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The 162 anniversary of Santhal Hool (Santhal insurgence of 1855) today gives opportunity to those who has been fighting for the cause of tribal’s sovereignty in Jharkhand to celebrate this historic occasion with double enthusiasm. Reason for celebrating this occasion specially this time was accelerated with the recent political development in the tribal state when the governor sent back the proposed bill of Jharkhand government of abolishing century old Stantal Parganas Tenancy Act (SPTA) and Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act (CNTA). Turning down of the bill by the governor was also considered a coramine for those in the state who are for front to state governmnet’s desire to abolish the special acts once mooted out by the than British for safeguarding the interest of the tribal mass.
The Santhal Hool, the first war against British colonialism in the world was a native rebellion by united force of half-necked illiterate poor tribals and local low caste people, was unit in the history. The war was against both the British colonial authority and upper caste zamindari system by the Santhal people. It started on June 30, 1855 and on November 10, 1855 martial law was proclaimed which lasted until January 3, 1856 when martial law was suspended and the movement was brutally ended by troops loyal to the British.
The entire movement of led by Sido, Kanhu, Chand and Bhairav, Murmu brothers native of Bhognadih presently falling under Sahebganj district.
The uprising of the Santhals began as a tribal reaction to racism and corrupt usury moneylending practices, and the zamindari system and their operatives, in the tribal hinterlands of what was then known as the Bengal Presidency. It was a revolt against the oppressive environment propagated by the colonial rule through a distorted revenue system and kept alive by the local zamindars, the police and the courts of the legal system set up by the British.
Actually, earlier Santals resided in the hilly districts of Manbhum, Barabhum, Chhotanagpur, Palamau, and Birbhum. They were known for the champions in the leading agrarian life style and mostly engaged themselves in clearing the forest and also by hunting for subsistence. Santhals settled in this region migrating from Birbhum, Bankura, Hazaribag and Rohtas between 1790 to 1810.After the arrival of British in the country, Santhals were engaged by them in this region mainly for clearing the forest lands. Another aim of British was also to counter the Paharia a militant community and the original sons of this soil, by giving more space to Santhals in this virgin region.
However the British soon started the role of ‘oppressive’ along with their native counterparts, mainly the local upper caste landlords and zamindars jointly started claiming their rights in this new land as well.
The nexus of Zamindars, money landers and the middle men turned exploiters for the Santhals who literary turned slaves for the influential people. The lives of the Santhals virtually turned in to hell. On the otherhand, the local government machineries, ie, the British too oppressive against the Santhals and their complains were not entertained at any level. P.C. Roy Chaudhary writer of the new Gazatteer of Santhal Praganas held the view that ” It was common practice for the hillmen to apply for grant of land on condition of cultivating it themselves but they frequently gave it to Santhals, in the hope of collecting rents from them. Baniyas and mahajans, made heavy exaction from the innocent Santhals and there was no check on them. The local administration was extremely corrupt. In the area where Santhals had settled in large numbers, the Naib Sazwals, assistants of the English superintendents, were greedy and oppressive”.
The police were equally corrupt. The Santhals were used to ready justice at no cost. But to add to their hardship they had to trek a long way, either to Jangipur in Murshidabad district or to Bhagalpur for justice as the civil and criminal courts were located there. If at all they could get the justice there, it proved too costly for them.
Besides, there was the ‘Kamauti’ system. The idea of it was repayment of a debt by physical labour. In practice, however the debtor worked in many cases for a generation or two and yet the loan, no matter how small, could not be repaid. The mahajans were crooked and took advantage of the meekness of Santhals.
The object of the Santhal uprising was the economic emancipation of the Santhals. The first spark of the revolt was ignited at Littipara. Kena Ram Bhagat was a leading merchant and moneylender of Amrapara. The altercation, which took place, led to the arrest of Baijai Manjhi, who was sent to Bhagalpur jail where he died shortly after without any trial. His son Singrai raised the banner of revolt who was also hanged in Barhait bazaar after summary trial. For a brief lull for about a month in September 1855, waves of rising continued upto December 1855.
The situation reached it’s climax with the murder of Mahesh Dutta alias Mahesh Daroga, a police officer in the hands of Santhal rebels after denial of justice. On 30 June 1855, the Santal rebel leaders, Sido and Kanhu, Murmu brothers, mobilized ten thousand Santhals and declared a rebellion against British colonists. Sidhu Murmu had accumulated about ten thousands Santhal to run parallel government against British rule. The basic purpose was to collect taxes by making his own laws. Apart from Santhals many local non tribals including the Paharias were also joined with Murmu brothers.
The declaration of Hool (revolt)prompted armed Santhals to raids on many villages and the Zamindars, money lenders and their operatives were put to death.
Bewildered British government initially arranged a small contingent to counter the rebels but it could not succeed and this further fueled the spirit of the revolt. When the law and order situation was getting out of hand the British finally took a major step and sent in large number of troops assisted by the local Zamindars and the Nawab of Murshidabad to quell the Rebellion. British had announced an award of Rs. 10,000 on the heads of Sidhu and Kanhu, brothers.
Battles, conflicts and raids become common but large number of casualties from the Santhals only reported. The primitive weapons of the Santhals, weren’t a match against the musket and cannon firepower of the British. Troop detachments from the 7th Native Infantry Regiment, 40th Native Infantry and others were called into action. Major battle started from July 1855 to January 1856, in places like Kahalgaon, Pirpainty, Pakur, Suri, Raghunathpur, and Munkatora.
The revolt was brutally crushed, the two heroes, Sido and Kanhu were killed in the false game played by the British. Elephants supplied by the Nawab of Murshidabad were used to demolish Santhal huts and likewise atrocities were committed by the British army and it allies in suppressing the rebellion.
According to the than government’s records, of the 60,000-odd tribesmen along with others who had been mobilized in the rebellion, more than 15,000 were killed, and dozens of villages were destroyed.
Well equipped British managed to win over the poor Santhals but the quotes of some British officials exposed what actually happened that time. British army officers like Major Jervis wrote : “”It was not war; they did not understand yielding. As long as their national drum beat, the whole party would stand, and allow themselves to be shot down. Their arrows often killed our men, and so we had to fire on them as long as they stood. When their drum ceased, they would move off a quarter of a mile; then their drums beat again, and they calmly stood till we came up and poured a few volleys into them. There was not a Sepoy in the war who did not feel ashamed of himself.”
The immediate effect of Santhal Hool was the creation of Santhal Parganas with a separate administrative set up, as a direct consequence of the Rebellion Santhal Pargana has been created as a separate district in 1855 by ceding portions of Bhagalpur (which is presently in Bihar) and Birbhum (which is presently in West Bengal) district. The entire Santhal Pargana along with portions of the present Hazaribagh, Munger,Jamui, Lakhisarai, Begusarai, Saharsa, a part of Purnia and Bhagalpur, districts was termed as “Jungle Terai” by the English on assumption of Diwani in Sept. 1763 from Shah Alam II at Allahabad after the Allahabad Treaty. Indian Rebellion of 1857 also gets influenced from it. Nonetheless, the legend of the Santhal Rebellion lives on as a turning point in Santhal pride and identity. This was reaffirmed, over a century and a half later with the creation of the first tribal province in independent India, Jharkhand.
Jharkhand however witnessed move against government’s approach to change SPTA and CNTA recently. The legend of the Hool once again played stimulant for the pro-tribal sentiments. “Sido and Kanhu brothers had established the essence of revolt for protecting the sovereignty of tribal societies and natives of this state would fight whenever it would feel danger,” said Sarmili Soren, a social activist at Dumka.