Few remember anti-British Phulaguri uprising 150 years ago

Indian parliament
Guwahati, Oct 25: Peasants of a remote and decrepit village, Phulaguri, in central Assam's Nagaon district had dealt the first blow to the British in the Northeast in 1861, but 150 years later there are few in independent India who remember the rebillion.

The revolt, known as 'Phulaguri dhawa', in which a British official was killed and several police officers were injured, was triggered by a ban imposed on opium cultivation and a proposed taxation on betel leaf and nut.

The British crushed the rebellion, but the incident shook the foundation of the British rule in the region all the same, a resident of Phulagari and president of a committee, formed to commemorate the 150 years of the revolt, Hari Kanta Das said.

''It is sad that the state government has forgotten to commemorate the event and honour the martyrs and even the local Congress MLA who had earlier promised to be present at a small function organised by us, failed to attend it,'' Das said.

The resources with the organising committee were limited and so 'we decided to hold only an hour-long function to commemorate the day on October 18, but now we plan to hold a public meeting on October 30 which will be a part of the celebration', he said.

Whatever might have been its original objective, the uprising became a symbol of challenge to the mighty British power in the province and projected the anti-colonial character of the Assamese people, Das said.

Nagaon Deputy Commissioner M Angamathu, however, pointed out that the district administration has decided to form a 25-member committee, consisting of historians, intellectuals and prominent citizens, to prepare a detailed history of the uprising.

''We have some other plans to commemorate the uprising by promoting Phulaguri as a tourist spot with all amenities to showcase the contribution of the Northeast to the freedom struggle'', Angamathu said.

A memorial was erected by the district administration about a decade ago at the very place on the bank of the Kollong river where thousands of farmers had gathered to launch an agitation against the economic policies of British rulers and the various measures that led to the destruction of traditional ways of livelihood.

The genesis of the uprising has been traced to the British government's direction to the local administration to conduct a feasibility study on the possibility of imposition of tax on betel leaf cultivation which was extensive in the district.

The possibility of imposition of another tax, close on the heels of ban on opium cultivation in 1860, triggered the simmering discontent into a full-blown rebellion.

On October 18, 1861 Lt Singer, Third Class Deputy Commissioner, arrived at Phulaguri along with a jail daroga and began negotiation with the peasants who had gathered there, but the situation soon turned violent and Singer, along with a few policemen, were beaten to death and his body was thrown into the Kollong river.

The incident triggered a brutal retaliation by the British and 141 persons were arrested as per government estimate and tried at Nagaon and even at Calcutta with many of them awarded death sentence and life imprisonment.


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