Independence Day | Karnataka

‘Nagara rebellion’: A forgotten peasants’ movement against harsh taxation

The people’s struggle against the British and the native kings who ruled on behalf of the imperial regime has a long history of bloodshed and sacrifice. Among them, the rebellion of peasants in the Malnad region of Karnataka — called ‘Nagar rebellion’ — against the taxation and inhuman practices of the rulers to extract taxes in 1830-31, deserves a prominent place.

The rebellion, which forced the Mysuru rulers and the British to deploy heavy force, ended in the death of at least 250 people, though there were statements by officers to suggest a higher toll.

Nagar, now in Shivamogga district, was the headquarters of a district in the beginning of the 19th century. Then it was part of the Mysore State, which was under indirect British rule. Prior to this, the district was under the Keladi rulers. Hyder Ali conquered Keladi kingdom in 1763 and it stayed briefly with them till his son Tipu Sultan’s death in 1799 at the hands of the British. Later, Nagar continued with Mysore State, as per the treaty between the Mysore rulers and the British.

Better times

Before becoming part of the Mysore kingdom, Keladi Nayaks had a distinct land revenue system, which was considered relatively “pro-people”. However, the new tax regime and brutal methods adopted to extract tax, led to unrest in Nagar.

Budi Basveppa Nayaka, who claimed himself “king of Nagar”, organised the farmers and held several meetings by mid-1830. He promised the people a reduction in land rents and compensation for losses. With an army of 200 people, he attacked the fort at Anandpur, now in Sagar taluk, in August 1830. Though his effort to capture the fort failed, it led to many such violent clashes with the rulers.

As clashes increased, the local officers found it difficult to contain them. Then king Krishnaraja Wadiyar III ordered the officers to act tough on the rebellions. The people who refused to pay taxes were subjected to grave punishment. By the end of December 1830, more than 50 people were killed in different incidents.

The king himself visited Channarayapatna in Manjarabad district, now Hassan, on December 18, 1830. He witnessed a huge gathering of rebels. The crowd was dispersed by resorting to violence. Five people were executed on the spot. Later, the company government actively joined the efforts to quell the rebellion. Lieutenant Rochfort, who was a resident of the Mysore kingdom, advised the Mysore rulers on how to tackle the rebellion. They eventually succeeded to recapture forts conquered by the rebels.

Big massacre

During one such incident at Honnali, now in Davangere district, on March 12, 1831, the Mysore army captured 180 rebels from a fort and a temple. Of them, 99 were later hanged on the road towards Shikaripur. This is one of the major incidents of violence during the rebellion. By April 1831, the rulers managed to taken back Nagar under their control.

The British government had constituted a committee to probe into the rebellion and submit a report. The committed in its report, based on testimonials and written sources, noted that 240 people were killed during the rebellion. The then Diwan of Mysuru had submitted that 164 had been killed. However, one officer in charge of Nagar had claimed that he alone had killed more than 700 insurgents. The rebels had also killed many civil servants. Following the rebellion, the Mysore State went under the control of the British in 1831. The king handed over the rule to the company on October 19, 1831. For the next 50 years, the State was under the direct rule of the British.

A few accounts

The story of Budi Basveppa Nayaka and the massacre at Honnali is in memory of old people. D.B. Shankarappa, a retired teacher and former president of Shivamogga district unit of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat, has penned two novels based on the life of Budi Basveppa Nayaka and the massacre at Honnali. Kyrre M. Lind, a native of Norway, did a study on the Nagar rebellion for the University of Oslo in 2004. The primary source for the study is the report of the committee, constituted by the British government, to probe the rebellion in 1830-31.

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2022 9:55:52 pm |