif's court tried original cases from one hundred to five hundred rupees and heard appeals from the panchayat court. The panchayat court tried minor cases of up to one hundred rupees. In the revenue system, Robertson brought about radical changes. In 1832 he abolished additional imposts. But tax on land at various rates was imposed on the peasants. Robertson also introduced measures to safeguard and protect the peasants from extortions. Choudhuries, Patgiris and Bishayas were appointed the revenue officers.

The Administration of Captain Jenkins (1834)

Captain Jenkins became the Commissioner after T.C.Robertson. During his administration, Upper Assam was annexed to the British territory in 1838, which was the last dominion of the Ahom rule in Assam. He created the post of Deputy Commissioner. The Deputy Commissioner was vested, besides his civil duties, with judicial powers. He was to act as district and session judge. The Principal Assistant had been given new powers to transfer cases to subordinate courts. The munsif's and the panchayat courts continued to function and to decide civil cases as before. To protect the lives and property of the people and to maintain the law and order, the number of Thanas was increased.  The charge was given to Darogas; he was aided by a Jamadar and few constables. In matters of revenue, the khel system was abolished. New taxes like tax on ‘barimati' were introduced. Rates on non-rupit land were increased. The professional tax on the various professions was the same as in the Ahom rule. Meanwhile the discovery of tea plantation and its successful implementation, tea became the most important cash crop in Assam. Tea industry was followed by the coal and oil industries. But industrialization in Assam had no links with the agriculture sector as well as local economy. But the communication with the other states improved dramatically. Later medical care and health facilities also introduced. Modern education of British Rule was one of the most important benefits. From the end of 19th century a new awakening started in the Brahmaputra Valley.   

Resumption and Annexations (1838-58)

Annexation of Khasi hills

The Khasi hills lay between the Jaintia and the Garo hills. The British came to know about the Khasis when the East India Company obtained the Dewani of Bengal and jurisdiction over Sylhet in 1765. Being situated on the frontier of Sylhet, the Khasis maintained their trade through Sylhet. After the occupation of Lower Assam in 1824, David Scott wanted to establish direct communication between Assam and Sylhet by constructing a road through the Khasi hills. So he entered into a negotiation with the chiefs of the Khasis to obtain their permission. But the project did not succeed. But after the death of their Chief, Chattar Singh, there was confusion about the successor. The Khasis then sought David Scott's help. Taking the opportunity, Scott made Tirot Singh the king of Nangkhalo. Tirot Singh agreed to help in the construction of the proposed road. But after some time the relationship between Tirot Singh and David Scott began to deteriorate. As a result, doubts arose in the minds of Khasis, as rumors spread that the British would impose taxes on them. This led to the outbreak of a rebellion – first at Nongkhalo under the leadership of Tirot Singh. Two British officers were killed. This rebellion continued for four years. Tirot Singh was ultimately forced to surrender. Rajan Singh became the new king in 1834. He accepted a British political agent stationed at Cherrapunji. In this way, the Khasi hills were annexed under the British dominion.

Annexation of Jaintia kingdom

The Jaintia kingdom was situated between the Cachar and the Khasi hills. The kingdom was divided into two parts, the plains and the hills. In 1824, the Burmese force occupied Cachar and threatened to attack the Jaintias. The Burmese asked King Ram Singh to surrender. At this stage, the British came forward to protect Raja Ram Singh. On the arrival of British force, the Burmese retreated from Jaintia frontier. A treaty was signed between the King and the British by which the Raja formally agreed to be a dependent of the British Government. The conflict between the Raja and the British started in connection with the establishment of a border outpost. In 1832, a fresh dispute arose. The Raja of Gobha captured four British subjects for sacrifice at the shrine of goddess Kali. Immediately after this incident, the British annexed the Kingdom of the Jaintias in 1835.

