Tribal Revolts and Movements
Tribals such as Chuars, Kols, Bhils, Santals, Oraons, Hoes, Hays, Manipuris and Garos organised uprisings against oppression by the English Company.
1. The Chuar Revolt:
The Chuars lived in Jungle Mahal of north-western Midnapur. Basically farmers and hunters, they also worked as paiks under local zamindars. They received tax-free land instead of salaries.
When the Company imposed huge tax burden on zamindars, they revolted, and the paiks and Chuars joined in. The uprising continued for around three decades from 1768-69 to 1799.
- In 1768, Jagannath Singh, the zamindar of Ghatshila or the king of Dhalbhum, first went up in arms, backed by local zamindars, and 50,000 Chuars. The frightened government returned the zamindari to Jagannath.
- In 1771, Chuars rose again, led by Dhadkar Shyamganjan. They failed this time.
- The third phase of rebellion was in 1783-84 and 1789-90.
- The most significant uprising was the Durjol Singh led revolt in 1789-90 which was brutally put down by the government. Prof. Narahari Kabiraj says, “The revolt covered Midnapur, Bankura, Birbhum and Dhalbhum. It was a spontaneous and extensive uprising of poor and lower classes. Peasants were the pillars of this movement.”
2. The Kol Revolt:
The tribal inhabitants of Chota Nagpur comprised Kols, Bhils, Hoes, Mundas and Oraons. They led an independent life.
1. In 1820 the king of Porhat owed allegiance to the British and agreed to pay huge taxes annually. He claimed the neighboring Kol region as his own to the consent of the British. He went on to collect taxes from the Ho segment of the Kols which they resented. A few officials were killed too.
The British sent troops in support of the king. The Kols took up traditional arms like bows and arrows to face British troops armed in modern weapons. They put up a very brave fight but had to surrender in 1821.
2. The Kols rose again in 1831. The Chhota Nagpur region was leased out to Hindu, Muslim and Sikh money-lenders for revenue collection. Their oppressive tactics, high revenue rates, British judicial and revenue policies devastated the traditional social framework of the Kols. They gathered under Bir Budhu Bhagat, Joa Bhagat, Jhindrai Manki and Sui Munda. In 1831, Munda and Oraon peasants first took up arms against the British. It encouraged tribals in Singbhum, Manbhum, Hazaribagh and Palamou.
The insurgents adopted most cruel means and spared no one. They torched houses and killed the enemies. Only carpenters and blacksmiths were spared since they made weapons and other useful goods for them. After two years of intense resistance they lost to modern weapons of the British. Thousands of tribal men, women and children were killed and the rebellion was suppressed.
3. The Santal Revolt (1855-56):
The Santals were a hardworking, peace-loving and simple folk, living mainly off agriculture in the dense forests of Bankura, Midnapur, Birbhum, Manbhum, Chota Nagpur and Palamou.
The Permanent Settlement brought these lands under Company’s revenue control. The Santals fled oppressive zamindars and Company staff and settled down in the hill tracts of Rajmahal and clearings in Murshidabad forests. They started farming here as well, calling it Damin-i-Koh.
But here too their oppressors followed them and exploitation started in full swing. Local moneylenders cheated them with high interest rates of 50% to 500%. The simple-minded Santals reeled under loans and often had to lose everything, even themselves, if loans were not paid back. Shopkeepers gave them short weight. British soldiers and employees forcibly took away their livestock; even the women were not spared.
Two brothers,Sidhu and Kanhu, rose against these dreadful activities. On 30 June 1855, 10,000 Santals assembled at the Bhagnadihi fields and pledged to establish a free Santal state. Common people like blacksmiths, potters, carpenters and weavers supported them. Other leaders were brothers Chand and Bhairav, Bir Singh and Pramanik. The rebels’ ranks swelled and they numbered nearly 50,000. Postal and rail services were thoroughly disrupted. The rebels targeted railway stations, post offices, police stations, European bungalows and zamindars’ houses. They bravely fought with only bows and arrows with the armed British soldiers and nearly brought British rule down from Bhagalpur to Munghyr. Trouble spread to Birbhum and Murshidabad as well. Several British armies were dispatched to quell the rebellion. At last in February 1856 the uprising was suppressed and 23,000 rebels were slaughtered. Sidhu, Kanhu and other leaders were hanged, prisoners got jail terms of seven to 14 years and 36 Santal villages were destroyed.
The Santal Revolt was essentially a peasant revolt. People from all professions and communities such as potters, blacksmiths, weavers, leather workers and doms joined in. It was distinctly anti-British in nature.
4. Other Uprisings:
There were the Kol Revolt in the Western Ghats (1816-18), Khond Revolt (1835), and Manipuri, Khasia and Garo uprisings in the north-east after 1826.