The great BETRAYAL, ANNEXATION & the UPRISINGS in Assam

On the eve of the Anglo-Burmese war in Feb 1824, David Scott, the Agent to the Governor General on the North Eastern Frontier assured the Assamese of non-interference by a proclamation issued declaring that they were not led by the thirst of conquest but were forced to defend the frontier. It appeared that the British would withdraw after the expulsion of the Burmese. The declaration was a public commitment for the restoration of the Ahom monarch. The British troops under the command of Col. Richards entered Rangpur in January 1825. The ex- king of Assam, Chandra Kanta Singha, was present in the British camp. With Assamese cooperation, occupation of Rangpur by the British troops was made easy.

The Assamese people at that time felt relieved because the British came as protectors from Burmese tyranny. The Burmese’s barbarous atrocities destroyed more than half the population already reduced by repeated civil wars, infightings amongst the nobility, famine and pestilence. But at the end of the war in 1826, the British reneged on their promise on restoring the Ahom monarch. It was a great betrayal on the Assamese people. By article 2 of the Treaty of Yandaboo, the Burmese king surrendered the claim of Assam, Manipur, Cachar and Jayantia to the East India Company. The British did not restore the Assamese king but restored the king of Manipur, Jayantia and Cachar.

The Anglo-Burmese War cost the British exchequer heavily. The already devastated Assam seemed to be a liability to the British with lesser revenues, sparse population and a hostile frontier. David Scott estimated the revenue of Western or lower Assam at Rs. 3, 00,000 and of Eastern or Upper Assam at Rs. 1, 00,000. The British, reluctant to annex Assam for less revenue return, never thought that they had occupied a treasure house of rich forestry, coal and oil and a vast sparsely populated fertile land for future tea cultivation.

The British Government sought David Scott’s advice. He was later appointed as the Senior Commissioner of Western Assam with head quarters at Guwahati. Upper Assam was placed under Colonel Richards with headquarters at Rangpur. Scott submitted a proposal of retaining Western Assam from Goalpara up to Biswanath under British Government and Eastern Assam from Biswanath to Buridihing under an Ahom prince under British protection paying an annual tribute. Scott recommendations were based on his observations that since the people of Western Assam were accustomed to casual foreigners rule, it could be permanently annexed and since the Ahom nobility was not used to any foreign rule for the last 600 years, it might lead to alienation of the Ahom nobility.

Accordingly, in 1828, the British Government annexed Lower Assam permanently but didn’t restore Upper Assam to an Ahom prince because of the fear that the Assam king wouldn’t remain loyal to the British for a long time. Chandrakanta Singha was described as dangerous to trust by David Scott. With no fresh hostilities from the Burmese side, the regular British troops were taken back from Assam. But the British had build up a permanent cantonment at Biswanath and stationed two companies of regiment at Sadiya.

David Scott laid the foundation of the British administration in Assam. The provisional administration of Assam in 1824-25 finally led to the permanent annexation of Assam. The two ex- kings of Assam Chandrakanta Singha and Purandar Singha were not allowed by the British to return to Rangpur and instead got them settled at Guwahati. The intention of the British to occupy Assam permanently became clear. The usurpation of power and privileges of the Ahom ruling class left them with no other alternatives but to organize themselves to restore the Ahom monarchy. The petty pensions and subordinate positions offered in the British administration never satisfied them. Their political future and their estates were at stake. It was a disgrace to work in a subordinate position under the British. Their only way to regain the lost prestige and privileges was to rise into rebellion to oust the British from Assam. This led to the repeated royal uprisings to reinstate the Ahom king from 1828-30 and then in 1857.

In 1828, Dhanjoy Buragohain, a former officer with the Ahom Government took the lead with a group of nobles in reinstating Gomdhar Konwar, a prince of the Ahom royal blood as the king of Assam. Gomdhar Konwar was formally enthroned at Bassa, near Jorhat with all the Ahom traditional rituals. Gomdhar Konwar declared himself as the king, sent letters to ex-functionaries of the Ahom ruling class and collected arms for his ragtag army to overthrow the British. The British came to know about the preparation and troops were sent from Rangpur under Captain Rutherford. The rebels were intercepted by the British on their way to Mariani and an encounter took place between them. The Assamese rebels were a poor match for the well trained British troops. Gomdhar Konwar somehow escaped and took shelter in the Naga Hills and most of his followers were arrested. After a few days in the wilderness, Gomdhar Konwar surrendered to the British authority. He was tried and sentenced to death for rebellion against the government. On his re-trial, Captain Neufville, the political agent of Upper Assam recommended mercy for his tender age and David Scott commuted the death sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Dhanjoy Buragohain was sentenced to death but made a daring escape from Jorhat jail and fled to the Naga Hills. In 1829, the Khasis under the leadership of U. Tirot Sing, the Siyem of Nongkhlaw rebelled against the British rule. Similarly, the Singphos and the Khamtis under Wackum Kumjun rose into rebellion but were subsequently suppressed by the British.