Annexation of Cachar

Cachar was another native kingdom that became the victim to the imperialist designs of the British. The kingdom of Cachar was being ruled by two princes having clearly defined areas of control. In the plains, Govinda Chandra was the ruling prince. But after his assassination, the British annexed the province in 1832. Tularam was the ruling Chief of the hilly tract. His territory was annexed after his death in 1854.

Annexation of Naga, Garo and Lushai Hills

The British initially thought that it would be wise to leave the Naga tribe alone. Later on, however, this policy was rejected, and between 1835 and 1851 as many as ten military expeditions were sent to the hills. Ultimately in 1866, the British took possession of the area of Angami Nagas. The other Nagas were also gradually brought under the British control. Another hill tribe, the Garos often created problems in the plains. The British government first tried to make the Garos a tributary, but the arrangement failed. After this, the British brought the Garos under their control in 1869. They were formed into a separate district. The Southern frontier of the Cachar hill tracts were known as the Lushai hills, which was the habitat of the Kuki tribe. The British took possession of the Lushai hills. In 1898 it was placed under the Assam administration.

Annexation of Khamtis

The Khamtis were a branch of the Shan tribes. In the middle of the 18th century they settled at Tengapani in Assam. The British Government recognized the Khamti chief, the Sadiya Khowa Gohain as the lawful ruler of the Khamtis. All this worked well until the death of Sadiya Khowa Gohain. After his death, the new Chief had some dispute with the chief of the Muttock country.  The British became worried about this and a new Sadiya Khowa Gohain was selected: the former was deported to Guwahati. The New Chief was deprived of the power of administering revenue and judicial matters. It seemed for a time that the Khamtis accepted the new arrangement. But in reality they were not happy at all. As a result, in 1839, led by their Chief, the Khamtis attacked the garrison at Sadiya and killed the British Agent.  The British sent punitive forces to suppress the Khamtis. Ultimately in 1842, both Sadiya and the Muttock country jointly came under the British territory.

The First Indian War of Indepdence and Assam (1857)

Assam lost her independence in 1826 to the British. During the first thirty years of British rule, the struggle for independence was among the nobles and the higher classes. One of the great patriotic leaders in this period was Maniram Dewan. In the beginning, he was a friend of British. In 1839, he became the Bar Bhandar Barua (the finance minister) of Purandar Singha. He was courageous, intelligent and patriotic. However, when Purandar Singha was deposed, he protested strongly. Around this time, the British Government was planning to extend the tea plantations in Assam. Maniram was appointed as the Dewan of the Assam Tea Company. In the process, he came to know about the true motives of the British. He found that things were not happening for the sake of Assamese people. So he resigned from his post. In 1853, Mofat Mills visited Assam, and Maniram explained the evil effects of the British rule and as an example he pointed out the selling and cultivation of opium in Assam. He also wanted to restore Upper Assam to Kandarpeswar Singha (grand son of Purandar Singha). But the British Government turned a deaf ear to these appeals.  Again in 1857, Maniram proceeded to Calcutta to press the Government to restore the kingdom to Kandarpeswar Singha. At the same time, the great revolution broke out all over the country. The British termed it as the Sepoy Mutiny. Soon, several princes, nobles and the Sepoys of the British Government had joined forces under the banner of ‘war for independence'. Maniram came to know about it, and revealed the same to Kandarpeswar Singha. Pyoli Phukan, a trusted friend of Kandarpeswar, along with some other patriotic people of Jorhat organized an armed revolution against the British. But before the rebellion actually took place, the British came to know about it. Kandarpeswar was arrested and detained, and Maniram was arrested in Calcutta. He was sent to Assam where he was tried and convicted; he was sentenced to death along with Pyoli Phukan. After the 1857 war, the Queen of England took over the Government of India from the East India Company by a proclamation in 1858.

