This article has been extracted from
THE IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF INDIA , 1908.
OXFORD, AT THE CLARENDON PRESS.
Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.
A tract of country in the north-east corner of Sylhet District, Eastern Bengal and Assam, lying between 24° 52' and 25° ii' N. and 91° 45' and 92° 25' E., and between the Jaintia Hills and the Surma river. Area, 484 square miles; population (1901), 121,157. The parganas consist of a series of low depressions or basins drained by the streams flowing into the Surma. The banks of the rivers are the highest part of the country, and are generally lined with villages, but in the centre of the basins water often remains throughout the year. Much of the land at the foot of the hills and at the western end of the tract lies too low for cultivation and is covered with high jungle, and here and there the level of the plain is broken by low isolated hills. The parganas originally formed part of the territory of a native prince whose dominions extended over the Jaintia Hills to the Kalang river in the plains of Assam.
The Jaintia Rajas were of Synteng or Khasi origin, and, although they had long come under the influence of Hinduism, the custom of descent through the female line was still maintained. Tradition has preserved the names of twenty-two kings, and is, to some extent, confirmed by coins and native records, which refer to the conquest of the State by the Koch king Nar Narayan about 1565. The Jaintia Raja was defeated and captured by the Ahom generals at the beginning of the eighteenth century ; but the hillmen declined to submit to the conqueror's yoke, and the State continued for all practical purposes to be independent. When Cachar was invaded by the Burmans in 1824, the Jaintia Raja entered into an alliance with the British, but his conduct in this, as in other matters, was not entirely above suspicion. In 1832 he kidnapped four British subjects from Sylhet, and sacrificed three of them at Phaljor before the shrine of the goddess Kali.
Similar attempts had been made on three previous occasions, and the British Government demanded the surrender of the guilty parties. No satisfaction could be obtained by diplomacy : and in 1835 the Govern- ment, as a mark of their displeasure, annexed that portion of the kingdom which lay in the Sylhet plains. The Raja then declined to retain any portion of his diminished dominions, and the Jaintia Hills lapsed to the British Government. After annexation the parganas were settled in 1836 for Rs. 36,000, and this settlement remained substantially in force for the next twenty years. In 1856 they were resettled for a further term of twenty years, the revenue demand at the commencement of the settlement being Rs. 54,000, rising to Rs. 62,000 in 1876, owing to the inclusion of land taken up during its currency. At the next settlement the revenue was raised to Rs. 1,68,000; but as it was found that the people could not bear such a sudden enhancement, the demand was reduced to Rs. 1,24,000. In 1898 the parganas were again resettled for a term of fifteen years, the demand being fixed at Rs. 1,87,000 on an area of 197,000 acres, of which 72,000 acres were uncultivated.
The rates assessed on homestead and cultivated land vary from Rs. 2-10 to 12 annas an acre. Four-fifths of the cultivated area is under rice, most of which is of the long-stemmed variety sown in marshy tracts. In the cold season mustard and linseed are grown, chiefly on land which lies too low for rice. The rainfall is abundant, but is sometimes unfavourably distributed, and much damage is occasionally done by the floods of the hill streams. On the other hand, the soil is fertile, and the villagers can obtain a ready market for the surplus products of their rice-fields and of the excellent fruit gardens that surround their houses. The people are, however, unenterprising and backward, village industries are almost unknown, and the ryots are in consequence compelled to buy nearly everything that they require. A considerable portion of the parganas lies too low for cultivation and is covered with dense jungle, and the climate at the foot of the hills is malarious and unhealthy.