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Monday, Sep 26, 2022

Explained: Four tribal revolts President Murmu invoked in her inaugural speech

Addressing the nation after being sworn-in, President Murmu spoke about her journey from a small tribal village in Odisha to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. She also invoked four tribal revolutions that she said had strengthened tribal contribution to the freedom struggle.

President-elect Droupadi Murmu being administered the oath of office by CJI Justice N.V. Ramana during a swearing-in ceremony, in the Central Hall of Parliament, in New Delhi, Monday, July 25, 2022. (PTI Photo/Rashtrapati Bhavan)

As she took oath as the 15th President of India Monday, Droupadi Murmu scripted history by becoming the country’s first tribal and only the second woman to occupy the country’s highest constitutional office.

Addressing the nation after being sworn-in, President Murmu spoke about her journey from a small tribal village in Odisha to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. She also invoked four tribal revolutions that she said had strengthened tribal contribution to the freedom struggle.

Santhal revolution

On June 30, 1855, over 10,000 Santhals were mobilised by their leaders — Kanho Murmu, Chand Murmu, Bhairab Murmu and Sidho Murmu – to revolt against the East India Company over oppression by revenue officials, zamindars, and corrupt moneylenders.

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The landmark event in tribal history, referred to as Santhal Hul, took place in Bhognadih village in present-day Jharkhand. Soon after their open rebellion, Santhals took to arms to resist imposition of East India Company laws.

The seeds of the protracted rebellion, however, were sown in 1832 where the East India Company created Damin-i-koh region in the forested belt of Rajmahal hills, and invited the Santhals to settle there. Over the years, Santhals found themselves at the receiving end of exploitative practices aided by the British.

After the rebellion broke out in 1855, both sides continued clashing till the uprising was crushed in 1856. The British defeated the Santhals using modern firearms and war elephants in decisive action in which both Sidho and Kanho died.

Paika rebellion

In several recent descriptions, the 1817 Paika Rebellion in Odisha’s Khurda is referred to as the “original” first war of Indian Independence.

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That year, the Paikas – a class of military retainers traditionally recruited by the kings of Odisha – revolted against the British colonial rulers mainly over being dispossessed of their land holdings.

In the run-up to the revolt, the British had dethroned and exiled the Khurda king in 1803, and then started introducing new revenue settlements. For Paikas, who were into rendering martial services in return for hereditary rent-free land (nish-kar jagirs) and titles, this disruption meant losing both their estates and social standing.

The trigger for the revolt came as some 400 Kondhs descended from the Ghumusar area to rise against the British. Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mohapatra Bharamarbar Rai, the highest-ranking military general of the banished Khurda king, led an army of Paikas to join the uprising of the Kondhs.

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The Paikas set fire to government buildings in Banapur, killed policemen and looted the treasury and the British salt agent’s ship docked on the Chilika. They then proceeded to Khurda and killed several British officials.

Over the next few months, the Paikas fought bloody battles at several places, but the colonial army gradually crushed the revolt.

Bakshi Jagabandhu escaped to the jungles, and stayed out of reach of the British until 1825, when he finally surrendered under negotiated terms.

Kol revolt

The Kols, tribal people from the Chhota Nagpur area, rose in revolt against the British in 1831. The trigger here too was gradual takeover of tribal land and property by non-tribal settlers who were aided by new land laws. The simmering discontent over economic exploitation of the original inhabitants, led to an uprising led by Buddhu Bhagat, Joa Bhagat and Madara Mahato among others. The Kols were joined by other tribes like the Hos, Mundas and Oraons.

The tribals fought with traditional weapons taking the battle to colonial forces who finally overpowered them with modern weaponry. The uprising, which spread to areas like Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Palamau, Manbhum and continued for almost two years before being snuffed out, mainly targeted colonial officials and private money-lenders.

Bhil uprising

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After the British intruded into the Bhil territory in Maharashtra’s Khandesh region, the tribals pushed back fearing exploitation under the new regime in 1818. The revolt was led by their leader, Sewaram and was brutally crushed using the British military might.

This uprising again erupted in 1825 as the Bhils sought to take advantage of reverses being suffered by the British in the first Anglo-Burmese war.

First published on: 25-07-2022 at 09:13:19 pm
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