Significance of the revolt of 1857 in Assam

National consciousness had now begun to grow among the people of Assam. Gradually, they became aware of the destructive nature of the British rule. The rebellion of 1857 made the working class people of Assam conscious about the repressive nature of the foreign rule. Lastly, Maniram's fight against the British greatly stirred the people's minds. His patriotism and sacrifice of life for the cause of the country is still remembered by the people of Assam.

Assam'sAwakening after the Revolt (After 1857)

Effect of revenue settlement in Assam

Queen Victoria of England by a Proclamation in 1858 directly assumed the responsibility of the Indian administration. This meant that India became an integral part of the British Empire. After the revolt, the British Government had to face a severe financial crisis. Incomes derived from the various taxes was not enough, so to increase the income, the Government doubled the existing rates of revenue on land. Stamp duty, excise duty, and income tax were imposed in the different parts of Assam. Also, in 1861, poppy cultivation was banned. These rules affected the peasants to a great extent. Discontent began to grow among the peasant population in different parts of Assam. They made their protests through ‘Raijmel'. The peasants demonstrated their protest against the Government from time to time. But they were suppressed by the Government. In spite of that, the demonstrations continued and sometimes open violence occurred in different places.  The ‘Raijmel' at different places played a great role in awakening the consciousness of the people against the unjust measures of the British Government.

The ‘Raijmel' in Assam

The village panchayats were known as Raijmel in Assam. They were the assemblies of common people. It was a popular institution through which people could express their opinion on socio-economic matters. They would discuss matters of common interest, particularly the social issues, and take a decision. But slowly they had grown to be real assemblies of people. Not only members of a particular village, but people from other villages too participated in it to make it stronger. In the peasant's rebellion against the British government, these mels played a very important role.

Phulaguri Uprising

The Phulaguri Dhawa was the first agrarian revolt in Assam after 1857.

The people of Phulaguri in Nowgaon district, mostly tribal (like the Lalung and the Kachari tribes), strongly opposed the ban on the cultivation of Poppy, through the Raijmel. These people were mostly opium-users and the British government had increased and fixed the rate for opium. Therefore they had to spend a large amount of their income on opium. Also, the British imposed a ban on private cultivation of opium.  At the same time the rumor spread on the imposition of taxes on pan and betel-nut. This was enough provocation to give rise to an uprising against the British. In 17 October, 1861, when people from distant villages assembled in a ‘mel', the British police forcibly tried to disperse the villagers. The people rose against them and the Assistant Commissioner of police was killed. Immediately, the British overpowered them and forced them to surrender; many of their leaders were severely punished.  Despite the fact that the Phulaguri uprising was a failure, its significance is great. It was the first popular rebellion of the peasantry of Assam against the British colonial rule. For the first time, the middle classes also supported it. It served as an inspiration for other village men and tribal folk.

Rangia Revolt

After the Phulaguri rebellion, large numbers of police forces were deployed in various places to maintain law and order. Meanwhile, the government kept on increasing the revenue demand on peasantry. The people of Rangia followed the foot steps of Phulaguri, and lodged their protests in ‘Raijmels'.  In 1893 they ransacked the Rangia market. In 1894 they raised the defiant slogan that they would not pay the increased revenue. The very same day, a ban on the ‘mel' was imposed by the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup. All the leaders were arrested and the Rangia revolt came to an end.

Luchima Revolt

The people of Luchima took recourse to violence in course of the rebellion. They assaulted the revenue collectors who were the agents of the British governments. Near Luchima, in Kapla on 29th January, 1894, two revenue collectors were severely beaten. One of them died.Immediately the British arrested seventy-five villagers who were afterwards freed.

Patharughat Uprising

After these uprisings, land tax was doubled. The people of Patharughat in Mongaldoi district became the center of a rebellion in 1894. ‘Raijmels' were held. Along with the lodging of protests against the increased revenue, the villagers were told not to pay it.  On 28 January, the police came to the village to attach the property of a peasant-cultivator who was a defaulter; the entire police force was surrounded by a mob. When they advanced towards the police camp, the British opened fire, and many of them died or were injured. This was another revolt suppressed by the British.

