The East India Company had established itself as a powerful ruler in the early parts of the 19th century in India and likewise in Assam, they built a strong organisational base and successfully stopped all possible uprisings of the local people against the British. This was clear from the failed revolt of Gomdhar Konwar and Piyoli Phukan. Through a new revenue system, the British took charge of the economies but took no measures to eradicate the difficulties of the peasants and poverty-ridden subjects. This, combined with a number of other factors led to anti-British rising and peasant revolts in Assam.
1. The introduction of cash to pay revenues
Before the British, in Assam, revenue was not collected through cash but the introduction of payment of land revenue and taxes using cash led to exploitation of the Assamese by the British. The new revenue policy and the money economy created deep resentment amongst the common people. This also caused the creation of the Mahajans who flourished on interests in Assam. The Assamese populace was forced to borrow money on interest from this class to clear their land revenue to the government. The Mahajans were mostly the immigrant Marwari and Bengali businessmen.
2. The indifference of the British towards the suffering populace
The British didn’t do anything for the development of agriculture in the region despite the fact that whenever the climate was unsuitable, the sector suffered and the people had to face continuous famines. In his application to Moffat Mills, the judge of the Sadar Court, Calcutta, Anandaram Dhekial Phukan, one of the pioneers of Assamese literature, stated that in 1851 the conditions of people in some areas of Kamrup and Darrang was such that parents were even forced to sell their own children for some grains. During the same time, in Upper Assam cholera and measles took the form of plagues which led to the annihilation of many villages.
3. The establishment of tea gardens in Upper Assam
At the beginning of the 19th century, the British authorised tea gardens in Upper Assam and to encourage the tea gardeners, the land revenue of the lands falling within the gardens was exempted. This however led to losses for the British and the responsibility of making up for this loss of revenue was shifted to the poor peasants, adding more to their miseries.
4. The negative impact on the cottage industry
From the time of the Ahom dynasty, the Paat and Muga silk of Assam had a special demand in the Indian market but like in the other states of India, in Assam also the local industry was heavily deteriorated by the British administration who gave patronage to the imported foreign cloth. The cottage industry was very negatively impacted by such activities and the people associated with this industry felt the heat of the change.
5. The discontent among the aristocratic class in Assam
The. condition of the aristocratic class in Assam was also in no way any better compared to the others in the state. Some of the Ahom feudal class, from the very beginning, had tried to associate themselves with the British administration but due to lack of modern education, the majority could not become a part of the new administration. At the same time, the British resorted to importing educated Bengali persons which not only deprived the Assamese aristocratic class but also believed to have created a riot like situation.
6. The abolishment of slavery by the British
The Assamese aristocrats during the Ahom rule had led comfortable lives with slaves, but in 1843, the British abolished slavery in Assam. As a result, the aristocrats suffered from the dearth of labourers to work in their estates and fields. This class of people, which lost its privileged social position and power, was therefore dissatisfied with the new administration. Meanwhile, it cannot be said that the abolition of slavery by the British led to better lives of the slaves and labourers. It was believed that the abolishment was done to engage these people as labourers in the recently established tea gardens by the British.
7. The Revolt of 1857 reaching Assam
The Revolt of 1857 gave a golden chance to the elite class to remove themselves off the yoke of British rule and restore the Ahom monarchy. Some people of the Brahmaputra valley tried to stimulate the Indian soldiers in the British army based in Assam to fan the fires of the revolt and with their help chase away the British, consequently establishing a prince from the Ahom royal family as the King of Assam. In the Barak valley, some soldiers from Chittagong rebelled against the British. However, despite political and organizational efforts, the fire of the revolt in Assam like in Northern India could not be incited. This was, nevertheless, for the first time that the history of Assam was associated with a historical Indian event and an anti-British rising was shared.
8. The aftereffects of the Revolt of 1857
The British had to spend a large amount of money in the name of containing the anti-British rising known as the Revolt of 1857, causing a deficit budget of 14 million pounds in 1857-58. This led to increased taxes on the Indian masses. The same policy was adopted in Assam too on top of several other taxes. In fact, between 1854 and 1870 there was a hundred per cent rise in taxes. The intent of the British government to collect more and more revenue badly affected the common people and peasants and the common people of Assam were totally disgusted with the British government. This led to a series of peasant revolts in Assam.
9. The revolt of the peasants of Phulaguri Dhawa
The banner of revolt was raised for the first time in Assam by the exploited peasants at Phulaguri Dhawa. Phulaguri was a village inhabited by the Tiwa ethnic community who were dependent on the cultivation of Poppy. When the British government began to sell opium, these peasants were directly angered. Then, in the year 1861, the British government completely banned the cultivation of Poppy though the government itself continued to sell opium. To protest against this, the public held raijmel for five days, which is a kind of people’s meeting in Assam. Soon, the raijmel turned violent and an Assistant Commissioner Lieutenant maned Singer was killed by the people. His body was thrown into the Kollong river and the police fled the scene. The Phulaguri revolt was an illustration of the common people’s endeavour to liberate themselves from the clutches of the British imperialism as well as an inspiration for the peasants of other parts of Assam.
10. The series of revolts after Phulaguri Dhawa
Even after the Phulaguri peasant revolt, the British government did not take any measure to address the miserIes of the peasants. Instead, the taxes on the people continued to rise and by 1868-69, land revenue had increased between 25 to 50%. When in 1892, the Chief Commissioner of Assam Sir William Ward increased the land revenue by 100 per cent, the peasants lost control of their patience. This resulted in a series of revolts in different parts of the state and outside of it which came to be known as the Assam Riots, Peasant Revolt of Rangia, Peasant Revolt of Lachima, Peasant Revolt of Patharughat, Ethnic (Tribal) Revolt, Jaintia Revolt, North Cachar Revolt, Revolt of the Nagas, and Revolt in Manipur.
[This article has been written using the information available in the textbook of SEBA Class 10 History textbook chapter 3: Anti-British Rising and Peasant Revolts in Assam]