India's independence struggle - Study Material 2 - Other uprisings in India - Munda, Indigo, Santhal, Sanyasi, Vellore


Not only was the 1857 Revolt a glorious chapter in modern Indian history, other heroes too valiantly struggled against the British yoke. Here, we study the stories of "Many other uprisings in India" including the Munda rebellion, the Indigo Revolt, the Santhal Uprising, the Sanyasi Rebellion, the Vellore Mutiny, and more.


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During the British Raj, many groups and communities rose in revolt across the nation from time to time. In this session, we will focus on some of the most important revolts and rebellions against the British, other than the 1857 revolt, or the 1857 war of independence.

A. The Munda Rebellion

A.1 Introduction

The Munda rebellion is one of the most important and prominent 19th century tribal rebellions in the subcontinent. Birsa Munda led this movement in the region south of Ranchi in 1899-1900. The Ulgulan (Great Tumult) was aimed at establishing Munda Raj and independence. The Mundas traditionally enjoyed a preferential rent rate as the khuntkattidar (original clearer) of the forest. But in course of the 19th century they had seen this khuntkatti land system being eroded by the jagirdars and thikadars coming as merchants and moneylenders. This content prepared by Civils Tapasya Portal by PT's IAS Academy,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comThis process of land alienation had not been started by the British but the establishment and consolidation of British rule accelerated the mobility of the non-tribal people into the tribal regions. The instances of forced labour or beth begari also increased dramatically. Unscrupulous contractors, moreover, had turned the region, into a recruiting ground for indentured labour. Yet another change associated with British rule was the appearance of a number of Lutheran, Anglican and Catholic missions. The spread of education through missionary activities made the tribals more organised and conscious of their rights. Tribal solidarity was undermined as the social cleavage between the Christian and non-Christian Mundas deepened. The agrarian discontent and the advent of Christianity, therefore, helped the revitalisation of the movement, which sought to reconstruct the tribal society disintegrating under the stresses and strains of colonial rule.,,

A.2 Birsa Munda

Birsa Munda (1874-1900), the son of a sharecropper who had received some education from the missionaries came under Vaishnava influence and in 1893-’94 participated in a movement to prevent village wastelands from being taken over by the Forest Department. In 1895 Birsa, claiming to have seen a vision of god, proclaimed himself a prophet with miraculous healing powers. Thousands flocked to hear the 'new word' of Birsa with its prophecy of an imminent deluge. The new prophet became a critic of the traditional tribal customs, religious beliefs and practices. He called upon the Mundas to fight against superstition, give up animal sacrifice, stop taking intoxicants, to wear the sacred thread and retain the tribal tradition of worship in the sarna or the sacred grove. (Sarna can be regarded as the sacred grove of Sar(sal) trees where the Goddess Anna resides). It was essentially a revivalist movement, which sought to purge Munda society of all foreign elements and restore its pristine character. Christianity influenced the movement as well and it used both Hindu and Christian idioms to create the Munda ideology and worldview.

A.3 Various aspects of the Munda rebellion,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comAn agrarian and political angle was then inserted into what initially was a religious movement. From 1858 onwards, Christian tribal Ryots had been on the offensive against alien landlords and bonded labor. This was the mulkai ladai (struggle for land) also known as the Sardari ladai. The complexion of Birsa Munda's religious movement changed through its contact with the Sardar movement. Initially the Sardars (tribal chiefs) did not have much to do with Birsa, but once his popularity swelled they drew on him to provide a stable base for their own weakened struggle. Though influenced by the Sardars, Birsa, however, was not their official colleague or spokesperson (mouthpiece) and despite the common agrarian background of the two movements, there were a lot of differences between them. The Sardars initially professed loyalty to the British and even to the Raja of Chhotanagpur and only wanted the elimination of intermediary interests. Birsa, on the other hand, had a positive political programme, his object being the attainment of independence, both religious and political. The movement sought the assertion of the rights of the Mundas as the real proprietors of the soil. This ideal agrarian order, according to Birsa, would be possible in a world free from the influence of European officials and missionaries, thus necessitating the establishment of the Munda Raj.

The British, who feared a conspiracy, jailed Birsa for two years in 1895, but he returned from jail, much more of a firebrand. A series of nocturnal meetings were held in the forest during 1898-’99, where Birsa allegedly urged the killing of thikadars, jagirdars, rajas, hakims and Christians.,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comThe rebels attacked police stations and officials, churches and missionaries, and though there was an undercurrent of hostility against the dikus (the outsiders), there was no overt attack on them except in a couple of controversial cases. On Christmas Eve 1899, the Mundas shot arrows and tried to burn down churches over an area covering six police stations in the districts of Ranchi and Singhbhum. Next, in January 1900, the police stations were targeted and there were rumours that Birsa's followers would attack Ranchi on 8 January, leading to panic there. On 9 January, however, the rebels were defeated. Birsa was captured and died in jail. Nearly 350 Mundas were put on trial and of them, three were hanged, and 44 transported for life.