Tribal uprisings

The people of Jaintia Hills were not accustomed to any kind of money tax in the past. In 1860, the ‘House Tax' was imposed, followed by the Income tax. The people became extremely agitated, and protested violently. Again in 1862, the License tax was imposed. By now, the people had become much more violent, and could not be suppressed until 1863. In 1878, the government decided to impose taxes in the Naga Hills. When they tried to collect these taxes by force, the Nagas protested and in the process, the British political officer was killed. With a strong hand the revolt was contained and the Nagas agreed to pay revenue.In 1892, the Lushai protested against the imposition of the House tax but were quelled and made to agree to comply.
In 1872, the Garos revolted and were suppressed; the entire hill was brought under taxation.
In 1891, the British interfered in the internal affairs of Manipur, regarding succession issue. But the people of Manipur could not tolerate the British interference in an internal matter. A revolt took place under the leadership of Tikendrajit Singh where the Chief Commissioner of Assam, Mr. Quinton lost his life. After the incident, the British sent a large military force to subjugate them. The British arrested Tikendrajit and he was hanged to death.

The Renaissance in Assam (Assam After the Revolt of 1857)

The effect and significance of the peasants' rebellion

The increase of revenue collection greatly affected the income of the peasants, and their plight worsened every day. Though their rebellion was ruthlessly contained, the British realized that the tax-structure needed revision.
The British Government became alarmed at the growing influence of the ‘Raijmel' and considered it as a source of danger. Therefore, the Raijmel was banned. But the brutal action of Government had created a stir throughout the India. The media supported the demands of the peasants. The Government became convinced of the popular discontent and did undertake some kinds of reformation of the tax and revenue structure.

Social and literacy consciousness in Assam

The seeds of renaissance were sown rather late in Assam, because Assam came under British dominion only during the 20s and 30s of 19th century. A humble beginning was made in 1831 by Haliram Dhekial Phukan and Juggoram Khargharia Phukan. Haliram supported the cause of women's education. He wrote the Asam Buranji, the first historical work on Assam. His brother Juggaram was a close associate of Ram Mohan Roy of Bengal. He took the initiative in establishing English schools in Assam. In 1835, the first government school was established. In 1836, American Missionaries began to publish books and journals after establishing a printing press. In 1813, the first Assamese book, a translation of Bible by Atmaram Sharma, was published from Serampore.Social reforms were led on by Radhakant Kataki; he was a supporter of the liberation of slaves and freedom from bonded labour in Assam. Anandaram Dhekial Phukan and Maniram Dewan were two giant personalities in the 50s of 19th century. Maniram Dewan ended his life in his attempt at overthrowing the British rule from Assam. Anandaram Dhekial Phukan devoted himself to the improvement of Assamese society.

Anandaram Dhekial Phukan

Anandaram Dhekial Phukan, the son of Holiram Dhekial Phukan, was the true representative of the new awakening in the modern age of enlightenment.  He studied in Calcutta Hindu College. He has been rightly acclaimed as the "Rammohon Roy" of Assam. He came to realize that no real progress was possible without education. He harbored the idea that with the British as rulers, it would be possible to eradicate social evils only by progressive reforms. He proposed that the people should come out of their medieval orthodox outlook and acquire the knowledge of western science, literature and philosophy. He urged upon the British Government to impose a ban on the sale of opium. He was influenced by Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and strongly supported the cause of women's education and widow remarriage. He established the ‘Jnan Pradayii Sabha' where they would meet weekly and discuss social reforms. He contributed much to the restoration of Assamese language to its rightful place. Anandaram Dhekial Phukan strongly argued in favor of replacing the Bengali by the Assamese. He wrote Asamiya Lorar Mitra in two parts, which was used as reading material for schools. He wrote a series of articles in Arunodoi, under the heading of "A few Remarks on the Assamese Language and Vermicular Education" in 1859.

