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Important Tribal Uprising that took Place in India – Essay

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The Santhal of 1855-57 was master minded by four brothers Sidhu, Kanhu, Chand and Bhairav.

With the capture of political power of India by the East India Company, the natural habitats of the indigenous people including the Santhal began to shatter by the intruders like money-lenders, traders and revenue farmers, who descended upon them in large numbers under the patronage of the Company.

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Discontent had been simmering in the Santhal Paragana (Presently in Jharkhand) from the early decades of the 19th century owing to most naked exploitation of the indigenous Santhals by both the British authorities and their collaborators, native immigrants.

The rate of interest on loan to the poor and illiterate Santhals varied from 50% to 500%. These intruders were needless to mention the crucial links in the chain of ruthless exploitation under colonial rule.

They were the instruments through which the indigenous groups and tribes were brought within the influence and control of the colonial economy.

On 30th June 1855, a large number of Santhals assembled in a field in Bhagnadihi village of Santhal Paragana, and declared themselves as free and took oath under the leadership of Sido Murmu and Kanhu Murmu to fight unto the last against the British rulers as well as their agents.

Militant mood of the Santhals frightened the authorities. A Police agent confronted them on the 7th July and tried to place the Murmu brothers under arrest. The angry crowd reacted violently and killed the Police agent and his companions.

The event sparked off a series of confrontations with the Company’s Army and subsequently reached the scale of a full-fledged war.

At the outset, Santhal rebels, led by Sidhu and Kanhu, made tremendous gains and captured control over a large tract of the country extending from Rajmahal hills in Bhagalpur district to Sainthia in Birbhum district. For the time being, British rule in this vast area became completely paralyzed.

Many money-lenders and native agents of the Company were killed. Local British administrators took shelter in the Pakur Fort to save their life. However, the rebels could not hold on to their gains due to the superior fire power of the East India Company came down heavily on them.

It is believed that Sidhu was captured by the British forces through treachery and Kanhu through an encounter at Uparbanda and was subsequently killed in captivity.

The Santhal, however, did not come to an end in vain. It had a long-lasting impact. Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act was the outcome of this struggle, which dished out some sort of protection to the indigenous people from the ruthless colonial exploitation.

Santhal territory was born. The regular police was abolished and the duty of keeping peace and order and arresting criminals was vested in the hands of parganait and village headman.

(b) Ramoshi Uprisings (1822):

Ramoshis were hill tribes of the Western Ghats. They first revolted under their leader Chittu Singh in 1822 resisting the new British pattern of administration.

Another Ramoshi rebellion took place between 1825-26 and 1829. Ramoshi uprising also took place in the 1840 to oppose the deposition of Raja Pratap Singh of Satara.

Later, in 1879, a Maharashtrian Chitpavan Brahman Vasudev Balavant Phadke who had some English education and was influnced by M.G. Ranade’s lectures on drain of wealth and by the experience of the famine of Deccan of 1876-77, organised an anti-British uprising with the support of some Brahmin youths and many low caste Ramoshis and Dhangars.

Thus it was the case of a short-lived concord between conscious intelligentsia, nationalism and plebeian militancy. The outcome was a type of social banditry, with the dacoits given shelter by the peasants.

After Phadke’s capture and life sentence, a Ramoshi dacoit bands under Daulata Ramoshi remained active till 1883.

We also hear of the Koli tribal groups indulging in acts of social banditry. The Kolis in this region were being ousted from their ancestral lands, like other tribals in other parts of India.

(c) The Ulgulan (Great Tumult) of Birsa Munda (1899-1900) or Munda Uprising/Rebellion:

One of the most important revolt popularly known as Munda revolt (1899-1900) took place in Chotanagpur region near Ranchi and is also known as Ulgulan (Great commotion). Birsa Munda was its leader.

The main reason for the revolt was interference and exploitation of tribal population by new landlords, merchants and thikadar.

Apart from this the new landlords recruited young tribals endentured labourers who were paid very low wages. Moreover the forest contractors imposed indentured labour on the tribals. Yet another factor was the activities of the Christian missionaries.

Birsa initially enbraced Christianity however he realized that Christian missionaries addressed only towards social problems but did not concentrate on solution to land problems.

Mundas went to court in 1890 against capture of forest by Government, but were cheated by an Anglo-Indian advocate.

The tribals rebelled in the region south of Ranchi in 1899-1900 under the leadership of Birsa Munda.

The dikus (outsiders such as jagirdars, thikadars and money-lenders) had eroded the joint settlements (Khuntikatti) of the mundas were targeted.

Birsa appeared to the tribals as their saviour. He was the son of a sharecropper who came under the influence of both the Christianity and Hinduism. He also claimed to be a prophet with miraculous healing powers.

The movement initially was religious but soon turned into an anti-diku and anti-British uprising. Even the Christian Mundas joined it. Churches were burnt in many places. With the arrest of Birsa the movement did not last long.

(d) The Revolt of the Rampa Tribals in Andhra Pradesh (1922):

Even after the withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation Movement by Mahatma Gandhi, the uprisings did not subside immediately.

One such striking example of popular militancy came from the ever-restive semi-tribal ‘Rampa’ region north of the Godavari between 1922 and 1924. It was virtually a guerrilla war led by Alluri Sitarama Raju, who went on to become a folk hero in Andhra Pradesh.

Raju was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and the Non-Cooperation Movement. The Rampa revolt combined ‘primitive rebellion’ with modern nationalism.

(e) Jatra Bhagat and Tana Bhagat Movements:

These movements developed among the Oraons of Chotanagpur during the period of the First World War.

The Mundas joined the Oraons in open revolt with the news of the beginning of the First World War.

A movement was started by Jatra Bhagat in 1914, calling for monotheism, abstention from meat, liquor and tribal dance.

The movement called for a return to shifting cultivation. The Jatra Bhagat Movement was suppressed by the British government but a more ‘pacific’ Tana Bhagat Movements survived from 1915 onwards.

The Tana Bhagat Movements combined some form of Sanskritization with radical ideas. The message of the Tana Bhagat Movements was that God would send a most powerful and benevolent delegate to the earth the redeem the Oraons from the miserable conditions (this saviour was identified with Birsa Munda or German Qaiser (‘German Baba’) and it was believed that he would expel all foreigners from the tribal territories.

The Jatra Bhagat and Tana Bhagat Movements stressed both anti- colonialism and internal reforms.

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