EDITORIAL Martyrdom of Maniram Dewan — Dr H K Goswami
On February 26, 1858, Maniram Dewan was hanged by the British at Jorhat in Upper Assam. Mainram was convicted of-treason by Captain Holroyd, Special Commissioner.
It is significant that Assam passed into the British hands on February 24, 1826, as a result of the Treaty of Yandaboo signed by the Britisli with the Burmese king after the first BurmeseWar (1824-26). Before this incident took place in the history of Assam resulting in her subjugation to a foreign power, there was an independent kingdom in Assam which had existed for nearly 600 years under the Ahom Kings. Taking advantage of dissensions and intrigues in the Ahom royal family and among the nobility during the beginning of the 19th country, the Burmese invaded Assam thrice between 1816 and 1824, paralysing the administration and establishing in its stead a reign of terror. The arrogance and cruelty of the Burmese in Assam and their aggressiveness involved them in a war with the British whose dominions extended to the borders of Assam.
In the ordinary course, Assam should have been restored to her rightful rulers whom the Burmese had dispossessed. But, after the First Burmese War was over, the British as an imperial power found ample grounds to justify their continued occupation of the land. The princes and nobles of the erstwhile Ahom court believed at first that the British would not hold Assam permanently, but, would go away after making arrangements for tributes from a restored Assam Raj. In fact, Lord Amherst, the British Governor General in India had said that Assam and Arakan, when re-conquered from the Burmese, were not to be annexed to the British rule, but were to be placed ‘in the situation of dependent and protected States, subject to the payment of such tribute as might suffice to cover the expenses incurred by their protection.”
David Scott, who had been appointed Agent to the Governor General on the North East Frontier in 1823 and Senior Commissioner of Assam in 1826, noticed the sentiments of the princes of the old royal house and of the nobles and high officers of the old regime. He repeatedly recommended to the Governor General that in order to reconcile the upper classes to the new rule, a prince of the royal blood should be restored to authority at least over a part of Assam. Accordingly, in 1833, Purandar Singha, the last independent Ahom King was installed as a vassal king of Upper Assam with a limited territory and on the stipulation of his paying a tribute of Rs. 50,000 per year. But, circumstances so developed that this experiment of a native State in Upper Assam did not prove successful as there was misgovernance in the territory.
Jenkins, then Commissioner of Assam and Agent to the Governor General, visited Purandar Singha’s territory on a fact-finding mission and recorded such impressions of his contact with the people and members of the Court as would leave no doubt that there was misgovernance in the territory. One man who strongly defended the Raja was Maniram Dewan, Chief Counselor of the Raja. But, Jenkins disposed of him by saying that he advised the Raja, “in a very very crooked line of policy”, Purandar Singha was deposed in 1838 on the plea of misgovernance and default in payment of the tribute and the British annexed his territories.
All was not quiet on the Eastern Front when India’s First War of Independence began in 1857. Meanwhile, in 1853, when AJ Moffat Mills, a Judge of the Sadar Court at Kolkata, visited Assam to report on the administration of the province, Maniram Dewan submitted to him a petition giving a critical analysis of the evils of British rule in Assam and pleading for restoration of the old native rule. Maniram had earlier served the British authorities as Revenue Sheristadar of Upper Assam, then as Minister of Purandar Singha when the latter was restored to his throne as a tributary Raja and lastly as Dewan of the Assam Company, a British concern formed in 1839 for the exploitation of tea in Assam. However, on account of differences with the Company, he resigned the post in 1844.
Maniram Dewan belonged to a family that had served the Ahom kings in highly responsible positions. As such, he continued to be the natural advisor to Purandar Singha even after his deposition and even-after his death in 1846, to his son Kameswar Singha and grandson Kandarpeswar Singha. The evils of foreign rule enumerated by Maniram in his petition had c1ose resemblance to, some of the general causes of India’s First War of Independence, 1857. Mills commented on this petition as a ‘curious document’ and about Maniram he remarked: “He is a clever but an untrustworthy and intriguing person....”
In 1857, Maniram Dewan was in Kolkata moving the British rulers on behalf of Kandarpeswar Singha for restoration to him of at least a part of the ancient kingdom over which his forefathers ruled or for a decent pension suiting his dignity as a prince. On May 6, 1857, only four days before the outbreak of the Mutiny at Meerut, Maniram Dewan submitted to the Governor General the last memorandum on behalf of Kandarpeswar Singha. When the flames of the revolt spread over Hindustan and news reached Maniram’s ears at Kolkata that Bahadur Shah had been proclaimed Emperor of Hindustan at Delhi by the Sepoys and other princes Maniram was inspired with a new urge of patriotism. He too planned an armed insurrection in Assam for overthrowing the British and restoring the old native rule with Kandarpeswar Singha.
Maniram wrote secret letters to Kandarpeswar Singha and other reliable persons at Jorhat and Sivasagar urging them to make preparations for a coup de’tat to seize power from the British in Assam with the help of sepoys won over from the British Indian troops stationed at Dibrugarh and Golaghat. But unfortunately, before Maniram himself could come to Assam to take the lead, a few of his letters were intercepted by the District Officer of Sivasagar, Captain Charles Holroyd, and the plot was foiled.
A contingent of troops under a European Officer, Captain Lowther immediately came to Jorthat and on September 7, 1857, Kandarpeswar Singha was arrested. He was immediately sent to Alipur Jail. Maniram Dewan was arrested in Kolkata, detained in the Alipur Jail for a few weeks and then brought to Assam for trial. Others implicated in the plot were also arrested and brought to trial. Maniram was tried on February 23, 1858, convicted of treason, and hanged publicly at Jorthat on February 26, 1858. (Published on the occasion of MR Dewan’s death anniversary).