Peasant and Tribal Resistanceï¿½In British India
Apart from the general adverse impact on the country ofï¿½British rule like the drain of wealth and the promotion ofï¿½British manufactures in Indian markets causing the destructionï¿½of Indian handloom and handicraft industries, there were aï¿½variety of issues specifically affecting tribals and peasants whichï¿½contributed to unrest among these groups. These included
- Land revenue settlements causing a heavy burden of newï¿½taxes
- Eviction of peasants from their lands and growingï¿½encroachment on tribal lands
- Increasing exploitation in rural society due to theï¿½expanding role of intermediary revenue collectors,ï¿½tenants and money-lenders
- Increasing burden of taxes making the peasants heavilyï¿½dependent on the mercy of the revenue intermediariesï¿½and officials, merchants as well as money-lenders
- Expansion of British revenue administration over tribalï¿½areas leading to the loss of tribal people’s traditionalï¿½rights over agricultural and forest land
- Destruction of indigenous industry leading to migrationï¿½of large scale workers from industry to agriculture thusï¿½increasing the pressure on land resources even while theï¿½land revenue and agricultural policy of the governmentï¿½left little scope for the improvement of agriculture
- Administrations indifference to the peasants’ grievances;ï¿½British law and judiciary did not aid the peasantry; it wasï¿½focused on protecting the interests of the governmentï¿½and its collaborators-the landlords, the merchants andï¿½the money-lenders.
Thus the pressure of colonial exploitation and denial ofï¿½justice from the colonial administration forced the peasantsï¿½to take up arms to protect themselves. The grievances of theï¿½tribal people were similar to those of the peasants. But theï¿½encroachment by outsiders into their independent tribal polityï¿½made them angrier.
The Sanyasi Rebellion, 1763-1800
The East India Company’s official correspondence in the secondï¿½half of the eighteenth century referred many times to theï¿½incursion of the nomadic sanyasis and fakirs, mainly in northernï¿½Bengal. Even before the great famine of Bengal (1770) smallï¿½groups of Hindu and Muslim holy men travelled from place toï¿½place and made sudden attacks on the store-houses of food cropsï¿½and property of the local rich men and government officers.
The sanyasis and fakirs were religious mendicants. Butï¿½originally they had been peasants, many of whom had beenï¿½evicted from their lands. The growing hardship of the peasantry,ï¿½increasing revenue demand and the Bengal famine of 1770ï¿½also brought a large number of dispossessed minor zamindars,ï¿½demobilised soldiers and the rural poor into the bands of sanyasisï¿½and fakirs.
They moved around different parts of Bengal and Biharï¿½in large bands attacking the hoardings of food and property ofï¿½the landed gentry and government officers. They also lootedï¿½local government treasuries. Sometimes the wealth lootedï¿½was distributed among the poor. They even established anï¿½independent government in Bogra and Mymensingh.
The Bhil Uprisings
The Bhils were a tribal group mostly concentrated in the hillï¿½ranges of Khandesh. The British occupation of Khandeshï¿½in 1818 enraged the Bhils because they were suspicious ofï¿½outsiders’ incursion into their territory. Moreover, it wasï¿½believed that Trimbakji, rebel minister of Baji Rao, instigatedï¿½the Bhils against the British occupation of Khandesh. There wasï¿½a general insurrection in 1819 and the Bhils in small groupsï¿½ravaged the plains. There were similar types of insurrectionsï¿½quite often by the Bhil chiefs against the British. The Britishï¿½government used military force to suppress the rebels and at theï¿½same time tried to win them over through measures to assuageï¿½their discontent. But the British measures failed to bring aroundï¿½the Bhils and the uprisings continued for an extended period.
The Kol Insurrection, 1831-1832
The Kols of Singhbhum had for a very long time enjoyedï¿½independent power under their chiefs. They successfully resistedï¿½all attempts made by the Raja of Chota Nagpur and Mayurbhanjï¿½to subdue them. The British penetration into this area and theï¿½attempt to establish British law and order over the jurisdictionï¿½of the Kol chiefs generated resentment among the tribal people.
As a consequence of British occupation of Singhbhum andï¿½the neighbouring territories, many outsiders began to settleï¿½in this area which resulted in transfer of tribal lands to theï¿½outsiders. This transfer of tribal lands and coming of merchants,ï¿½money-lenders and the British law in the tribal area posed aï¿½great threat to the independent hereditary power of the tribalï¿½chiefs. This created great resentment among the tribal peopleï¿½and led to popular uprisings against the outsiders in the tribalï¿½area. The rebellion spread over Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Palamauï¿½and Manbhum. The target of attack was the settlers from otherï¿½regions whose houses were burnt, and property looted. Theï¿½insurrection was ruthlessly suppressed by the British militia.
