It was a revolt of the dispossessed, of the helots against their masters. The tribal wished to erase all signs of the hated presence of the dikkus among them. It was the biggest uprising against the British Empire (Dec1831 to Jan 1832) which united the Oraons, Hos, and Mundas. They decided that not a single foreigner should be left alive in their land. In every village, the Suds (Hindus) and the dikus were murdered, plundered and their houses were burnt down. By the end of January, the rebels were in control of the Chotanagpur as the British were not expecting such an upheaval.
It started on 11 December 1831.
A few days before the tribal had assembled at Lankah in Tamar and pledged to “cut, plunder, murder and eat.” Soon after the beating of nagaras (folk drums), circulation of a dheori (the mango twig) and arrows of war were being circulated to other Kol Villages to join war. Those wishing to join returned the arrows as a whole and those who wanted to oppose it returned them broken.
The arrows were circulated throughout Chotanagpur along with a notice to all foreigners to quit or meet dire consequences. The disturbances first started in Sonepur. “A party of Kols from Roochang Kochang and Jamoor carried off from the village of Koomung (kuman) which was held in Tieka or farm by Mahomedally (Naik) two hundred head of Cattle.” On 20 December an army of 700 men who plundered, burnt and seriously wounded two persons raided four other villages in the Sonepur Pargana. By January 1832 the insurrection had spread to the entire Chotanagpur. The attack was against the Hindus, Muslims and other foreigners. The Dhangar Kols of Chotanagpur had joined hands with Larka Kols of Singhbhum. Singhbhum district was nicknamed as the “Tibet of Chotanagpur” and the Ho tribal of the area were called Larka Kols or Larka Hos because of their fighting powers. These Kols had never allowed any outsider to settle or even pass through their area.
Attempts were however made by the British to tame the Larka Kols. In March 1819, the Political Agent Major E.Roughsedge directed his Assistant to the Raja of Singhbhum at Porahat to settle the Kol menace but he could not succeed. The Raja of Chotanagpur assisted by the Raja of Singhbhum attacked but the Kols defeated them. Rather they were angry with these attempts to smash their independence that they started attacking on the border villages or neighboring states.
Then after the defeated chiefs prayed to the Agent that the Kols had become rebellion. They also admitted the fact that for the last fifty years they had been unable to control them. Major Ronghsedge entered the Kol dominated areas with a large number of troops and made them surrender after heavy bloodshed. Then a war broke out between those Larkas who had surrendered and those who had not. The rebel Larkas made the estates of the Raja of Singhbhum and the Raja of Seraikela their target of attack. Again in 1821 the British troops attacked on them and ultimately made them to surrender. The Larkas prayed to take them under the direct British management but it was not heeded and they were compelled to pay tribute to the chiefs and allow outside persons to settle in their villages.
So the Larkas gladly accepted the arrows sent by the Dhangars and thus spread the great Kol resurrection. By 26 January they caputured entire Chotanagpur. The Bhogta and Ghasi tribes or Tori also joined them. The insurgents continuing their winning spree invaded Patkum near Bankura in the east and Palamau on the west. They had reached near Sat Barwa, then miles from Leslieganj and were heading towards Chiteri, a depot for supplies for the troops. Rumours were afloat that the Kols had sacked Mirzapur near Varanasi and even Azamgarh was disturbed.
To counter the Kols the British troops led by Captain Thomas Wilkinson, Neave and Russell committed brutal genocide. Captain Impey surrounded the village named Silligaon where the famous gorilla Kol leader Budhu Bhagat dived. Budhu Bhagat’s family and followers with bow and arrow and battle-axe faced the army equipped with pistol. The old leader died along with his brother, son and one hundred followers. Kols also gave stubborn resistance in the villages Deori Nagari and Gari. The villagers of Nagri, a very primitive Oraon village sings folklores to their young ones describing how their fathers went out in 1832.
Gradually the tribal suffered defeat and started retreating. The famous leader Singrai Manki, Baijnath Manki, Bindrai Manki etc. surrendered. But some clever persons gained a lot by action as double agent. The Rani of Patkum, the great Machiavelli utilized the services of the Kols in outing the foreigners from his estate and plundering their property and then had seventy-five of them arrested.
After crushing the unrest the British took stock of the situation and started thinking in terms of a big shake-up in the administrative set up. According to Wilson the insurgents killed over one thousand non-tribal. On the insurgents side the loss was heavier but the number of casualties cannot be obtained because they carried their dead and wounded into the forests.
