Abdul Azim Akhtar Even before the forefathers of the National Movement sowed the roots of nationalism, the tribals had given a clarion call to end the rule of the East Indian Company. Apart from the Wahabi and Farazi leaders, the tribal leaders were among the first legion of leaders who sacrificed their lives for the cause of the motherland. The Santhals seem to have settled first, between and , in the region , which later, by Act 37 of , was given the status of a district and came to be known as the district of Santhal Prgana,. At that time, the area was quite vast, but the boundary line was redrawn in by Act 10 Virottam, , due to protests from the Zamindars and the Englishmen engaged in indigo cultivation, Between and , there appears to have been a further dispersion of the Santhals. The Santhals were originally, according to popular tradition, divided into twelve sects, of which eleven only remained, one disappeared entirely Bradley-Brit, , p. Their myths depict a story of their constant wanderings before they came towards the end of the eighteenth century to their present habitat in the Santhal Parganas The Santhal legend traces their origin to a wild goose, which laid two eggs, out of which sprang Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Burhi, their two ancestors Singh et.
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Background[ edit ] The uprising of the Santhals began as a reaction to end despotic British revenue system, usury practices, and the zamindari system in India; in the tribal belt of what was then known as the Bengal Presidency.
It was a revolt against the oppression of the colonial rule propagated through a distorted revenue system, enforced by the local zamindars, the police and the courts of the legal system set up by the British. In , the British demarcated the Damin-i-koh region in present day Jharkhand and invited Santhals to settle in the region. Due to promises of land and economic amenities a large numbers of Santhals came to settle from Cuttack , Dhalbhum , Manbhum , Hazaribagh , Midnapore etc.
Soon, mahajans and zamindars as tax-collecting intermediaries deployed by British dominated the economy. Many Santals became victims of corrupt money lending practices. They were lent money at exorbitant rates when they never repay then their lands were forcibly taken, they were forced into bonded labour. This sparked the Santal rebellion by Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu , two brothers who led the Santals against the Britishers but were defeated.
Sidhu Murmu had accumulated about ten thousand Santhals to run parallel government against the British rule. The basic purpose was to collect taxes by making his own laws. Soon after the declaration, the Santhals took to arms. In many villages the Zamindars, money lenders and their operatives were put to death. The open rebellion caught the British Government by surprise. Initially a small contingent was sent to suppress the rebels but it could not succeed and this further fueled the spirit of the revolt.
When the law and order situation was getting out of hand the British Government finally took a major step and sent in a large number of troops assisted by the local Zamindars and the Nawab of Murshidabad to quell the Rebellion.
British Government had announced an award of Rs. A number of skirmishes occurred after this which resulted in large number of casualties for the Santhals.
Troop detachments from the 7th Native Infantry Regiment, 40th Native Infantry and others were called into action. Major skirmishes occurred from July to January , in places like Kahalgaon, Suri, Raghunathpur, and Munkatora.
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,odd tribesmen who had been mobilised in the rebellion, over 15, were killed, and tens of villages were destroyed. Although the Rebellion was crushed with a heavy hand, some British army officers like Major Jervis who observed- "It was not war; they did not understand yielding.
As long as their national drum beat, the whole party would stand, and allow themselves to be shot down. Their arrows often killed our men, and so we had to fire on them as long as they stood. When their drum ceased, they would move off a quarter of a mile; then their drums beat again, and they calmly stood till we came up and poured a few volleys into them.
There was not a sepoy in the war who did not feel ashamed of himself. If this be the case and we hear nothing of the poisoned arrows in the recent conflicts, they are infinitely more respectable than our civilised enemy, the Russians, who would most likely consider such forbearance as foolish, and declare that is not war.
This was reaffirmed, over a century and a half later with the creation of the first tribal province in independent India, Jharkhand.
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History[ edit ] According to linguist Paul Sidwell , Austro-Asiatic language speakers probably arrived on coast of Odisha from Indochina about — years ago. Then British officials turned their attention to Santals, who were ready to clear the forest for the practice of settled agriculture. In , a large number of areas were demarcated as Damin-i-koh or Santal Pargana. Santals from Cuttack , Dhalbhum , Birbhum , Manbhum and Hazaribagh migrated and started cultivating these lands as peasants. British collected taxes from these Santals as revenue.
Santhal Rebellion (1855-56)