The British East India Company took possession of the district of Sylhet of Bengal when the whole of Bengal’s administration was transferred to the Company by a firman (decree) from the Moghul Emperor in 1766. The Company’s rule came closer to Ahom, Cachar and Jaintia kingdoms and all the kings in the region began to acknowledge the Company’s suzerainty in the region. All the kingdoms mentioned above were tottering and it was only a question of time that they would capitulate to the powers of the East India Company sooner then it was expected. It happened in case of Cachar soon when Maharaja Gobinda Chandra was brutally killed in 1830 at a place called Haritikar in the present day Cachar which left the kingdom without an heir.
A treaty was earlier signed between the Company’s representative at Sylhet and the king in 1824 which kept only a precarious balance between them. Obviously the kingdom was at disadvantage and they were only in a complaining mood which the Company was not ready to accept. As their was no heir to be found and the Company was not wiling to hand over the territory to Prince Gambhir Singh of Manipur’s royal family, the Company preferred to rule the territory by its own officers. This historic decision taken by the Company has further dictated our political fate.
It would rather look surprising that the Company’s major decisions for the eastern frontiers were then arrived at its Cherrapunji headquarters. The Company’s Indian charge was controlled from Fort William at Calcutta. Cherrapunji might sound to be an odd place to be the headquarters from today’s point of view, but it was actually so. Cachar‘s destiny was attached to the Company’s domain on the final decision taken at Cherapunji. For a long time, the wettest place in the world remained the headquarters till its fortune was eclipsed by the emergence of Shillong as the capital of Assam in 1874. Therefore, its innings as the main stakeholder of the East India Company in this region was rather long and illustrious. Assam, Jaintia hills and Cachar were once ruled from there. The modern Cherrapunji did not retain much of that memory except the grave of the pioneer, Captain Scott. The Captain died in 1831 at Cherrapunji.
The annexation of the Hairamba or the Cachari kingdom to the Empire did not mention of Silchar as its headquarters. It was an unknown place to everybody. Captain Fisher was chosen to establish the administration in that desolate corner of the country and the selection of its headquarters was left to him. Silchar was not in the reckoning to become the headquarters of the newly acquired territory with a small population. We can bring in vision how the appointed officer Captain Fisher’s fleet of boats had moved on the placid water of the river Barak and crossed Badarpur (now the railway junction). It was possibly monsoon time and the river was swollen with flood water. Their destination was Dudhpatil on the northern side of the river. Obviously the place did not attract the party much though it was once the capital of the Dimasa kings but Captain Fisher’s party stayed there for some time. Some of the very old records belonging to that period were taken from the old records section of the DC office by some early officers, who worked in Silchar after independence, which took away the first information about Silchar (as alleged by historian Debabrata Dutta).
Captain Fisher’s stepping into the soil of Silchar could be understood from the fact that he, along with the party stayed at Dudhpatil before its selection as the headquarters. Some of the enthusiastic members crossed over to the other side of the river where it took a U—turn from east to west and they discovered some higher lands, a little away. When reported to Captain Fisher, he was interested to examine it. We have no authentic record to know whether anyone at Silchar greeted or opposed him.
It was decided and Silchar became the headquarters of the district in 1833 and Captain Fisher became its first superintendent. It was truly captain Fisher’s town initially. It seems that the Company was never in a hurry to promote the place and Silchar remained ‘an outpost of progress’ for a long time, only negotiable by boat on the river. For this very reason, the steamer ghats were important throughout the province. With the active support of the administration, the tea gardens sprang up in different parts of the plain portion of Cachar which took away its desolateness to some extent. But this story of tea gardens does not belong to Captain Fisher’s tenure. Some landlords of Bengal were induced by the administration to take over a portion of the territory for governance but none really volunteered to take charge of the wild east of the district. Initially the administration faced tribal raids from all sides and they invited the hardy Manipuris to settle in the desolate eastern part to combat the marauding tribal attacks. This is the well known concept of creating a buffer. In North Cachar Hills, such ‘buffer’ was contemplated against the Naga raids. The conquest of Lushai Hills and the gradual conversion of the tribesmen into Christianity eased the situation but it was also after fifty years of constant worry. The real act of governance had started with Captain Fisher and the problems were tackled by the succeeding administrators.
One redeeming feature of the British administration was its sense of permanence. The Cachari kings were in a habit of changing sites of their capital very often. It only informs us of the solidity of the British administration. After 179 years, we now live under a totally different political atmosphere with huge number of officials working in different departments but presumably, Captain Fisher came with a small number of helping hands. But the structural form of the administration, even today, remains essentially British in character. When Captain Fisher came to rule, he was designated as the superintendent. The district officer became the Deputy Commissioner long afterwards. The possibility of the tea cultivation in that desolate territory was already on the cards and there was talk of it in the whole region. Tribal raids were very frequent which went deep into the plains. Captain Fisher’s hands were full with problems and he had to encounter the hostile attitudes of the tribes who were not in any mood to accept the Company’s claim to rule over them. The history of Cachar is closely associated with the arrival of Captain Fisher in Silchar. It is, in many ways, actually Captain Fisher’s town in which we live now.
We may look back to the memory of Captain Fisher to remember the town’s founder. Silchar’s very own historian, Sanjib Deb Laskar may be able to enlighten us of the early decade of Silchar’s existence as the headquarters of Cachar as we will celebrate two hundred years its establishment after twenty one years from now.
*This article is a contribution from one of our readers