Santhal Rebellion: Background, Causes and Significance

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Santhal Rebellion

The Santhal Rebellion was a significant chapter in the history of India’s journey to independence against colonial oppression by the British East India Company. This was the first peasant rebellion in India from the 30th of June, 1855. The numerous causes and consequences make the Santhal rebellion a topic of historical significance that throws light on the resilience and determination of indigenous tribal communities in the face of numerous British adversities. 

Who are the Santhal people?

The Santhal people are an indigenous tribal community mainly living in the areas of present-day Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Bihar in India. They are known for their culture, language, and traditional practices. The Santhal people have a rich history greatly rooted in their connection to their land. Moreover, the Santhals have long been recognised for their agricultural lifestyle and unique social structure.

Santhal Community

What was the Background of the Santhal Rebellion?

The mid-19th century marked a tumultuous period in India due to the British colonial expansion. The Santhal Rebellion is also known as the Santal Hool which erupted in 1855 as a reaction to the oppressive and exploitative practices imposed by the British East India Company.

The Santhals felt that they were increasingly marginalised as their land was encroached upon and further, they encountered economic exploitation at the hands of moneylenders and British revenue collectors. The feelings of frustration and discontentment were on simmer among the Santhal community. Finally, those feelings culminated in the outbreak of the rebellion which aimed to reclaim their independence and also oppose the British.

Also Read: Ryotwari System: About India’s Agricultural Past

Who were the Leaders of the Santhal Rebellion? 

The main leaders of the revolt were four Murmu brothers namely:

  • Sidhu 
  • Kanhu
  • Chand
  • Bhairav 

Together the four brothers led the rebellion against the British and invoked feelings of revolt among their community. 

Also Read: The Bengal Famine 1770

What were the Causes of the Santhal Rebellion?

The causes of the revolt were as follows:

  • In 1793, the British East India Company introduced the Permanent Settlement System.
  • Under the system, the zamindars achieved ownership of property by paying a fixed amount to the British.
  • Consequently, the Zamindars took advantage of their power and oppressed the peasants which led to bitterness among the Santhal community.
  • The Santhals were exploited as they had high-interest loans and then they lost their land and freedom.
  • The eviction of the Santhals was supported by the British officers who favoured the zamindars and moneylenders.
  • The Santhals were in debt as the standard social and political systems were turned upside-down.
  • The economic hardship pushed the Santhals to rebel against the British and Zamindars. 
Santhal Community

What was the Significance of the Santhal Rebellion?

The Significance of the Santhal Rebellion is as follows:

  • It brought attention to the oppressive nature of the zamindari system by the British East India Company on all communities in the region.
  • The Santhal Rebellion reclaimed the Santhali identity due to their resistance against the unjust systems of the British. 
  • In 1876, the British government passed the “Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act” which protected the tribal communities. 
  • It also emphasised the exploitative practices of moneylenders who took advantage of the lack of understanding of finances and charged excessive interest rates.
  • The creation of the state of Jharkhand in 2000 which is home to a significant population of the Santhal people.
  • It acted as a motivation for the Naxalite movement which sought to handle similar problems of land rights and exploitation faced by tribal communities in India.

Also Read: Mahalwari System of Land Revenue: History, Features, Impacts

How was the Santhal Rebellion Different from other Rebellions?

The Rebellion was different from other rebellions due to the following reasons:

  1. The Santhals were a marginalised indigenous community. The rebellion was due to the oppressive activities of moneylenders and the British.
  2. The Rebellion was mainly an agrarian revolt. The Santhals were farmers who faced high taxes, exploitative land regulations, and forced labour. Other rebellions focused on political and religious grounds whereas the Santhal Rebellion had only one purpose which was to retrieve their own lands and economic freedom. 
  3. Powerful tribal unity and organisation were shown during the Santhal Rebellion. The Santhals assembled a big army which was led by tribal leaders that used guerrilla combat tactics against the forces of the British. 

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Who started the Santhal Rebellion?

The Santhal Rebellion was started by Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu on the 30th of June, 1855 against the oppressive system of the British. They were also accompanied by two of their other brothers, Chand and Bhairav.

Who was the Viceroy of the Santhal Rebellion?

The Viceroy of India at that time was Lord Dalhousie. Lord Dalhousie came to India with the chief aim of consolidating British power. He was a dedicated authoritative figure who believed that India needed Western reforms for rapid development. He is mostly remembered for his Doctrine of Lapse.

Who were the two leaders of the Santhal rebellion?

The two leaders of the Santhal Rebellion were Sidhu Murmu and Kanhu Murmu. They led the rebellion from the grassroots phase and led more than 10,000 members of the community.

What is the Santhal Rebellion famous for?

The Santhal Rebellion was famous and memorable in the freedom struggle of India because it was the very first peasant rebellion that took place in India against the British. 

What is Santhal rebellion also known as?

The Santhal Rebellion is also known as the Santal Hool or Sonthal Rebellion. It pertained to the Santhal tribal community during British rule.

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