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Popular Uprisings During British India

The Sanyasi Rebellion, 1763-1800

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the East India Company's official correspondence repeatedly mentioned the invasion of tribal sanyasis and fakirs, primarily in northern Bengal.

Even prior to the Bengal famine (1770), small groups of Hindu and Muslim holy men travelled from location to location, launching surprise attacks on food storage facilities, the property of local affluent men, and government officials.

Sanyasi and fakir groups were religiously disciplined. They were, however, initially peasants, the majority of whom had been evicted from their land. The increasing hardships of the peasantry increased income demand, and the Bengal famine of 1770 also drew a large number of dispossessed small zamindars, disarmed soldiers, and rural poor to the bands of sanyasis and fakirs.

They moved in large gangs throughout Bengal and Bihar, attacking the food and property hoardings of the landed nobility and government personnel. Additionally, they plundered the treasuries of municipal governments.

At times, seized funds are distributed to the destitute. They even established an independent government in Bogra and Mymensingh.

The Bhil Uprisings

The Bhils were a tribal people that lived primarily in Khandesh's mountain regions.

The British occupation of Khandesh in 1818 enraged the Bhils, who were frightened of foreign invaders.

Additionally, Trimbakji, Baji Rao's rebel minister, was suspected of inspiring the Bhils to revolt against British control. In 1819, there was a general rebellion, and the Bhils systematically destroyed the plains. Similar insurrections against the British by Bhil leaders occurred frequently. The British government used military force to destroy the rebels while simultaneously attempting to alleviate their distress with softening measures.

However, British efforts failed to apprehend the Bhils, and the uprisings lasted an extended period.

The Kol Insurrection, 1831-1832

For a long period of time, the Kols of Singhbhum were self-governing. They resisted all attempts by the Raja of Chota Nagpur and Mayurbhanj to apprehend them. The British conquest of this region and subsequent attempt to impose British law and order over the jurisdiction of the Kol chiefs sowed discontent among the tribal people.

Due to the British dominance over Singhbhum and the surrounding territories, a considerable number of strangers began settling in this area, culminating in the transfer of tribal lands to foreigners.

  • This transfer of tribal holdings and the subsequent presence of merchants, moneylenders, and British law in tribal territory posed a severe threat to the tribal chiefs' independence.

  • This engendered widespread hostility among the tribal inhabitants and resulted in popular uprisings against intruders in tribal land.

  • The rebellion also impacted Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Palamau, and Manbhum. The raid targeted residents from neighbouring regions, who had their homes set on fire and their belongings looted. The uprising was brutally suppressed by the British militiamen.

The Faraizi Disturbances

The Faraizi sect was founded by Haji Shariatullah of Faridpur. The Faraizi movement was initially inspired by peasants' grievances against landlords and British authorities.

The Faraizis formed an equal worldview religious sect under the leadership of Dudu Miyan, the group's founder's son. His direct message and conviction that all people are equal and that all land belongs to God and that no one has the authority to tax it resonated with common peasants.

The Faraizis established alternative administrations and village courts in several areas of eastern Bengal to address peasant disputes. They defended cultivators from zamindar excesses and urged peasants to avoid paying zamindar levies. They invaded the homes and cutcherries of the zamindars and set fire to the Panchchar indigo plant.

Eventually, with the assistance of the zamindars, the government soldiers crushed the insurrection and took Dudu Mian.

The Mappila Uprisings

The Malabar Mappila uprisings are important among the communities whose uprisings regularly provided a severe challenge to colonial control. Mappilas originated with Arabic colonists and Hindu converts. They were mostly tenant farmers, landless labourers, small business owners, and fishermen. The British acquired Malabar in the late eighteenth century, and their reforms to the area's land revenue system caused the Mappilas terrible hardship.

The most notable change was Janmi's metamorphosis from a customary partnership with the Mappila to an autonomous landowner with the ability to evict Mappila tenants who had not previously gone.

  • Over-assessment, tax evasion, eviction from land, and a hostile attitude toward government authorities all contributed to the Mappilas' insurrection against the British and landowners.

  • Religious leaders made important contributions to Mappila solidarity through socio-religious reforms and also led to the Mappilas developing an anti-British attitude.

The Mappilas' mounting rage culminated in open revolts against the state and landlords. Malabar experienced around twenty-two uprisings between 1836 and 1854. These revolutions were largely led by rebels from Mappila's poorer regions.

British officials, janmis, and their relatives were the prime targets of the insurgents. British armed forces launched an assault on the rebels but were unable to vanquish them for several years.

The Santhal Rebellion, 1855–56

The Santhals were located in the districts of Birbhum, Bankura, Murshidabad, Pakur, Dumka, Bhagalpur, and Purnea. Santhal pargana had the greatest population density of Santhals. When the Santhals cleared the forest and established agriculture in this region, the neighbouring rajas of Maheshpur and Pakur leased the Santhal villages to zamindars and moneylenders.

Gradual invasions of their land by strangers (whom the Santhals refer to as dikus) led to hardship and suffering for the simple Santhals.

The zamindars, police, tax officials, and courts collaborated to thoroughly exploit the Santhals through extortion, unjust property seizures, forced property transfers, abuse, and violence.

The Santhals armed themselves in response to their tyranny at the hands of moneylenders, merchants, zamindars, and government officials. Their initial manifestations were the theft and looting of zamindars and moneylenders, as well as the plunder of private dwellings. However, the armed battle surrounding these events strengthened them, as did the harassment of Santhals by police and local officials.

Two Brothers

The Santhals rebelled under the leadership of two brothers, Sidhu and Kanu, who were believed to have received supernatural blessings to end the Santhals' continuing misery.

Several thousand Santhals, armed with their customary bows, arrows, and axes, delivered an ultimatum to zamindars and government officials, demanding that the torture be immediately halted.

They chose to recover their land and form their own government. When the authorities ignored the Santhals' ultimatum, their rage erupted into an armed rebellion against government officials, zamindars, and moneylenders.

  • The rebellion spread rapidly throughout Santhal Pargana. Numerous non-Santhals from lower castes have also shown solidarity with the Santhals.

  • The government and zamindars launched counter-offensives against the revolutionaries, and British military superiority ultimately brought this valiant battle to a conclusion.


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