Literary Consciousness

 Between 1826 and 1837 – the Assamese language had been in use in Assam in literature and official purposes. But, suddenly in 1837 it was replaced by the Bengali language. Therefore, the Assamese people had been expressing their dissatisfaction over the decision of the British government. Resolutions were passed in meetings, and petitions sent to the government for the restoration of the Assamese language. The American Baptists Missionaries also fought for Assamese language. Jaduram Barua, Gunaviram Barua, Hemchandra Barua and Lakshminath Bezbarua – all expressed their opposition to Bengali. All of them also advocated social reforms. Jaduram and Gunaviram both married widows. Hem Chandra Barua wrote about widow remarriage in Arunodoi, the first Assamese monthly magazine, published in 1846. Lakshminath Bezbarua also attacked the social evils and superstitious beliefs though his writings. They opposed the use of opium. In these ways, the Assamese literature that was emerging began to touch new heights. News papers, debates and discussions created an intellectual revival and the ancient glories of Assam inspired the effort for freedom. The Christian missionaries worked as a strong force for the new beginning of Assamese literature. They established elementary schools and wrote text books in Assamese. Besides the translation of the Bible, they published Kamini Kantar Caritra and Alokeshi Vesyar Katha in 1877. In other words, they opened the door to the west and brought about a renaissance in the Assamese language. The period is memorable for the emergence of a group of Assamese writers, whose works are still regarded as classics in Assamese literature. Hem Chandra Barua wrote the Grammar of Assamese Language in 1856 and Hem Kosh in 1900, which laid foundation of the Assamese language and literature on solid ground. Gunaviram Barua introduced a new era by his publication of the earliest comprehensive history of Assam. He wrote the first Assamese biography: Anandaram Dhekial Phukanar Jivan Charitra. 1889 was a landmark in the history of the Assamese language and literature. The ‘Asamiya Bhasa Unnati Sadhini Sabha' was established by Ramakanta Barkakati, Kanaklal Barua, Padmanath Gohainbarua and many other prominent Assamese writers. In 1889, Jonaki, the monthly Assamese magazine was published.  Chandra Kumar Aggarwala wrote "Pratima" in 1913 and "Bin Baragi" in 1923 on the idea of natural beauty. Ambikagiri Roy Choudhury wrote intensely patriotic poems like "Bandini Bharat" and "Satadhana". However, writers like Jatindra Nath Dowera and Raghunath Choudhury appeared to be indifferent to social and political problems of that age. Nalini Devi wrote a series of highly patriotic poems. Hem Chandra Goswami was the first to write a sonnet "Priyatamar Chithi"
(Letter from the Beloved) in 1889. Lakshmi Nath Bezbarua became the intrepid user of the genre of the short story.

Assam Sahitya Sabha

The Assam Sahitya Sabha was the most important literary organization of Assam. The establishment of the ‘Assam Sahitya Sabha' in 1917 provided the common forum to the literatures of the province where it was possible to exchange views and to take concrete steps for the development of Assamese language and literature.
It was a common platform for Asamiya Bhasa Unnati Sadhini Sabha and the Assamese Literary Society.  This concept was conceived by Ambikagiri RayChoudhury who was a poet, a writer and veteran freedom fighter. Lakshminath Bezbarua helped him out. The formation of Assam Sahitya Sabha was attendace by the representatives from all over Assam. Padmanath Gohai Barua and Sarat Chandra Goswami were the first president and secretary. Some notable members were Nilamani Phukan, Debeswar Chaliha, Satyanath Bora etc. The Head Office was at Chandra Kanta Handique Bhavan at Jorhut, Bhagavati Prasad Baruah Bhavan at Guwahati and Rangsina Bhavon at Diphu. The aim of the Sabha is to develop Assamese Language and  bring all other indigenous languages of Assam under one umbrella. Other than that the publish dictionary and folklores of Assam, develop art, culture and sculpture of Assam. They publish research journal, awarded young and talented writers, organize seminars and workshops. Till now they have published more than 800 books and also translate books from English and Sanskrit languages. The Assam Sahitya Sabha was always indifferent form Socio-Political movements.