The eccentricity of S.T Cuthbert was one of the factors of unrest. Though he was posted there for many years he didn’t try to learn the local language. Besides this, he was not a sympathetic administrator. A correspondent of the newspaper “Bengal Hurkaru” commented that “send a Cleveland to the Coles and you will have no occasion to augment the Ramgarh battalion.”
Meantime anti-Cornwallis school of thought was dominating. A new scheme for Chotanagpur and the Jungle Mahal was drawn. On 3 June 1833 the Government asked the joint commissioners to submit a detailed plan for a non-regulation area under the political agent for the Southwest Frontier. The Government ordered Wilkinson to give his comments. On 15 January 1834 the South – West Frontier Agency was inaugurated and the Government appointed Captain Wilkinson as the Political Agent.
Wilkinson made a number of proposals. He gave emphasis on the use of Panchayat in civil cases and made simple code to guide the courts. He laid down a rule that “no sale of land shall be made in the districts of Hazaribagh, Lohardaga and Manbhum without the sanction of the commissioners of the province”. His code remained in vogue till the passing of the civil procedure code (Act VIII) in 1859. In 1882 the restrictive safeguards were withdrawn. The Wilkinson rule protected the tribal for along time. After 1882 the free sale of landed property led to the Sardari Larai in 1880 and Birsa movement of 1895-1900.
Wilkinson abolished the dak tax, barter tax and tax on rice beer. Witchcraft was banned. In fact he gave emphasis on the direct contact between the tribal and officials.
Wilkinson also legalized the system of Mankis and Mundas. The Manki performed police, revenue and miscellaneous duties. But later on the Police Act, the Bihar Land Reforms Act and the Bihar Gram Panchayat Act eroded its effect. In 1958, the Patna High Court gave orders that the Civil Procedure Court and the Indian Succession Act were not applicable to Kolhan area.
In 1854 the South West Frontier Agency was abolished and Chotanagpur came under the Lt. Governor of Bengal who administered it as a non-Regulation province. A Commissioner was appointed for the Chotanagpur Divison consisting of Birbhum, Lohardaga, Hazaribagh, Manbhum, Singhbhum and some tributary estates of Madhya Pradesh. The Principal Assistants to the Agent were rechristened as Deputy Commissioners.
The Hul in 1824 the hill areas of Santal Pargans were declared as the Government property and demarcated as Damin-I-Koh. The post of superintendent was created to administer the revenue laws. Now the tribal had to track long distances to Deoghar to get far off civil and criminal justice.
According to Buchanan Hamilton report the Zamindars of Birbhum oppressed the native Santal tribal mercilessly. This resulted in the mass exodus of Santals to Damin-I-Koh. By 1836 Santals had cleared the forest and settled in almost 427 villages.
The Paharias being very lazy people and they chose to retire to the hills. The laborious Santals found the administrative machinery thoroughly corrupt and hostile towards them and the Bengali Dikkus, the non-Santal immigrants monopolised the trade, started money lending and introduced the treacherous bonded labour system.
The Santals were spendthrift and so easy prey to the moneylenders who with the assistance of the police and the bureaucracy manipulated in such a way that it was very difficult for a Santal to get out of their clutches. The moneylenders had also invented the bonded labour system. The debtor promised to work out his debt by personal service. This system was called Kamiotee and the debtor became a Kamiya. The rate of interest was not less than 25 percent and if the debtor died his nearest relation automatically became the Kamiya. A bonded man who took Rs 25 worked his life time so did his son and ultimately his grandson was liberated from the clutches of the moneylender by William Le Fleming Robinson, ICS who in 1858 was instrumental in abolishing this tyrannical system.
The dikkus began to acquire Santal lands by mortgages from them in return for loans. The zamindars also helped these dikkus. At that time a new thing happened .Railway was under construction and free Santals went to work on railway sites as labour. Seeing their prosperity anger crept in those who were bonded or working under frustrating conditions. So, the Paraganaits and Manjhis of different Santal villages began to think the right action to fight against the injustice and oppression. They first tried to rob the mahajans at Litipara in Pakur Subdivision, Kusuma near Barhat, and some other places in 1854. On the complaints of the mahajans the daroga of Thana Dighee arrested and punished the ringleaders but the mahajans were untouched. This episode infuriated the Santals. They assembled in thousands from Birbhum, Bankura, Chotanagpur and Hazaribagh in early 1855. They wanted revenge.
There were four factors responsible for the Santal rebellion:
1. Exploitation by moneylenders
2. The wicked and immoral system of allowing personal and hereditary bondage for debt.
3. The corruption of the police which collaborated with the moneylenders.
4. impossible for the Santals to get justice from the Courts.
