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Santhal Rebellion, History, Upraising, Causes, Events and Significance

Santhal Rebellion

In modern-day Jharkhand, India, the Santhal people rose up in the Santhal rebellion against the British East India Company and the zamindari system. This uprising is also referred to as the Sonthal rebellion or the Santhal Hool. The East India Company imposed martial law on November 10, 1855, which lasted until January 3, 1856, when it was lifted and the rebellion was put down by Presidency forces. It started on June 30, 1855.

Sidhu, Kanhu, Chand, and Bhairav, the four Murmu Brothers, led the uprising. In order to prepare for the UPSC Civil Service Exam, this article will provide you with information on the Santhal Rebellion (1855–1856).

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Santhal Rebellion History

With the Battles of Plassey (1757) and the Battle of Buxar, the British East India Company took control of Indian provinces including Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa (1764). In Bengal and Bihar, Governor-General Lord Cornwallis put in place the Permanent Settlement System in 1793. Under this system, zamindars received hereditary, lifelong rights to the land in exchange for giving the British government a set amount of money each year. However this method resulted in widespread dissatisfaction among the local populace and the exploitation of peasants.

The Santhals were a tribal agrarian people who inhabited forests and relied on them for survival. The Damin-i-Koh region, which is now part of Jharkhand, was established by the East India Company in 1832, and Santhals were urged to reside there. Many Santhals accepted this offer and relocated there, but they quickly discovered that the area was ruled by zamindars, tax-collection agents employed by the East India Company who had significant economic sway.

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Santhal Uprising

Just two years before the insurrection of 1857, there was yet another rebellion against the British in North India. On one side, tribes utilised crossbows, and on the other, the British and their agents, the Zamindars, used the most advanced weapons. Regrettably, the epic Santhal revolt, which was fought in the forests of Jharkhand and West Bengal, is only briefly mentioned in our school history texts.

The core issue that the Santhal uprising addressed (the right to tribal lands) also served as the model for a more recent, deadly movement in India known as the Naxalite movement, which is still active today. The Santhal revolt was not only very significant.

A tribal group called the Santhals resides in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha. They worship their own gods and communicate in Santhali. Up to the 18th century, Santhals inhabited the region’s deep woodlands and engaged in hunting. Even still, their daily lives were significantly impacted by far-off political events. In addition, in 1793 CE, Lord Cornwallis launched the renowned Permanent Settlement or Zamindari system. According to this agreement, landlords would enjoy enduring and hereditary rights to the property as long as they gave the British government with a predetermined amount of money each year.

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Santhal Rebellion Causes

The Permanent Settlement System was put into place by the British East India Company in 1793. It gave zamindars (tax-collecting intermediaries) enduring and inherited rights to property in exchange for set payments made to the government. Yet, this arrangement provided zamindars considerable authority to oppress and enslave peasants, causing the Santhal community to harbor deep animosity.

Predatory lending practices resulted in the charging of astronomical interest rates on loans for many Santhals. They frequently lost their land and were made into slaves when they were unable to pay back these loans. The British police frequently assisted the zamindars and moneylenders in evicting the Santhals from their land through violent extractions. The Santhal community suffered a large loss of land ownership as a result of this.

Traditional social and political structures among the Santhals that had been in existence for generations were upended by the adoption of the Zamindari system and the presence of moneylenders. The Santhals were compelled to rely on moneylenders, which resulted in a significant debt load and rising poverty in the neighbourhood. Many Santhals made the decision to revolt against the British and the zamindars as a result of their economic suffering.

The Santhals had a history of bartering and had a hard time adjusting to the usage of money. Because of this, they frequently had to borrow money from moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates, which put them in a vicious circle of debt and made it difficult for them to pay the zamindars. Resistance to British policy and reclaiming their traditional way of life were the only options for getting out of this position.

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Santhal Rebellion Events

 June 30th, 1855
  •  Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu, two Santhal leaders, gathered around 10,000 of their fellow Santhals and proclaimed a revolt against the British East India Company. Their objective was to liberate their country from British domination. They organized their own forces, which included villagers, farmers, and even women. Phulo and Jhano, the Murmu brothers’ sisters, took part in the uprising as well.
Guerilla Fighting
  • The Santhal used guerilla tactics soon after the outbreak of rebellion. In communities all around the area, they targeted zamindars, moneylenders, and their allies. They seized a sizable portion of the region, including the Rajmahal Hills, Bhirbhum, and the Bhagalpur district. The villagers killed the cops when they tried to detain the Murmu brothers.
  • Moreover, the Santhal army hampered postal and railroad connectivity.
British Response
  • The British government despatched a small contingent to put down the uprising after recognizing it as a serious threat.
  • They initially failed, which stoked the insurrection even more. The East India Company dispatched more troops when the situation grew out of control.
  • Every available tools were used by the British government to quell the uprising, including the imposition of martial law, which was in effect from November 10, 1855, to January 3, 1856.
End Result
  • An estimated 15,000 Santhal peasants, including Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu, were slaughtered by the British soldiers, who also burned their villages.
  • While locals like milkmen and blacksmiths supported the Santhal uprising, landlords supported the government. Even though the uprising was eventually put down, it had a long-lasting effect on the Santhal community’s relationship with the British authority.

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Santhal Rebellion Significance

The British East India Company enforced the zamindari system on the local indigenous populations, and the Santhal Rebellion brought attention to how harsh it was. It also brought attention to the predatory behaviour of moneylenders, who took advantage of the native people’s ignorance of money and imposed astronomical interest rates on loans.

A sizable portion of the Santhal people lives in the state of Jharkhand, which was founded as a result of the revolt in 2000. The Naxalite movement, which sought to solve concerns of land rights and exploitation suffered by tribal tribes in India, was also influenced by it.

The uprising is seen as a watershed moment in the development of the contemporary Santhali identity and resistance against persecution. Also, it influenced the British government to enact the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act in 1876, which provided some tribal members with protection from exploitation. Ultimately, the uprising continues to mark a turning point in the development of modern Santhali identity and resistance against persecution.

Read More: Tribal Movements in India

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Who started Santhal rebellion?

Two years prior to the Great Rebellion of 1857, on June 30, 1855, two Santhal brothers named Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu organised 10,000 Santhals and declared an uprising against the British.

Why did Santhal revolt in 1855?

In the tribal region of what was then known as the Bengal Presidency, the Santhal uprising started as a response to the British East India Company's (BEIC) revenue system, usury practises, and the zamindari system in India.

Who suppressed Santhal revolt?

Martial law was imposed during the Santhal Rebellion, which started on June 30, 1855, and lasted until January 3, 1856, when it was lifted and the movement was brutally put down by British forces.

Who is the hero of Santhal rebellion?

The leaders of the Santhal insurrection (1855–1856) in present-day Jharkhand and Bengal (Purulia, Birbhum, and Bankura), eastern India, against the British colonial government and the corrupt zamindari system were Sidhu Murmu and Kanhu Murmu.

Who led the battle of Santhal?

On June 30, 1855, the Santhal insurrection, also known as the Hul revolt, was launched with the assistance of well-known commanders Sidhu, Kanhu, Chand, and Bhairav, as well as their two sisters Phulo and Jhano.

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