Social ascendency

The Mahishyas were numerically preponderant in Midnapore at the turn of the twentieth century.[3] They are mainly a minor landholding community. In 1896, they were identified as local aristocrats by the President of the college of Nadia pandits, since the number of Kayasthas in Midnapore district were relatively small compared to the rest of Bengal.[3] The Mahishyas were form a tight-knit social group. The movement to gain recognition as a caste separate from the Kaibarttas gained moment from 1897 when the Mahishyas formed the Jati Nirdharani Samiti (Caste Assignment Forum).[3] At the time the Kaibarttas were divided into the Jele Kaibarttas (fishermen), and “Hele Kaibarttas” (farmers). Not only were the Mahishyas the leading group in Midnapore, but the 1931 census found that 2.71 percent were proficient in English, the language of the upwardly mobile during the British Raj.[3] In 1921, the demand for a caste separate from the Kaibarttas was conceded based on the data which suggested that they were a socially distinct group and that they were the predominant caste in the entire province of Bengal.[3] Data from the 1921 census indicated that they were the largest Hindu caste in Bengal.[3] In the subdivisions Contai and Tamluk, now comprising Purba Medinipur district, they formed 44.2% and 54.9% of the population respectively.[3] The Mahishyas through the mouthpiece the Mahishya Samaj endeavored to enstill pride in their agricultural roots, since they were the actual cultivators of the soil.[3] This peasant pride, along with a politically vocal leadership helmed by the likes of British-educated barrister Birendranath Sasmal forged a Mahishya identity.[3] During the Quit India Movement of Indian independence struggle in 1942, local national governments at Tamluk and Contai resisted British occupation for as long as two years; the backbone of the resistance was the Mahishya community.[3] The Mahishyas of Midnapore were the forerunners for the freedom movement in India.


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