And at this point emerged four great Santal brothers - Sidhu Murmu, Kanhu Murmu, Chand Murmu and Bhairo Murmu of the village Bhagnadihi, a few kilometres south of Barhati. These brothers were landless and Sidhu and Kanhu were thinking to evolve some device to charge the Santals with their fighting spirit.
It is said that God appeared before them. He was white coloured, dressed like a Santal, he had ten fingers on each hand and he gave a book to both of them consisting of 20 pieces of paper in five batches and then vanished. Afterwards two men appeared who had six fingers an each hand and told the brothers to obey the orders of the God or Thakur. Then the God appeared time and again before the two brothers sometimes as a flame of fire with a book, white paper and a knife, sometimes in the form of a solid cartwheel. Soon after a shrine was erected. The villagers were instructed to present grain and milk, to sacrifice kids. The villagers were shown the book of God. This news spread like wild fire. Each Manjhi of Damin-i-Koh was sent a twig of the sal (Shorea robusta)tree, which was a signal to the people to assemble together on 30 June 1855 at full moon.
About 10,000 Santals met on that day at Bhagnadihi where the Thakur’s commandments were announced. The latter were sent to the authorities, police darogas and zamindars. The Santals declared that their God had directed them to pay revenue to the State directly and had fixed the rate of interest upon loans at the rate of one piece per rupee per annum.
In this way the Santals took the area under their own authority and Sidhu and Kanhu were proclaimed as Subhs or Governors. The beginning of the movement was marked by peaceful submission of petitions and grievances. A few spontaneous murders of moneylenders and traders occurred. Soon, the tribal picked up the only weapon he possessed and knew to operate, the bow and the axe.
The Hul or the Santal Rebellion had started which in fact was the war of independence, two years before the well known and officially recognized India’s first war of independence in 1857.
The patron of dikkus the infamous police sub-inspector of Dighee Mahesh Lal Dutt heard that Santals had assembled at Panchkethia. He reached on 7 July and ordered them to disperse. They didn’t buzz and the four brothers ordered him to levy a tax of Rs 5 on every Bengali family. Dutt angrily ordered his party of Barkandazes to arrest the four brothers.
The Santals were very angry at his arrogance. They fell on him with their battle – axes and chopped off his head. Afterwards they killed another police sub-inspector.
Their act sent shock waves throughout the region. European and zamindars fled away and hid in safe places. A troop of Hill Rangers sent by the British authorities to suppress the movement was defeated by Santals armed with bows, arrows and battle-axes near Pirpainti. Now the Santals were on the winning spree – they became the masters of the country from Kahalgaon to Rajmahal on the east and Raniganj and Sainthia on the south. That independence was won which every Santal dreamt of since the prehistoric times when they were the masters of the Gangetic valley and their ancestors were driven out by the ruthless Aryan invaders.
But in thousands of years of known and unknown history they had not reconciled to their slavery. Kherwars had always been there which was a peculiar type of movement. The ancient name of Santal was Kherwar. Every Santal reminisces of that golden history when they were their own masters and lived in absolute independence in their homeland Champa near the sacred River Damodar. Hence according of Oldham the insurrection of 1855 was on attempt to establish a Santal realm and kingdom, which of course was triggered by the atrocities committed by the dikkus and the police. But their jubilation was short lived. The heavy armored British Infantry chased the Santals and overpowered the Santals. On 15 July Chand and Bhairo were shot dead in ambush and 200 other Santals were also killed. Sidhu was handed over to the army by some of his followers who became traitors. The Sardar Ghatwal of Kunjra imprisoned Kanhu near Uparbanda, north- east- of Jamtara.
Just before his execution the great martyr Kanhu had announced that Santals would again rise to avenge their defeat and he would come back again as their leader.
A commander of the British troop Major Lewis who took part in the reckless suppression of the Hul has written: “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 for a quarter of a mile then their drums began 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.”
On 3 January 1865 the Santal Rebellion was completely crushed. Later, 12 Santal villages were set on fire by Captain Sherwill. And again a cluster of 15 villages were destroyed. There was a year long hard fought battle which witnessed 10,000 – 15,000 deaths, mostly Santals. The Paharias had not taken part in it; rather they plundered these villages. They used to wait till the Santals chasing the inhabitants themselves had gone away for their next rendezvous.
Now the British realized to pacify the Santals. A separate district named Santal Parganas was created. This district was exempted from the general laws and regulation enforced in the Presidency of Bengal. Headman system was recognized. Police powers were given to village officials; the Government established a Santal Corps to do police work and incorporated them in the army.
