Santhals Rebellion 1855-1856

There were several peasant and tribal movement during the 19th century, among them the most significant movement was the Santhal rebellion. The santhals were a group of people who belonged to the same tribe. The Santhals lived scattered in various districts of Cuttack, Dhalbhum, Mannheim, Barabhum, Chota Nagpur, Palamua, Hazaribhag, Midnapur, Bankura and Birbhum in eastern India. It is believed that they had began to come into the Bengal around the 1780s. The Zamindars hired them to reclaim land and expand cultivation, and the British officials invited them to settle in Jangal Mahals. The British turned to the Santhal tribe as they had failed to subdue the Paharias and transform them into settle cultivators.

The Paharias tribe were the real native tribe of the Jangal Mahal areas but due to their unwillingness to clear forest, settle down and become cultivators and on the other hand, contrast to them the santhals who appeared to be ideal settlers, clearing forest and ploughing the land with vigour led to the santhals owning lands and the Paharias were forced to move deeper into the forest. The santhals were given land and persuaded to settle in the foothills of Rajmahal where they started to clear forest, began to settle down grow commercial crops for the market dealing with traders and moneylenders. Eventually the santhals became settle peasants.

By 1832, a large area of land was demarcated as Damin-i-Koh. This areas was declared to be the land of the santhals. They were to live within it and practice plough agriculture and become settle peasants. Slowly and gradually, the population of the santhals was growing and the number of village was also growing rapidly. Due to these factors, increase volume of revenue flowed into the company’s coffers.

The santhals however, found out that the land they had brought under cultivation was slipping away from their hands. The state was imposing heavy taxes in the lands where they had cleared and moneylenders, who were also known as Dikus were charging higher rate of interests and they were also taking over the lands of the santhals who failed to pay their debts, and the zamindars were asserting control over the Damin area. On top of this the santhals were force to engage in railway constructions.

By the 1850s, the santhals felt that the time had come to rebel against zamindars, moneylenders and the colonial state, in order to create an ideal world for themselves where they would rule and live by their own terms.

In July 1855, under two brothers from the santhals tribe, Sidhu and Kanhu, the santhals proclaimed an end to company rule and declared the area between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal as autonomous. The santhals started to attack on the company employees and officers. They organize themselves in groups and carried out their rebellion in a violent way using arrows and bows. But as the British were more advanced in the field of weapons, the traditional weapons of the santhals were no match for the British.

The santhals rebellion started in 1855 and ended in 1856. The rebellion is believed to be the first peasant movement in India and it one way or the other contributed to the larger revolts and rebellion in the following years.

The most significant result of the Santhal rebellion was that they gave a lesson to the peasants of the country that together they could withstand the zamindars, moneylenders and the British Raj from their land. From their movement the other tribes and peasants got inspired and started rebelling in different parts of the country.