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Tribal Revolt against British East India Company - Kol, Chuar, Santhal Rebellion in the early 19th Century

Kol Rising - 1831-32

The Kols had rebelled against sustained injustices and usurpation of their rights and ownership over land and peasant properties that they had enjoyed for time immemorial, wholesale and wanton destruction of their culture and administration, by the British East India Company officials and their appointed revenue collectors. The Ho Raja of Singhbhum, or the Raja or Porhat, entered into a determined hostility with the British by refusing them to enter into his country. His Ho subjects guarded the territories and would not allow any stranger to pass through. However the king surrendered to the British in 1820 and entered into an agreement whereby he used to collect a large amount of revenue annually from the neighbouring Ho dominated areas. 

The agrarian discontent fueled by the landlord tenant disputes, the ill treatment of the tribal community by the mahajans or the money lenders and the loan sharks, the usurpation of the tribal land by the non tribal settlers, led to another eruption in 1831. Ranchi, Hazaribagh and Palamau, the districts of Manbhum, were all badly affected. Kol tribals were against the Government officials and the money lenders but they also attacked other outsiders and non tribal villagers. Many foreign settlers were killed. So ferocious was the rebellion that in a matter of few weeks it wiped off the British East India Company rule from the Chota Nagpur area. The British army was called to restore order and the disturbances continued until 1832, when the tribal warriors finally lost out to the modern weapons of the British forces. 

Rebellion of Ganga Narain and the Chuars - 1832

After the suppression of the Kol rising, rebellions broke out in the Manbhum and Dholbhum districts. It began with a family feud and then Ganga Narain Singh, the rebel chief, claimed the estate of Zamindar in 1832. Ganga Narain also attacked the magistrate and other Government officials with a large band of armed Chuar followers. Even though they were temporarily defeated, the insurgency continued and Ganga Narain got support from the other Zamindars and the tribal leaders. Rebels had fled to the thick cover of the jungles and the British forces, despite having superior arms and ammunition, were defeated. Ganga Narain assumed the title of Raja and received revenue. He got titular claim to all the lands and disposed off the settlers. There were growing disaffection among the tribal officials and local Zamindars in their allegiance to then British rule.  Ganga Narain expanded his hold on territories and large contingent of British forces were sent. While in North Ganga Narain suffered defeat, in the South his lieutenant Raghu Nath Singh kept fighting. Ganga Narain was killed in a fight with a local chieftain in a battle. With the death of Ganga Narain, the movement collapsed. 

Khasi Rebellion

Khasis, living in the region between Garo and the Jaintiya hills, broke out in an open rebellion in 1783. In 1787, the Khasis of Laur, joined by other hill tribes, raided an extensive area and killed nearly 300 people. The Khasi leader Ganga Singh waged an attack on the Government offices and police stations and also attacked a British army garrison. After the British occupation of the Assam valley, the Khasis made repeated incursions. In 1829, Khasi rebels killed English military officials and this led to a long warfare. The protracted hostilities turned into a major rebellion in which most of the hill tribal chiefs aided and abetted the Khasis with arms and other help. A confederacy of the Khasi chiefs thus resisted the British rule for a long time. 

Khond Rebellion

Khonds of Orissa broke into an open rebellion in 1846 when the British East India Company interfered with their customary rituals and practices. The uprising resulted in a major war with the tribal lasting for more than three years.  Khond rebels fought from the interior of the jungles until 1848 when the British army defeated the rebels.

Bhils of Khandesh

The Bhils rose into revolt between 1818 and 1819, around the same time when Marathas were engaged in their last desperate battle with the British forces. Outbreaks continued between 1820-25, 1831 and in 1846. 

Other tribes

Mers in  Rajputana broke out into an open rebellion in the 1820s. Jats came under the British occupation after the second Maratha war, but they continued to resist and there was a revolt in Bhiwani in 1809. The defeat of the British in the first Burmese war led to a more serious rebellion in 1824. 

Kolis of Western Ghats broke out into open rebellion in 1824 and again in 1839. They were led by three Brahmins, Bhau Khare, Chimanji Jadhav, and Nana Darbare. Insurgents wanted to restore the supremacy of the Peshawa. The Kolis revolted in 1844 and their rebellion continued until 1848. 

Santhal Rebellion

The Santhals were forced to migrate from their ancestral lands by the excessive demands of the zamindars under instigation from the British East India Company's economic policies. They occupied the Rajmahal hill area of Bengal, but were greatly oppressed by the money lenders and the traders, who lent them money at excessive rates and illegally recovered almost ten times their unjust dues. The police and the revenue officials too harassed them and they suffered insult and indignities in the hands of the British officials. Their womenfolk too suffered many indignities and were molested by the British officials. All these led to the build up of anger against the British East India Company and the outsiders. Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar in the History of Freedom Movement of India, Vol 1, "The Santhal rebellion of 1855-6 was marked by some of the worst features of elemental tribal passions and open denunciation of the British rule. But it was primarily, perhaps mainly, due to the economic causes, and there was no anti British feeling at the beginning of the outbreak. The main grievances of the Santhals were against the "civilized people" from Bengal and Upper India who swarmed their country and took advantage of their simplicity and ignorance to exploit them in a ruthless manner. They turned against the Government when they found that instead of remedying their grievances, the officers were more anxious to protect their oppressors from their wrathful vengeance. "

The oppressors of Santhals were not even rebuked by the "just" British rule, while Santhals were severely punished for their protests against the loan sharks and money lenders. Two brothers, Sidhu and Kanhu, took up the leadership of the rebellion. About ten thousand rebel Santhals gathered under them in June 1855, and declared their intention of setting up a Government and administration of their own. The Santhals formed a formidable army and started warfare in guerrilla style. They cut off communication - both postal and railway, between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal, and were in complete control of the area. They declared the end of Company's rule and commencement of their rule. Armed with primitive weapons like axes and bow and arrows, the army attacked the European planters and officials and their native collaborators like police officers and Government officials. The natives fled the villages and the Santhals confronted the modern weapons of the British army by fighting from the thick jungle covers. Their ferocity of attack was such that battalions fell back before them out of fear. A British force under major Burrough was defeated by the fighting Santhals. The disturbed districts were handed over to the military and regular campaigns were conducted atleast until February 1856. Atleast 30,000 Santhals were up in arms against the British and showed no signs of submission, not until their leaders were caught. Most inhuman barbarities were practised on the Santhals after they were defeated by the "civilized" British administration. Chand and Bhairabh Murmu were also the leaders of the movement along with Sidhu and Kanhu. The Nawab of Murshidabad and few local Zamindars openly helped the British. Only the Goalas or the milkmen and the Lohars or the blacksmiths supported the Santhals. The revolt was brutally crushed, the two celebrated leaders Sidhu and Kanhu were killed. Elephants supplied by the Nawab of Murshidabad were used to demolish Santhal huts and likewise, atrocities were committed by the British army and its allies in suppressing the Rebellion. Of the 60,000-odd tribesmen who had been mobilized in the rebellion, over 15,000 were killed, and tens of villages were destroyed (source: Wikipedia)


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