In 1862 the Indian Penal Code came into being and with it came a maze of complex judicial setup the headmen were removed, the sent was increased and moneylenders assumed enormous prowess to rob the Santals. The non-Regulation system was butchered. Once again in the year 1871 Santals of Santal Parganas took up their arms. It reached its peak in June that year. Their leaders were Bhagirath Manjhi and Gyan Parganait. Both were caught and impersonal.
After the first war of Independence in 1857, the farmers started agitating which metamorphosed in the Sardari Larai and Birsa Munda’s ulgulaan.
At this juncture of the turbulent history of Jharkhand the Christian missionaries had well settled. It was started by four German missionaries who had established their base in Ranchi on 1 December 1854. They were sent by Mr. Gossnir of Berlin to work among Karm tribe of Burma. They reached Calcutta to receive orders for going there but American Baptists were already working there. Hence the mission authorities at Calcutta advised then to go elsewhere. By this turn these four missionaries met some posters belonging to Munda and Oraon tribes. They’re set plight enable then to work for the people. And thus they rushed to come to Ranchi.
Till 1850 they had failed to convert even a single tribal or the area and out of frustration they were planning to go back with bag and baggage doubt as part of their missionary activities free medical aid and opening schools in the interior villages were penetrating in the minds of the tribal but their religious preaching was unpalatable to them. However, on 9 June 1850 the four members of an Oraon family of Gobindpur were the first to get baptized. After getting this news, the Germans were so much overwhelmed that Mr. Gossner wrote in the newsletter: ‘the fishermen are fishing for the Lord’. He advised the missionaries to build a big church. On 26 October 1855 Sadho Munda and Mangta Munda became the first Munda converts.
In the meantime, the differences between the German Lutheran and the British Anglican Church had developed and ultimately they parted their ways. By 1857 about 900 person of 56 villages had become Christian. All the missionaries and the new Christian converts supported the British Government is suppressing the 1857 war of independence. Col. Dalton had even recommitted 200 Christian in the army. Therefore they had to incur the wrath of the revolutionaries. They ransacked the mission properties. The panic stricken missioners fled to safe places. On 15 April 1858 one of the captured leaders of the revolutionaries Thakur Vishwanth Sahi was hanged to death on a tree in the Lutheran Church compound, Ranchi. By the end of 1870 the number of Christian converts swelled to 15,144. The tribal were told by the missionaries that to become Christian was the best way to be free from the oppression of the landlord. In 1867 a petition signed by 14,000 Christian was presented to the Government in which serious complaints were levied against the Maharaja and the Commissioner Col. Dalton. The Government passed the Chotanagpur Tenures Act (Act II B.C. of 1869) under which special commissioners were appointed with powers to survey and demarcate the lands of the tenants or bhuinhari and of the landlords or manjhihas.
The Christian tribal refused to give beth begari or compulsory labour to the landlords. They even questioned the status of the Munda proprietors of Khuntkalti villages and didn’t pay the illegally enhanced rent of raja’s (King’s) land. And this gave rise to the Sardari Agitation of 1887. They gave petition to the Government to allow them to form village communities directly under Government. The missionaries unsuccessfully tried to convince them that it was an exercise in futility. As a result of which they became angry with the Church and started opposing even the missionaries. At Tilma and Tamar the Christian converts tried to seize and cultivate the manjhihas land but the main leaders were arrested and soothing untoward happened.
But within four years over 40,000 tribal were converted to Christianity. In 1889 several landlords gave a petition to the commissioner that the Roman Catholic Missionaries were unsettling the minds of the tribal in order to allure them to Christianity.
It was also a fact that the missionaries gave patient hearing to the complaints of the tribal. But they used to advised them to do all the services of the landlords as per their custom. In some villages the Christian, coerced their non-Christian brethren to adopt Christianity. In 1881 a new party came into being under the leadership of one John the Baptist. It setup a Raj at Doisa and one Masih Das of Baghi declared himself as Raja of Chotanagpur. This party sent a threading letter to the Munsif of Lohardaga. The Deputy Commissioner sensing the trouble put all the leaders of this party in jail. These agitations had drafted a charter of independence and their leaders filed a petition before the commissioner of Chotanagpur on 10 March 188 starting that their forefathers had came to Chotanagpur in very ancient times and they have never paid any rent to any Raja or zamindar. They would however pay the revenue to the British Government.
In November 1889 a large number of Kol Christian started converting the tribal by force from village to village.The Sardars cautioned the GEL Mission to not to interfere in their social, religion and intellectual development and property rights. On 17 September 1891 the Sardars became violent and planed uprising against the Thikadars and missionaries. But however it didn’t materialize due to their own contradiction. Disillusioned with the mission they broke with the Roman Catholic Church. The Oraon Sardars also set up their own independent Church and named it as Jhandia mission.
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