In the modern time period, the Kalahandi region was more or less an independent kingdom under the influence of Maratha and British India till 1947. In the same period, Khariar was ruled by Chauhan king and subsequently in 1905 merged with Mahasamnund tehsil of Central Provinces of India. In 1936, the Khariar-Nuapada region was carved out from central provinces of India to become part of the newly formed Odisha state as the Nuapada subdivision of Sambalpur district.
In the post-independence period, many princely states like Kalahandi, Patnagarh (Balangir), Sonepur, etc. negotiated with the Indian union and became part of Odisha state, thus joined the Indian union, on January 1, 1948. Afterward, Balangir, Sonepur, and Kalahandi were together made one district. On November 1, 1949, there was a reorganization of different districts of Odisha, and Kalahandi district was named including Kalahandi region and Nuapada subdivision of Sambalpur district.
Subsequently, in 1967 Kashipur block of Kalahandi district was taken out and merged with Koraput district for administrative purposes. Another major reorganization of districts in Odisha happened in 1993 and the Nuapada sub-division of Kalahandi district was made a separate district. Kashipur block became part of another newly formed Rayagada district. Interestingly, there was no celebration for the formation of the Kalahandi district from 1949 to 1997.
With the initiative of district administration and few cultural people, Kalahandi District Formation Day or loosely Kalahandi Establishment Day was celebrated locally from 1997. However, such celebration of district formation appears inaccurate and poorly understood because the original Kalahandi district formed in 1949 is presently part of three districts, such as Kalahandi district, Nuapada district, and part of Rayagada district.
Secondly, the Kalahandi district of 1997 that includes the current geographical boundary was defined in March 1993 and not in November 1949. This geographical boundary may further change as per administrative demand in the future. Just like new sub-division, municipality, tahasil, and block are carved out from one unit as per the increasing demand with the growing population, new districts are also made when the demand arises.
Therefore, in the future, if needed more districts may be formed from the present Kalahandi region like it happened in the past or are happening in other states in India. Incidentally, there were already discussions to make more districts in Odisha. More importantly, when such celebration is coined as a Kalahandi Establishment Day it rather extremely diminishes the local people, their rich political identity, and social, historical, and cultural heritages.
A recent study by the Archeological Society of India suggests Asurgarh fort in the Kalahandi region is one of the oldest civilizations known so far in Odisha, which goes to at least 800 B.C. One of the largest celts of the Stone age has been discovered from the Kalahandi region. The palace in Kalahandi has a record of over 1000 years.
Tribal culture, dance, Ghumura, music, festivals, etc. from this region are equally very old, rich and have their own unique importance in the state and have attracted national and international audiences. Thus, this region has a record of a very rich history of civilized culture and heritage for at least more than 2500 years.
Since the pre-historic era, the political identity of this region was known as Kantara, Mahakantara, Karunda Mandala, Kamala Mandala, and Kalahandi. Karanda Mandala, the associated name of Kalahandi, was known at least 500 years ago though the actual political boundary of the Kingdom ruled by Nagas 1000 years ago is not clearly known. Kalahandi as a modern political identity of the kingdom has been associated with at least more than 200 years.
Therefore, saying November 1, 1949, as Kalahandi establishment day is seriously undervaluing the long rich history, political identity, and heritage of Kalahandi that was functioning as an independent kingdom or political system even when British, Maratha, and Gangas were ruling other parts of Odisha.
The formation of a district does not bring any major social, economic, and political changes for the people. Policies are made at the national and state level. District administration just follows those regulations to implement and help in other public distribution or planning at the local level. For instance, the law cannot be made at the district level. The sole purpose of making a district is to ease local administration.
Therefore, a celebration of district formation has no major significance for the benefit of people, though it may serve as a good photo opportunity for the local politicians, few cultural people, and local administration for political messaging and activism. The significant and crucial day for the people in the Kalahandi region to celebrate should be the occasion that transformed their lives and made a great positive impact by giving them freedom and empowered them in a modern democracy. In general, for the people of the whole of India, it is Independence Day, August 15.
However, Kalahandi was not declared independent on this day, Kalahandi region was a monarchy till December 31, 1947. The people of Kalahandi had no power to choose their ruler or leader till 1947. During this period, people were under the mercy of the king. There was limited access to equality among common people. Joining the Indian union, made the Kalahandi region to be part of a modern vibrant democracy.
This gave the people of Kalahandi the chance to become personally involved with the government by getting voting rights and reducing their chances of exploitation. It has empowered them to be equal and made them access to education, health, economy, and infrastructure at the state and national levels, especially for downtrodden people in the Kalahandi region it was a complete transformation from exploitation and slavery. Becoming part of India also gave everyone a national level of safety, security, and legal rights.
Therefore, January 1, 1948, bears extraordinary significance for the people of Kalahandi region to celebrate and cheer as it made them equal irrespective of caste, creed, colour, and religion to access opportunities at the national and state level. Especially, tribal and downtrodden people in the Kalahandi region found a voice in modern India and could able to protect their rights better unlike in the past monarchy system.
In summary, the people of Kalahandi should rather celebrate and cheer on January 1 as the “Day of Integration of Kalahandi” with the Indian union as it gave them actual independence from a monarchy system to become part of social, secular, and vibrant democratic India.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
Digambara Patra, M.Phil, PhD
Professor Department of Chemistry
American University of Beirut
( Images from the net )