Peasant and Tribal Resistance�In British India

Apart from the general adverse impact on the country of�British rule like the drain of wealth and the promotion of�British manufactures in Indian markets causing the destruction�of Indian handloom and handicraft industries, there were a�variety of issues specifically affecting tribals and peasants which�contributed to unrest among these groups. These included

  • Land revenue settlements causing a heavy burden of new�taxes
  • Eviction of peasants from their lands and growing�encroachment on tribal lands
  • Increasing exploitation in rural society due to the�expanding role of intermediary revenue collectors,�tenants and money-lenders
  • Increasing burden of taxes making the peasants heavily�dependent on the mercy of the revenue intermediaries�and officials, merchants as well as money-lenders
  • Expansion of British revenue administration over tribal�areas leading to the loss of tribal people’s traditional�rights over agricultural and forest land
  • Destruction of indigenous industry leading to migration�of large scale workers from industry to agriculture thus�increasing the pressure on land resources even while the�land revenue and agricultural policy of the government�left little scope for the improvement of agriculture
  • Administrations indifference to the peasants’ grievances;�British law and judiciary did not aid the peasantry; it was�focused on protecting the interests of the government�and its collaborators-the landlords, the merchants and�the money-lenders.

Thus the pressure of colonial exploitation and denial of�justice from the colonial administration forced the peasants�to take up arms to protect themselves. The grievances of the�tribal people were similar to those of the peasants. But the�encroachment by outsiders into their independent tribal polity�made them angrier.

The Sanyasi Rebellion, 1763-1800

The East India Company’s official correspondence in the second�half of the eighteenth century referred many times to the�incursion of the nomadic sanyasis and fakirs, mainly in northern�Bengal. Even before the great famine of Bengal (1770) small�groups of Hindu and Muslim holy men travelled from place to�place and made sudden attacks on the store-houses of food crops�and property of the local rich men and government officers.

The sanyasis and fakirs were religious mendicants. But�originally they had been peasants, many of whom had been�evicted from their lands. The growing hardship of the peasantry,�increasing revenue demand and the Bengal famine of 1770�also brought a large number of dispossessed minor zamindars,�demobilised soldiers and the rural poor into the bands of sanyasis�and fakirs.

They moved around different parts of Bengal and Bihar�in large bands attacking the hoardings of food and property of�the landed gentry and government officers. They also looted�local government treasuries. Sometimes the wealth looted�was distributed among the poor. They even established an�independent government in Bogra and Mymensingh.

The Bhil Uprisings

The Bhils were a tribal group mostly concentrated in the hill�ranges of Khandesh. The British occupation of Khandesh�in 1818 enraged the Bhils because they were suspicious of�outsiders’ incursion into their territory. Moreover, it was�believed that Trimbakji, rebel minister of Baji Rao, instigated�the Bhils against the British occupation of Khandesh. There was�a general insurrection in 1819 and the Bhils in small groups�ravaged the plains. There were similar types of insurrections�quite often by the Bhil chiefs against the British. The British�government used military force to suppress the rebels and at the�same time tried to win them over through measures to assuage�their discontent. But the British measures failed to bring around�the Bhils and the uprisings continued for an extended period.

The Kol Insurrection, 1831-1832

The Kols of Singhbhum had for a very long time enjoyed�independent power under their chiefs. They successfully resisted�all attempts made by the Raja of Chota Nagpur and Mayurbhanj�to subdue them. The British penetration into this area and the�attempt to establish British law and order over the jurisdiction�of the Kol chiefs generated resentment among the tribal people.

As a consequence of British occupation of Singhbhum and�the neighbouring territories, many outsiders began to settle�in this area which resulted in transfer of tribal lands to the�outsiders. This transfer of tribal lands and coming of merchants,�money-lenders and the British law in the tribal area posed a�great threat to the independent hereditary power of the tribal�chiefs. This created great resentment among the tribal people�and led to popular uprisings against the outsiders in the tribal�area. The rebellion spread over Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Palamau�and Manbhum. The target of attack was the settlers from other�regions whose houses were burnt, and property looted. The�insurrection was ruthlessly suppressed by the British militia.

