Tribal Uprising of 1857
India is a country representing “UNITY IN DIVERSITY” , encompassing different castes, religion sub castes, ethnic groups, tribes etc. During the 19th century, tribal people who spread over an immense part of India ,organized hundreds of combat outbreak and insurgence. These uprisings were marked by infinite braveness and formidable sacrifices.
On the other hand, the Britishers were very ferocious and bloodthirsty. They suppressed the rebellion in very inhuman way.
The reasons behind the tribal revolution were rooted in the dissatisfaction of the tribals on getting ruled by the British Anarchy ,when they wanted to have their land of their own. This modulated their system by making their ‘chief’ as Zamindars. A new land revenue system and a new taxation scheme came into being. It also encouraged the influx of missionaries into the tribal area. Above all, the British interfered by introducing a large number of money lender, traders and revenue farmer as middlemen among tribals. These middlemen were mere tool for bringing the tribals under the sphere of British administration. They were outsiders who gradually grabbed their land and tangled them in the web of debt.
British government went one step ahead by putting ban on the access of forest product, forest lands and village common lands which was the basic livelihood of forest tribal people. Domination and maltreatment further peeved the tribal people. The system of “beggar” was also expanded. They were forced to work but not a single penny was paid to them. All these things were in different forms from region to region but this interference and distress provided the common factor for all the tribal revolts.
When the water was above the head and no option was left out the tribals decided to fight. This generally took form of attacks on outsiders, looting their property and removing from their village. Much blind faith prevailed during this time. Religious leaders emerged as Messiahs promising the tribals to end their suffering ,as they made the them to believe that they derive authority from god and that they possessed magical power.
The warfare between the Britishers and tribals ensued on unequal levels ,as the former had modern weapons and while the tribals banked on traditional old weapons like bow, arrow, stone axes etc. . With this many revolts took place in which Santhal uprising was the most massive. They lived in area between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal, known as Daman-i-Koh. The Santhals considered the dikus– the outsiders- and government servants morally corrupt being given to beggary, stealing, lying and drunkenness. By 1854, the tribal heads, the Majhis and Parganities had begun to meet and discuss the possibilities of revolting.They called an assembly of nearly 6000 Santhals, representing 400 villages, at Bhaganidihi on 30th June 1855.
Sido and Kanhu, the principal rebel leaders, claimed that Thakur (god) had communicated with them and had told them to fight for their independence.
The santhal insurrection was helped by a large number of non-tribal and poor dikus. Gwalas , Lohars accompanied the rebellion. Caught in the fear of the uprising that could dismantle their establishment, Britshers declared martial law in the affected areas under Major General and reward of Rs 10,000 for capture of various leaders was announced.
More than 15,000 Santhals were killed and the rebellion was crushed brutally. Sido was betrayed and captured and killed in August 1855, while Kanhu was arrested by accident at the tail-end of rebellion in Feburary 1866. The Rajmahal Hills were drenched with the blood of fighting Santhal peasantry. The other tribal rebels like the Kols of Chottanagpur waged war from 1820 to 1837. The hills tribesmen of Rampa in coastal Andhra revolted in March 1879. The Munda tribesmen led by famous leader Birsa Munda fought during the period 1899-1900. He declared himself the messenger of god and claimed that he had miraculous healing power. Rallies was organized by him followed by his followers covering village to village. Birsa proclaimed a rebellion to establish Munda rule in the land and encouraged ‘the killing of thikadars,jagirdars,rajas, hakims and Christians’. He also declared not to attack the non tribal poors. Birsa gathered a force of 6,000 Mundas armed with sword, spear, battle axes, bows and arrows. He was captured in February 1900 and died in jail in June. The rebellion was unsuccessful but Birsa entered the realm of legends.
Tribal revolution ended with. Nevertheless the tribals showed daunting courage and bravery against the British modern army. They fought bravely and scarified their life against the exploitation and domination. They set the righteous example of bringing about an apocalypse when outsiders intrude upon the very existence of mankind.