Rise of socio-political organizations

‘Raijmels' were the first political organization in Assam. After English education was underway, the educated middle class took charge of the Raijmels. They were well aware of the happenings all over India. In 1852 some intellectuals of Guwahati submitted a representation to the Government urging for introduction of Municipal administration in Guwahati. Though their effort did not succeed at that time, but it was perhaps the earliest organized effort to express public opinion. In 1885, ‘The Assam Desh Hitaisini Sabha', a socio-cultural organization was formed in Sibsagar. In 1857-59 Anandaram Dhekial Phukan established the ‘Gyan Pradayini Sabha', mainly for the spread of advanced knowledge among the people. Many more organizations were established in that period. Among them the three notable socio-political organizations which made major contributions to the national movement were – ‘Sarbajanik Sabha', ‘Assam Association' and ‘Chatra Sanmilan'.

The Sarbajanik Sabha:  It was the first political association of Assam. Founded by Jagannath Barua, it was established in 1884, and lasted until 1907. Its objectives were: (i) to present the wishes and aspirations of the people; (ii) to explain Governmental policies to the people and (iii) to promote the betterment of the condition of the people. They protested against the introduction of the Assam Land and Revenue Regulations of 1886. The Sabha supported the abolition of the cultivation of opium. They also took up the cause of opium cultivators and urged upon Government to improve their conditions. This Sabha brought political consciousness among the people, and made them aware of the harmful affect of British rule. The Sabha was open to all classes of people. These organizations created a healthy tradition of political association in Assam.

The Assam Association:- This was formed in 1903, but the inaugural session was held only after two years.  Prabhat Shandra Barua, Manik Chandra Barua, Phanidhar Chaliha and many others were the members of this association. The method of working of this Sabha was similar to the Sarbajanik Sabha. They believed in constitutional form of movement. They made resolutions first, and then appealed to the British government. They opposed the partition of Bengal. They opposed the grazing tax and realization of money by the government from the immoral trade of opium. But gradually they decided to join the freedom movement. In 1921, the Assam Provincial Congress Committee was formed and this association became its part.

The Assam Chatra Sanmilion: - In 1925, the first session of this organization was held in Guwahati. The president was Lakshminath Bezbarua. It was basically a literary organization. Initially they were not interested in politics. But afterwards they jumped into the bandwagon of the Swadeshi Movement. They carried on the call for using home made articles and the boycott of foreign goods. They also demanded a separate University for Assam. This organization wielded much influence upon the student community. It spread its activities all over Assam. This association, through its activities imparted a sort of political training to the students who later on emerged as important political leaders at the provincial and national levels.

The Freedom Struggle in Assam(1921-1947):

In 1921, the Provincial Congress Committee of Assam was formed. Kuladhar Chaliha was the first president of the Provincial Congress. The freedom movement in Assam gained much strength from this time onwards. Mahatma Gandhi visited Assam in August 1921. His presence in person and the speech delivered by him in the meeting deeply touched the minds of the people of Assam. Responding his call, the lawyers, government officers, and teachers left their jobs to devote themselves to the cause of the nation. Assam was brought to the mainstream of the national movement after Gandhijis visit. ‘Khadi' and ‘Chakra' became immensely popular in Assam. Gandhiji was impressed by the weaving industry of Assam. The people of Assam successfully implemented the Non-Cooperation Movement. They organized strikes, processions and boycott of foreign goods. The most important factor was that the tea-workers also joined in this movement. The tea-garden workers of Chandpur wanted to go back to their original place Chotanagpur. But the British authority could not allow this. This led to the strikes of the Assam-Bengal Railway workers and the Steamer Navigation services.  There was also a strike against the opium habit. The Congress volunteers made a door-to-door campaign against opium. The participation of the womenfolk was an important feature of the Non Cooperation Movement. Bidyutprabha Devi and Hemanta Kumari Devi were among them. The student community played a significant role to make the movement a success. Although the movement was a failure, it left a tremendous impact on the people. Gandhiji immediately suspended the movement after the Chouri-Choura incident. This led to the formation of a wing of the Swarajya Party in Assam. Tarunram Phukan was elected its president and Gopinath Bardoloi the secretary. This party emerged from some local organizations. They began to organize agitation on social and economic issues. The ‘Asamiya Sabha' was founded by Ambikagiri Roy Choudhury. The Sabha launched an intense propaganda for preserving the cultural identity of Assam. The ‘Krishak Sanmilini' was another organization which operated at the economic level. They organized protest against the oppression of the peasantry.

