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Santhal Rebellion: A Historic Tale of Resistance

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The Santhal Rebellion, also known as the Sonthal Rebellion or the Santhal Hool, stands as a pivotal chapter in the history of Jharkhand and West Bengal. This rebellion, initiated by the Santhal community against the East India Company (EIC) and the oppressive zamindari system, unfolded between June 30, 1855, and January 3, 1856. Led by the formidable quartet of siblings – Sidhu, Kanhu, Chand, and Bhairav – the rebellion left an indelible mark on the struggle against colonial rule.

Background: Catalysts of Rebellion

The seeds of the Santhal Rebellion germinated in response to the exploitative revenue system imposed by the EIC, coupled with usury practices and the entrenched zamindari system. In the tribal belt of the Bengal Presidency, the Santhals rose against the shackles of colonial oppression perpetuated through a distorted revenue system and enforced by local zamindars, the police, and the British legal system.

Santhal Rebellion: A Historic Tale of Resistance

Santhal Pargana: A Fertile Ground for Rebellion

The Santhals inhabited a vast territory stretching from Hazaribagh to Medinipur along the Subarnarekha River, heavily dependent on agriculture. The 1770 Bengal famine profoundly affected these regions. In 1832, the EIC demarcated the Damin-i-koh region in present-day Jharkhand, inviting the Santhals to settle after the Paharia tribe declined the offer. The promises of land and economic benefits led to a significant influx of Santhals, with their population soaring from 3,000 to 83,000 between 1830 and 1850.

However, the rapid increase in the number of agriculturists became a double-edged sword. Mahajans and Zamindars, acting as intermediaries for the EIC, exploited the Santhals through corrupt money lending practices. The cycle of lending at exorbitant rates, followed by land seizures and forced bonded labor, fueled the discontent that eventually erupted into rebellion.

The Spark: Rebellion Ignites

On June 30, 1855, Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu, two prominent Santhal leaders, mobilized around 60,000 Santhals, declaring a rebellion against the EIC. Sidhu Murmu even established a parallel government, intending to collect taxes through his own laws. The rebellion aimed to dismantle the oppressive structures imposed by the colonial forces.

The initial declaration triggered a swift response from the Santhals, who took up arms against the Zamindars, money lenders, and their operatives in various villages. The unexpected and spirited resistance caught the Company administration off guard. Despite initial attempts to suppress the rebels, the situation escalated.

Santhal Rebellion: A Historic Tale of Resistance

The Clash: Rebellion Faces Opposition

As the rebellion gained momentum, skirmishes erupted across locations like Kahalgaon, Suri, Raghunathpur, and Munkatora. The Company administration, realizing the gravity of the situation, deployed a substantial force assisted by local Zamindars and the Nawab of Murshidabad to quell the uprising. A bounty of Rs. 10,000 was announced for the capture of Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu.

Several skirmishes ensued, resulting in significant casualties for the Santhal forces. The primitive weapons of the Santhals proved inadequate against the gunpowder weapons of the EIC army. Troop detachments from the 7th Native Infantry Regiment, 40th Native Infantry, and others were called into action.

Santhal Rebellion: A Historic Tale of Resistance

The Suppression: Tragedy Unfolds

Despite the valiant efforts of the Santhals, the rebellion faced insurmountable odds. Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu were eventually killed in action. The Company, aided by war elephants supplied by the Nawab of Murshidabad, ruthlessly demolished Santhal huts during the rebellion. The aftermath witnessed over 15,000 casualties, the destruction of numerous villages, and the displacement of many.

During the rebellion, the Santhal leader successfully mobilized approximately 60,000 Santhals, forming groups with 1500 to 2000 individuals each. The support extended beyond the Santhal community, involving poor tribals and non-tribals like Gowalas and Lohars, who provided crucial information and weapons. Other aboriginal inhabitants of the region, including Kamars, Bagdis, Bagals, also actively participated in the rebellion.

Conclusion

The Santhal Rebellion, a courageous uprising against the oppressive colonial forces, stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Santhal community. Despite facing overwhelming odds, their resistance echoes through history as a symbol of defiance against injustice.

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