The Faraizi Disturbances

The Faraizi sect was founded by Haji Shariatullah of Faridpur.�Originally the Faraizi movement was fuelled by the grievances�of rack-rented and evicted peasants against landlords and�British rulers. The Faraizis under Dudu Miyan, the son of the�founder of the sect, became united as a religious sect with an�egalitarian ideology. His simple way of teaching and belief,�that all men are equal and land belongs to God and no one has�right to levy tax on it, appealed to the common peasants. The�Faraizis set up parallel administration in some parts of eastern�Bengal and established village courts to settle the peasants�disputes. They protected cultivators from zamindar’s excesses and�asked the peasants not to pay taxes to the zamindars. They raided�the zamindars’ houses and cutcheries and burnt the indigo factory�at Panchchar. The government forces supported by the zamindars�ultimately crushed the movement and captured Dudu Mian.

The Mappila Uprisings

Among the groups whose uprisings posed a grave challenge�to colonial rule repeatedly, the Mappila uprisings of Malabar�occupy an important place. Mappilas are the descendants of�the Arab settlers and converted Hindus. Majority of them were�tenants, landless labourers, small traders and fishermen. The�British occupied Malabar in the last decade of the eighteenth�century and the consequent changes that they introduced in�the land revenue administration of the area brought unbearable�hardship in the life of the Mappilas. The most important�change was the transfer of ‘Janmi’ from that of traditional,�partnership with the Mappila to that of an independent owner�of land and the right of eviction of Mappila tenants which did�not exit earlier. Over-assessment, illegal taxes, eviction from�land, hostile attitude of government officials were some of the�other factors that made the Mappilas rebel against the British�and the landlords.

Religious leaders played an important role in strengthening�the solidarity of the Mappilas through socio-religious�reforms and also helped in the evolution of anti-British�consciousness among the Mappilas. The growing discontent�of the Mappilas broke out in open insurrections against�the state and landlords. Between 1836 and 1854 there were�about twenty-two uprisings in Malabar. In these uprisings the�rebels came mostly from the poorer section of the Mappila�population. The target of the rebels was generally the British�officials, janmis and their dependents. The British armed forces�swung into action to suppress the rebels but failed to subdue�them for many years.

The Santhal Rebellion, 1855-56

The Santhals were inhabitants of the districts of Birbhum,�Bankura, Murshidabad, Pakur, Dumka, Bhagalpur and Purnea.�The area of maximum concentration of Santhals was Santhal�pargana. When the Santhals cleared the forest and started�cultivation in this area, the neighbouring rajas of Maheshpur and�Pakur leased out the Santhal villages to zamindars and moneylenders. Gradual penetration by outsiders (called dikus by the�Santhals) in their territory of brought misery and oppression�for the simple Santhals.

The zamindars, the police, the revenue authorities and�courts exercised a combined system of extortions, oppressive�exactions, forcible dispossession of property, abuse and�violence upon the Santhals. The oppression by money-lenders,�merchants, zamindars and government officials forced the�Santhals to take up arms in order to protect themselves. Their�initial protests were in the form of robbery and looting of�zamindars and money-lenders, houses. But violent suppression�of these activities and harassment of Santhals at the hands of�police and local officials made them more vehement. The rebel�Santhals were led by two brothers, Sidhu and Kanu, who were�believed to have received blessings from the Gods to bring an�end to the continuing oppression of the Santhals.

Several thousand Santhals armed with their traditional�weapons of bows, arrows, axes gave an ultimatum to the�zamindars and the government officials to stop oppression�immediately. They decided to get back control of their lands�and to set up their own government. When the authorities paid�no attention to this ultimatum, the grievances of the Santhals�erupted in armed insurrection against the government officials,�zamindars and money-lenders. The insurrection spread rapidly�in the whole of Santhal Pargana. Many low caste non-Santhals�also came out in support of the Santhals. The government and�zamindars launched counter-attacks on the insurgents and the�British superiority of arms ultimately suppressed this heroic�struggle.

Written by princy

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