In 1927, the Simon Commission was appointed. In 1929, in the Lahore session the National Congress Committee declared the demand for complete independence. A fake celebration of ‘Independence Day' was celebrated on 26th January 1930. It was the preparation for the launching of the Civil Disobedience movement.  The student community of Assam played an important role here. The arrest of Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru touched the hearts of the Assamese people. They tried to oppose the British every possible way. In 1930, the ‘Cunningham Circular' was implemented, which forbade students from joining any political activities. The students all over Assam protested against this circular. But the British did not spare the agitating students. As a result some new schools were established – these were the Kamrup Academy of Guwahati, Sibsagar Vidyapith and so on.  The impact of the civil disobedience movement was also felt among the hill tribes. As per the provision of the Government of India Act, 1935, elections were held and Sir Muhammad Saadulla heading a coalition ministry became the first Chief Minister of Assam. But he failed to hold on to the post, and as a result, the opposition party under leadership of Gopinath Bardoloi came to power. On 19 September, 1938, Bardoloi became the Chief Minister of Assam. The Bordoloi ministry immediately stopped opium cultivation, reduced the land revenue, and restricted illegale immigration. Immigration was encouraged by the British Government, the massive immigration from East Bengal (a large number of Muslims) altered the demographic pattern in several districts of Assam.

But World War II had started and the Bardoloi ministry tendered its resignation in compliance with the decision of the All India Congress Committee.  Again the Saadulla ministry came into power. His collection of money for the war-fund was opposed by the students union. The students of Cotton College protested against these fund collections. They were contained with a lathi-charge, where at least 40 students were seriously injured. This incident led to the resignation of the government. In 1942, the war took a serious turn. To meet the situation, the British Government sent the Cripps's Mission to India. But his proposals were not accepted by the Congress and the Muslim league. In 1942, the Congress Committee adopted the famous ‘Quit India Resolution' and decided to launch a movement. In a historic speech Gandhiji raised the slogan ‘Do or die'. The prominent leaders of Assam were arrested. It was a mass movement; the student community played a significant role.  Under-ground organizations also emerged in the course of the movement. Dramatic changes were taking place in Indian politics. Elections were held in 1946. In Assam, the Congress obtained absolute majority, and Gopinath Bardoloi became the Chief Minister and Basanta Kumar Das became the Home Minister.  Three members of the British cabinet reached India in 1946 under the ‘Cabinet Mission'. Their Grouping Plan was introduced in Assam, but it was rejected by the Assamese people. Gandhiji was sympathetic to the resentment of the people of Assam against the Grouping Plan. With the acceptance of Mountbatten's plan, the ant grouping agitation in Assam came to an end.  On the basis of Mountbatten's plan the Indian Independence Bill, 1947, was passed in the British Parliament in 1947. The Act provided the transfer of power to two dominions, India and Pakistan, which came into effect on August 15, 1947.  After independence, Akbar Hydari became the first Indian Governor of Assam. The first general election in free India was held in 1952.  In Assam, the Congress party won the election and returned to the Assam Legislative Assembly with a huge majority.  Gopinath Bardoloi became the first Chief Minister of Assam in Independent India.

