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Santhal Revolution (1855–56)

Published: 6th Jul, 2023

Context

The Santhal revolution took place on June 30, 1855.

What was the revolution all about?

Santhal Tribe is the third-largest scheduled tribe community in India after the Gonds and Bhils.

  • The Santhal Hul (revolution) was a tribal revolt and holds a lot of significance to the Santhal tribe.
    • Forefront: At the forefront of it were the Santhal Adivasis and lower-caste peasants.
    • Against: The movement was against the atrocities of the upper-caste landlords, moneylenders, traders, police, and administrative officials from the East India Company in the erstwhile Bengal presidency.
  • Led by: Murmu brothers (Sidho Murmu and Kanhu Murmu), Chand and Bhairab

What led to the revolt (Background)?

  • In the late 1700s, the Santhals were driven out of Birbhum by the wealthy zamindars (landlords) and were forced to settle in an area known as Santhal Parganas which is in present-day Jharkhand.
  • They cleared the dense jungles and were provided land for settlement in the foothills for rent.
  • Once the land was cleared, their rent was increased by the zamindars and the moneylenders took control of their land and forced them into bonder labour.
  • The Santhals believed that since they cleared the land and inhabited it, it belonged to them.
  • However, it was not easy to raise their voices against the landlords and moneylenders and the British administration paid no heed to their pleas.

How was the revolution kicked off?

  • Beginning: On 30 June 1855, the Murmu brothers (Sidho Murmu and Kanhu Murmu) mobilised around 10,000 people against the zamindars, moneylenders, and British in the village of Bhognadih in present-day Jharkhand.
  • Increasing numbers: The Santhals started marching to Calcutta and were joined by other tribes and lower-caste groups.
  • Arrest and further spread: A Santhal head man, Harma Desmanjhi, was arrested in Panchkatia in present-day West Bengal and this led to the rebellion spreading further.

How women participated in the revolt?

  • The women also played an important role. Phulo Murmu and Jhalo Murmu, sisters from the same family, participated in the Hul, inspiring women to join the rebellion.

How did it conclude?

  • In the conflict, the tribes fought British troops with bows and arrows.
  • In November 1855, martial law was introduced to curb the revolt and the Hul was quashed by early 1856. 
  • It led to the formation of the Santhal Parganas and the passing of the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1876, which outlawed the transfer of Adivasi land to non-Adivasis.

Major Tribal Uprisings

Year

Tribal Uprising

Features

1776

Chuar Uprising 

It was initiated by indigenous tribespeople of Midnapore, in response to land revenue demands and economic hardships.

1818-1831 and 1913

Bhil Uprising

The Uprising took place in the Western Ghats as a resistance against the rule of the Company. It resulted in the formation of Bhil Raj. In 1913, under the leadership of Govind Guru, the Bhil community reorganized and continued their fight for the establishment of Bhil Raj.

1820–37

Ho and Munda Uprisings

The Ho and Munda Uprisings were initiated by the Ho tribals under the leadership of Raja Parahat in the Singhbhum and Chottanagpur regions. These uprisings were in response to the implementation of a new farming revenue policy. Over time, the Ho uprising transformed into the Munda rebellion.

1822-29

Ramosi Uprising

It was led by the Ramosi tribals residing in the Western Ghats. Under the leadership of Chittur Singh, they revolted against the British occupation of the region.

1829

Koli Uprising

The Uprising witnessed multiple revolts by the tribal communities of Gujarat and Maharashtra. They rebelled against the control of the East India Company in the years 1829, 1839, and once more during the period of 1844-48.

1832

Kol Rebellion

It occurred when the tribal communities of Chottanagpur, led by Buddho Bagat, revolted against the British colonial rule and oppressive money lenders.

1837-56

Khond Rebellion

The Rebellion saw the tribal communities residing in the hills from Tamil Nadu to Bengal, led by Chakra Bisoi, rise up against the interference in their tribal customs and the imposition of new taxes.

1899-1900

Munda Rebellion

It involved the tribal population of the Chotanagpur area who, under the leadership of Birsa Munda, revolted against the 'Dikus' (a term used to refer to outsiders or non-tribal people).

1879-80

Koya Uprising

The Uprising witnessed the tribal communities of the eastern Godavari region, led by Tomma Sora and Raja Annantyar, rebelling against the oppressive actions of the police and moneylenders.

1910

Bastar Revolt

The Revolt was staged by the tribal population of Jagdalpur as a protest against the imposition of new feudal and forest levies.

1921-22

Chenchus Uprising

The Uprising took place when the tribal community of Nallamalla Hills, led by K. Hanumanthu, revolted against the forest laws imposed by the British authorities.

1922-24

Rampa Rebellion

It was led by Alluri Sitaraman Raju, a member of the Koya tribe in Andhra Pradesh. The rebellion was launched in response to British interference in the region.

Important Leaders

  • Birsa Munda:spearheaded an Indian tribal religious Millenarian movement during British rule in the late 19th century across the tribal belt of modern-day Jharkhand and Bihar.
  • Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh:Considered the Pride of Sonakhan in Chhattisgarh, he looted trader’s grain stock and distributed them amongst the poor after the 1856 famine. He became the first martyr from Chhattisgarh in the independence struggle of 1857.
  • Shri Alluri Seetha Ram Raju: Best remembered for leading the Rampa Rebellion against the British in which he organised the tribal people of Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts to revolt against the foreigners.
  • Rani Gaidinliu: He was a Naga spiritual and political leader who led a revolt against British rule in India.
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