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Santal Rebellion

The Santals (also spelled as Santhal) are the largest tribal community in India, found mainly in the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, and Orissa. There is also a significant Santal minority in neighboring Bangladesh.

The Santal Rebellion


The insurrection of the Santals was mainly against the corrupt moneylenders, zamindars and their operatives. Before the advents of the British in India they resided peacefully in the hilly districts of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Dhalbhum, Manbhum, Barabhum, Chhotanagpur, Palamau, Hazaribagh, Midnapur, Bankura and Birbhum. They started their agrarian way of life by clearing the forest and also engaged themselves in hunting for subsistence. But as the agents of the new colonial rule claimed their rights on the lands of the Santals they peacefully went to reside in the hills of Rajamahal. After a brief period of peace the British operatives with their native counterparts jointly started claiming their rights in this new land as well. The simple and honest Santals were cheated and turned into slaves by the zamindars and the money lenders who first appeared to them as business man and allured them first by goods lent to them on loans. These loans however hard a santal tried to repay never ended in fact through corrupt measures of the money lenders it multiplied to an amount for which a generation of the santal family had to work as slaves. Furthermore the santali women who worked under labour contractors were disgraced and abused. This loss of freedom that once which they enjoyed turned them into rebels.


On 30 June 1855, two great Santal rebel leaders, Sido Murmu and his brother Kanhu, mobilized ten thousand Santals and declared a rebellion against British colonists. The Santals initially gained some success but soon the British found out a new way to tackle these rebels. The legend is that the Santals so skilled in archery that they could shoot arrows extremely accurately and with great power. The British soon understood that there was no point fighting them in the forest but to force them come out of the forest, so in a conclusive battle which followed, the British, equipped with modern firearms and war elephants, stationed themselves at the foot of the hill. When the battle began the British officer ordered fire without loading bullets as the Santals could not trace this trap set by the much experienced British war strategy charged with full potential. This step proved to be disastrous for them, since as soon as they neared the foot of the hill the British army attacked with full power and this time they were using bullets. Thereafter attacking every village of the Santals, they made sure that the last drop of revolutionary spirit was annihilated. Although the revolution was brutally suppressed, it marked a great change in the colonial rule and policy. The day is still celebrated among the Santal community with great respect and spirit for the thousands of the Santal martyrs who sacrificed their lives along with their two celebrated leaders to win freedom from the rule of the Jamindars and the British operatives.

(Source Wikipedia)