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Santhal revolution (1855–56)

  • Published
    5th 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.
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