This topic of “Rangpur Rebellion (Dhing) 1783: Revolt & Outcomes” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.
The Rangpur Dhing was a peasant rebellion that erupted in the Rangpur district of Bengal in 1783. It was a protest led by peasants and zamindars against the high revenue demands imposed by the East India Company. The rebellion is seen as the first major uprising against Company rule in Bengal. It exposed the exploitative nature of Company rule and led to some revenue reforms, although repression continued. It showed the willingness of peasants to resist unfair demands.
Land Revenue Settlements in Bengal
- After the Battle of Buxar (1764), the East India Company acquired the diwani rights over Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. This gave them the rights to collect land revenue.
- The Company experimented with different revenue settlement systems in Bengal, trying to maximize revenue collection.
- In 1765, the duan was appointed to collect revenue. But this system led to corruption and was discontinued.
- From 1766-1769, the nij system was implemented where revenue was collected directly from ryots. But the European collectors lacked local knowledge causing failure.
- In 1769, tax farmers (ijaradars) were contracted to collect fixed revenue for 1-5 years. This led to peasant exploitation.
Situation in Rangpur District
- Rangpur was a remote northern Bengal district, described as a “jungle mahal” with poor infrastructure.
- The peasant population was subject to frequent natural disasters like floods and droughts.
- Yet revenue demands were high. The ijaradari system encouraged contractors to extract as much as possible.
- Illegal cesses, abwabs and nankar were imposed. Corrupt officials misused their powers.
- By 1782, the situation had reached breaking point. Desertions and revenue decline worried the Company.
Outbreak of the Rebellion
- On January 18, 1783, peasants attacked the cutcherry of Kakina pargana in Rangpur. They were led by one Majnu Shah.
- The attack sparked a general uprising as rebels seized cutcheries across Rangpur, burning records and forcing out officials.
- A large rebel army gathered by February 1783, containing over 15,000 people. They were well-armed and organized.
Spread of Rebellion
- The rebellion spread rapidly across the whole Rangpur district within a few weeks.
- Rebels specifically targeted Company property and officials, reflecting their anti-colonial sentiment.
- However, there was no coherent leadership or ideology behind the uprising.
- By March 1783, the rebellion had reached its peak. Large territories were under rebel control.
Causes of the Rebellion
The key causes of the Rangpur Dhing were:
- High revenue demands: The high demands imposed by tax farmers and corrupt officials directly sparked the uprising.
- Exploitative land revenue system: The ijaradari system encouraged unrestrained peasant exploitation in the pursuit of profit.
- The Permanent Settlement had not yet been implemented in Bengal in the 1780s.
- An annual leasing system called ijaradari was prevalent, where tax collectors paid a fixed revenue to the Company.
- This encouraged unrestrained exploitation of peasants to maximize surplus appropriated by the ijaradars.
- The ijaradars further appointed abusive under-renters, intensifying exploitation down to the village level.
- Natural disasters: Floods and droughts further impoverished peasants, making revenue demands unbearable.
- Rangpur was prone to natural disasters like floods and droughts that could devastate crops.
- Peasants fell into debt and reliance on grain merchants in trying to cope with calamities.
- The need to pay revenue and debts despite crop losses greatly intensified the impoverishment of peasants in years with natural disasters.
- This made the high revenue demands imposed by the Company seem unjust and unbearable.
- Lawlessness and corruption: There was a systemic breakdown of law and order in Rangpur, with officials freely resorting to exploitation.
- Colonial rule undermined traditional Indian elites and sources of authority in the countryside.
- The new class of colonial bureaucrats and contractors were corrupt and abusive of their powers.
- Peasants were subject to constant illegal demands and extortion backed by force with no recourse.
- This systemic lawlessness and corruption created conditions ripe for rebellion against authority.
- Weak district administration: The district bureaucracy was decentralized and inadequately supervised by Calcutta.
Suppression of the Rebellion
- The first steps taken by officials like Richard Goodlad were inadequate to control the spread of rebellion.
- Troops from Dinajpur and Purnea were brought in, but failed to have an impact.
- It was only in April 1783 that Company forces under Capt. Thomas made substantive gains against the rebels.
- From April 1783, the rebellion was ruthlessly suppressed using violence and destruction.
- The Company resorted to killing rebels, burning villages, destroying crops and goods.
- Rebels were hunted down and many slaughtered in cold blood. The suppression lasted through 1783.
Consequences on the Peasantry
- The violence and destruction unleashed on Rangpur decimated the peasant population.
- Food shortages and famine conditions were created by the loss of crops and cattle.
- The social fabric of rural society was badly damaged with many peasants forced to desert the region.
Aftermath and Reforms
- After suppression, some revenue reforms were introduced under John Shore.
- The ijaradari system was abolished for a while and a raiyatwari system with moderate rates introduced.
- But these reforms were soon reversed, as revenue maximization remained the priority.
Long Term Consequences
- The rebellion marked the peasantry as a key source of resistance to British rule.
- But post-revolt crackdown and famines broke the back of peasant opposition in Bengal.
- The power and reputation of the Company were enhanced by successfully quelling the rebellion.
Significance of the Rangpur Dhing
The key significance of the rebellion was:
- First major anti-colonial uprising: The rebellion exposed peasant antagonism to exploitative aspects of Company rule.
- Sparked revenue reforms: It led to temporary reforms and some reduction of the revenue burden.
- Demonstrated peasant power: The scale and intensity of the uprising demonstrated the power of peasant resistance to British rule.
- Led to repression: The brutal suppression showed the ruthlessness with which rural resistance would be crushed.
- Enhanced Company power: Successful suppression augmented the military power and prestige of the Company.
Thus the Rangpur Dhing demonstrates peasant antagonism to colonial exploitation and the great human costs of rebellion and repression in rural Bengal. Its suppression enhanced Company power.
Evaluate the significance of the Rangpur Dhing in the context of early resistance against British colonialism in India. (250 words)