The uprisings in the Khasi hills and the eastern frontier encouraged the fugitive leader Dhanjoy Buragohain who now took shelter in the Matak country to plan another uprising against the British. Apart from his sons Harakanta and Hemanath, he was aided by his son-in- law Jeuram Dihingia Baruah, Peoli Barphukan, Rupchand Konwar, Boom Singpho and others. In 1830, the rebels numbering about 400 attacked the British post at Rangpur. The attack was repulsed by the British sepoys. British reinforcement came from Jorhat and the rebels were pursued by the British troops and the second encounter took place at Geleki, near the Charaideo hills. The British succeeded in apprehending most of the rebel leaders except Dhanjoy who along with his son Harakanta fled to the hills. Haranath, Peoli, Jeuram, Rupchand and Boom Singpho were tried and sentenced to death for rebellion. David Scott confirmed the death sentence of Peoli Barphukan and Jeoram Dihingia, they were hanged at Sivasagar. The other convict rebel leaders were sent to Dacca jail for fourteen years imprisonment with confiscation of their properties.

In 1830, a third attempt was made by an Ahom prince, Gadadhar Singha, a relation to Jogeswhar Singha, who was made the king of Assam by the Burmese. He planned a rebellion against the British with tactical Burmese support through his sister, Hemo Aideu who was married to the king of Ava (Burma). He also tried to garner support from the sepoys stationed at Sadiya. But in the process, he was arrested by the sepoys and sent to Guwahati. The tactical Burmese support to install him as a king of Assam was doomed. This ended the last direct attempt to overthrow the British by the ex-nobility of Assam.

To check further anti British revolt and to appease the Ahom nobility, the British led by Robertson, the Agent to the Governor- General, North East Frontier entered into an agreement on 2nd March 1833 at Guwahati with Purandar Singha, which restored him as the king of Upper Assam. He was to pay an annual tribute of Rs.50, 000. He was formally enthroned on 24th April 1833 at Jorhat, which functioned as the Capital.

Purandar Singha was to pay a tribute of Rs. 50,000 from an estimated revenue of Rs. 1,20,000 from Upper Assam, which was then the highest rate in British India . The average annual revenue collected from Upper Assam from 1828 -33 under the British was Rs. 91,097 only. So it was not possible to pay Rs. 50,000 annually to the British by Purandar Singha after deducting his personal and administrative expenditures from the revenue collected from the devastated and depopulated Upper Assam. He somehow managed to pay the tribute for the first two years. After that, he failed in paying the tribute regularly and was removed from the throne unceremoniously. Assam was annexed permanently by the British in 1839. The real intention of annexation of Assam was basically for its vast potential for tea cultivation and its precious mineral resources.

Maniram Dewan, a noble man and a tea planter, initially a British loyal raised the monarchy cause and wanted to install Kandarpeswar Singha, the grandson of Purandar Singha as the king of Assam. He petitioned the British Government for restoration of the monarchy in 1853. The petitioned was dismissed. Kandapeswar then petitioned the British in 1854. Again it was rejected. In 1856 Maniram went to Calcutta to personally plead Kandapeswar’s case. He again failed in his attempt. The Sepoy Mutiny broke out in 1857. Maniram planned a revolt against the British in Assam. He persuaded Kandapeswar and tried to get help from the Hindustani sepoys of the Assam Light Industry. Peoli Bauah was the chief organizer of the revolt in Assam. The plan got leaked from seized letters written by Maniram and he was arrested in Calcutta before his departure to Assam. Kandapeswar was arrested in Jorhat and sent to Calcutta for trial. All their associates were arrested in Assam. Maniram and Peoli Baruah were tried and sentenced to death. They were publically hanged at Jorhat on 26thFeb 1858. The rest of the rebels like Madhu Mallik, Bahadur Gaonburha, Formud Ali, Dutiram Baruah and others were transported for life imprisonment to the Andamans with confiscation of their properties. Kandapeswar was released for his tender age in 1859 from Alipur Jail and was settled at Guwahati with a pension. Maniram Dewan’s revolt to throw away the British was the last attempt for restoration of the monarchy in Assam.

Though the different attempts of revolt made by the ex-nobility of Assam ended in 1858, a number of peasants’ uprisings took place because of increased land revenues; mainly the uprisings in Phulaguri in Nagaon (1861), Rangia and Lachima in Kamrup (1893-94). The most famous uprising of course was in Patharughat in Darrang district (1894) where 140 peasants were shot dead by the British troops. These anti British uprisings and the great sacrifices made by the Assamese are hardly mentioned in any Indian history book.

Hiranya Saikia

Sports Organizer, Former Taekwondo player.
PCG member and writer.

Contact: (091) 970 701 3718

Leave your Comment