Bardoloi founded the Gauhati University in 1948, the first University of Assam. Assam High Court, the Assam Medical College, the Jorhat Agricultural College, and Assam Engineering College were established in the very first term of the government of Assam in independent India. An All India Radio Station was also opened at Guwahati.Gopinath Bardoloi died in 1950 and was succeeded by Bishnuram Medhi as the Chief Minister.

A Brief Historical Profile of Assam Legislative Assembly

The Assam Legislative Assembly came into being on the day of its first sitting on April 7, 1937 in the Assembly Chamber at Shillong, the erstwhile Capital of the composite State of Assam. Situated in the northeast part of the Country, Assam has had a glorious history of her own. Popularly known as the ethnological museum of India, Assam has been described as a Mini-India, having a rich cultural heritage with diverse races, religions and cultures. Assam under the provisions of the India Council Act, 1861 did not have its own democratic institution but was tagged with East Bengal in 1905 and the Institution was then called "Legislative Council of Eastern Bengal and Assam", which started functioning from December 18, 1906. In 1909, the Council had strength of 40 members and out of the 40 seats, Assam was allotted only 5. In 1912 Assam was reconstituted into a Chief Commissioners' province. In the year 1913, after Assam was granted a Legislative Council under the Government of India Act, 1909, the Assam Legislative Council came into being with strength of 34 members of which 13 were nominated by the Chief Commissioner and 21 were elected by the people. The Legislative Council of Assam first met on the 6th January, 1913 at 11 AM at Shillong, which was presided over by Sir Archdale Easle, the Chief Commissioner of Assam. Under the Government of India Act 1919, the strength of the Legislative Council was raised to 53 members with effect from 1st April, 1921 of which 41 were elected members and the remaining 12 were nominated.

The Government of India Act, 1935 was adopted by the British Parliament on 2nd August, 1935 and was implemented in 1937. The Government of India Act 1935 made provisions for a Legislative Assembly in each province and as a result the Legislature in Assam became bicameral. The Assam Legislative Assembly had strength of 108 members and all of them were elected members. The strength of the Legislative Council (the Upper House) was not less than 21 and not more than 22 members. After the partition of India, the Sylhet district of Assam was transferred to the then east Pakistan by a referendum and the strength of the Assembly was reduced to 71. However, after Independence, the strength of members was again raised to 108. The bicameral Assam Legislative Assembly became unicameral with the abolition of the Assam Legislative Council in 1947. In the years that followed, Assam was truncated into several smaller states. In 1963, Nagaland came into being as a separate State. With the passing of North Eastern (Reorganization Areas) Act in 1971 by the Parliament, Meghalaya became a full-fledged state. Subsequently, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh also followed suit. After the creation of Meghalaya as a separate state, Shillong continued to be the joint capital of both Assam and Meghalaya. However, in 1972, the Government of Assam decided to shift the Capital to Dispur, Guwahati. Accordingly, the first sitting of the Budget Session of the Assam Legislative Assembly was held at the temporary capital at Dispur on the 16th March, 1973. With the changing geographical boundaries together with the shifts in the population graph of Assam, the strength of members of the Assam Legislative Assembly has fluctuated during the last fifty odd years. In 1952-57 it was 108, reaching still lower to 105 in 1957-62 (the Second Assembly) and then to 114 in 1967-72 (the third Assembly) until it reached a strength of 126 members in 1972-78 (the fifth Assembly) and it has continued to maintain that figure till the 11th Assembly. 

Referrences :  Books

 

A History of Assam by Sir Edward Gait
History of Assam by Damodar Nath
Tungkhungiya Buranji By , S.K.Bhuyan
Political History of Assam By H.K.Barpujari and
The Comprehensive History of Assam Vol-I, Vol-II, Vol-III, Vol-V