The Faraizi Disturbances
The Faraizi sect was founded by Haji Shariatullah of Faridpur.ï¿½Originally the Faraizi movement was fuelled by the grievancesï¿½of rack-rented and evicted peasants against landlords andï¿½British rulers. The Faraizis under Dudu Miyan, the son of theï¿½founder of the sect, became united as a religious sect with anï¿½egalitarian ideology. His simple way of teaching and belief,ï¿½that all men are equal and land belongs to God and no one hasï¿½right to levy tax on it, appealed to the common peasants. Theï¿½Faraizis set up parallel administration in some parts of easternï¿½Bengal and established village courts to settle the peasantsï¿½disputes. They protected cultivators from zamindar’s excesses andï¿½asked the peasants not to pay taxes to the zamindars. They raidedï¿½the zamindars’ houses and cutcheries and burnt the indigo factoryï¿½at Panchchar. The government forces supported by the zamindarsï¿½ultimately crushed the movement and captured Dudu Mian.
The Mappila Uprisings
Among the groups whose uprisings posed a grave challengeï¿½to colonial rule repeatedly, the Mappila uprisings of Malabarï¿½occupy an important place. Mappilas are the descendants ofï¿½the Arab settlers and converted Hindus. Majority of them wereï¿½tenants, landless labourers, small traders and fishermen. Theï¿½British occupied Malabar in the last decade of the eighteenthï¿½century and the consequent changes that they introduced inï¿½the land revenue administration of the area brought unbearableï¿½hardship in the life of the Mappilas. The most importantï¿½change was the transfer of ‘Janmi’ from that of traditional,ï¿½partnership with the Mappila to that of an independent ownerï¿½of land and the right of eviction of Mappila tenants which didï¿½not exit earlier. Over-assessment, illegal taxes, eviction fromï¿½land, hostile attitude of government officials were some of theï¿½other factors that made the Mappilas rebel against the Britishï¿½and the landlords.
Religious leaders played an important role in strengtheningï¿½the solidarity of the Mappilas through socio-religiousï¿½reforms and also helped in the evolution of anti-Britishï¿½consciousness among the Mappilas. The growing discontentï¿½of the Mappilas broke out in open insurrections againstï¿½the state and landlords. Between 1836 and 1854 there wereï¿½about twenty-two uprisings in Malabar. In these uprisings theï¿½rebels came mostly from the poorer section of the Mappilaï¿½population. The target of the rebels was generally the Britishï¿½officials, janmis and their dependents. The British armed forcesï¿½swung into action to suppress the rebels but failed to subdueï¿½them for many years.
The Santhal Rebellion, 1855-56
The Santhals were inhabitants of the districts of Birbhum,ï¿½Bankura, Murshidabad, Pakur, Dumka, Bhagalpur and Purnea.ï¿½The area of maximum concentration of Santhals was Santhalï¿½pargana. When the Santhals cleared the forest and startedï¿½cultivation in this area, the neighbouring rajas of Maheshpur andï¿½Pakur leased out the Santhal villages to zamindars and moneylenders. Gradual penetration by outsiders (called dikus by theï¿½Santhals) in their territory of brought misery and oppressionï¿½for the simple Santhals.
The zamindars, the police, the revenue authorities andï¿½courts exercised a combined system of extortions, oppressiveï¿½exactions, forcible dispossession of property, abuse andï¿½violence upon the Santhals. The oppression by money-lenders,ï¿½merchants, zamindars and government officials forced theï¿½Santhals to take up arms in order to protect themselves. Theirï¿½initial protests were in the form of robbery and looting ofï¿½zamindars and money-lenders, houses. But violent suppressionï¿½of these activities and harassment of Santhals at the hands ofï¿½police and local officials made them more vehement. The rebelï¿½Santhals were led by two brothers, Sidhu and Kanu, who wereï¿½believed to have received blessings from the Gods to bring anï¿½end to the continuing oppression of the Santhals.
Several thousand Santhals armed with their traditionalï¿½weapons of bows, arrows, axes gave an ultimatum to theï¿½zamindars and the government officials to stop oppressionï¿½immediately. They decided to get back control of their landsï¿½and to set up their own government. When the authorities paidï¿½no attention to this ultimatum, the grievances of the Santhalsï¿½erupted in armed insurrection against the government officials,ï¿½zamindars and money-lenders. The insurrection spread rapidlyï¿½in the whole of Santhal Pargana. Many low caste non-Santhalsï¿½also came out in support of the Santhals. The government andï¿½zamindars launched counter-attacks on the insurgents and theï¿½British superiority of arms ultimately suppressed this heroicï¿½struggle.
Written by princy