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Pabna Peasant Uprising


Pabna Peasant Uprising a resistance movement against the oppression of the zamindars. It originated in the Yusufshahi pargana, which is now the Sirajganj district within greater Pabna. The zamindars routinely collected money from the peasants by the illegal means of forced levy, abwabs (cesses), enhanced rent and so on. Peasants were often evicted from land on the pretext of non-payment of rent.

The new zamindars who purchased part of the Natore Raj zamindari in the Yusufshahi pargana in Sirajganj indulged in frequent acts of violence in order to realise enhanced rent and to collect illegal cesses under various names. act x of 1859 allowed the zamindars to enhance rent only on three specific grounds: (a) if the raiyats paid less rent than what is paid for the same type of land in the neighboring areas; (b) if the value of produce increased; and (c) if the raiyats paid rents for less land than they actually held. The zamindars were powerful enough to circumvent these provisions and enhance rent with impunity.

The immediate background of the present rising in Pabna was a case filed by zamindars against 43 leading raiyats of Urkandee village. These raiyats refused to pay the enhanced rent, which they claimed to be illegal. The raiyats had deposited the rent with the court. In support of their demands, the zamindars produced documents and claimed that the raiyats had been paying the rent demanded of them for one decade. The Munsiff of Shazadpur Court decreed in favour of the zamindars in April 1872, but the Civil Judge of Rajshahi reversed the decision in December 1872, believing that the zamindars had 'concocted' the documents. The Judgement of the appellate court was looked upon by the raiyats as their moral victory over the zamindars.

The introduction of jute as a cash crop played an important role in the Pabna uprising. The jute economy led to the rise of a new rural middle class of raiyats who could assert themselves against the landlords. There was a slump in jute prices from 1873. But the zamindars were not prepared to recognise the distress of the peasants and reduce their demands. Due to the slump in the jute market the raiyats were beset with a near-famine situation because of the loss of purchasing power. Under such a situation some Sirajganj landlords declared an enhancement of rent and that triggered the rebellion.

The Pabna Raiyats' League came into existence in May 1873, and gradually spread its influence over a large part of the district. One of the leaders of the League was ishan chandra roy, commonly known as Ishan Raja. Koodi Molla and Shambhu Nath Pal were prominent among his followers. They declared their parganas independent of zamindari control and fancied setting up a local government. They even set up a 'rebel army' to fight the zamindari lathials (clubmen). Trusted deputies were placed in charge of various departments. Several persons were in charge of the 'rebel army', and were stationed at different strategic parts of the district. The Pabna movement, in its formative phase, was lawful and non-violent, but as the League grew stronger, it became more violent. When the League activities threatened public peace, the government intervened to restore peace. In a proclamation of 4 July 1873 Sir George campbell, Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, declared his determination to protect the people from all coercion and extortion, and advised the zamindars to assert their claims by legal means only. The movement subsided in the face of police action and a famine that broke out in 1873-74. [Nurul Hossain Choudhury]