The government attempted to redress the grievances of the Mundas through the survey and settlement operations of 1902-’10. The Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 provided some recognition to their khuntkatti rights and banned beth begari. Chhotanagpur tribals won a degree of legal protection for their land rights.  This content prepared by Civils Tapasya Portal by PT's IAS Academy

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B. The Indigo Revolt,,
Indigo planting was started in Bengal in 1777 by Louis Bonard. With the expansion of British power, the indigo cultivation became more and more commercially profitable because of large demand of blue dye in Europe. The indigo planters left no stone unturned in making profits. They mercilessly pursued farmers to grow indigo instead of food crops. They provided loans at very high interest rate. Once a farmer took this loan he remained indebted forever and passed it on to his successors. The price payed by the planters for this cash crop was very low, just 2.5% of the market price. The farmers were forced to sell at this price lest the planters would destroy their mortgage property. The governmental rules and regulations also favored the planters.

By the Act of 1833, the planters were given free hand resulting in increased oppression of the peasants. Even the zamindars, money lenders and other influential people favoured the indigo planters. Due to this severe oppression the farmers revolted. The farmers were in no possession of arms so it was purely a non-violent revolt.

The revolt started from Nadia where Bishnucharan Biswas & Digambar Biswas first took up arms against the planters. It spread like wildfire to Murshidabad, Birbhum, Burdwan, Pabna, Khulna, Narail etc and the indigo planters were put into public trial and executed. Indigo depots were burnt down. Many planters fled to avoid being caught. The zamindars also became the target. The revolt was mercilessly suppressed and a large number of peasants were put to death by the police and military. Only some zamindars supported the peasants of whom Ramratan Mullick of Narail is the most known.

B.1 Effect of the Indigo revolt,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comThe revolt had a strong effect on the government which immediately appointed "The Indigo Commission" in 1860. In the report E.W.L. Tower noted that "not a chest of indigo reached England without being stained with human blood". It was surely a major victory for the peasant to incite such emotions in European minds.  This content prepared by Civils Tapasya Portal by PT's IAS Academy

B.2 Cultural effects,,
Dinabandhu Mitra's 1859 play Neel Darpan is based on this revolt. It was translated into English by Michael Madhusudan Dutta and published by Rev. James Long (1814–1887), who was a humanist, educator and a missionary to India. It attracted much attention in England, where people were stunned at the savagery of their countrymen. The British Government sent Rev. Long to a trial and he was briefly imprisoned, and fined. Kaliprasanna Sinha paid the fine for him.

The play was the first play to be staged commercially at the National Theatre in Kolkata.

C. The Santhal Uprising,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comThe Santhal country extended from Bhagalpur in Bihar in the north to Orissa in the south, the centre being Damin-i-Koh (meaning the skirts of the hill), situated near the Rajmahal Hills, stretching from Hazaribagh to the borders of Bengal. The Santhal tribes reclaimed from wild jungles every square foot of arable land, where they cultivated and lived peacefully till the arrival of Bengali and other traders and merchants. The latter persuaded the Santhal peasants to buy luxury goods on credit, and later at harvest time forced them to pay back the loans along with interest. The balance against the Santhal in the mahajan-cum-trader's book increased year by year, till the poor peasant was compelled to give up, not only his crops but gradually his plough and bullocks, and finally his land, to meet the demands of the traders. As the debt grew upon them, many were reduced to bonded slaves pledging their future descendants to the service of the creditors' families.,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comThe leaders of the Santhal rebellion were two brothers - Sido and Kanu of Bhagnadihi. The rebellion swept across the entire Santhal region from Bihar to Orissa. Frustrated in their repeated attempts in the past to seek justice from courts and minions of the law, the peasants raised the cry - "Death to the money-lenders, the police, the civil court officers and the landlords!" It thus took on in effect the nature of an anti-feudal and anti-state movement. Notorious landlords, traders and mahajans were selected and killed. Later historians expressed their shock at the "brutalities" committed by the rebels, but perhaps chose to ignore the years of grinding brutality that the peasants had to suffer at the hands of the landlords and traders. The poor and landless peasants of other lower castes and village artisans also joined the Santhal rebels. They defeated the British troops in several encounters, forcing the colonial administration to declare martial law over a vast expanse from Birbhum and Murshidabad in Bengal to Bhagalpur in Bihar - the area where the rebels succeeded in destroying all semblance of British rule. The Santhal rebellion was finally crushed by the British troops. About 10,000 rebels perished in the unequal fight between peasants armed with bows and arrows on the one side and soldiers equipped with firearms, on the other.  This content prepared by Civils Tapasya Portal by PT's IAS Academy

D. The Sanyasi Rebellion,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comThe Sanyasi Rebellion refers to short period of a dozen odd years through the 1770s when the Hindu renunciates and Muslim "fakirs" who had taken to ascetic life along lines institutionalised in the Sanatan way of life rebelled against the British Empire.

The rebellion was limited to Murshidabad and Baikunthapur forests of Jalpaiguri, in north-west of the province.  There were three distinct extended events over a couple of decades which grouped together is called the Sanyasi rebellion.

A large number of ascetics called Sanyasis used to travel from North India to different parts of Bengal and beyond, and to shrines in north-east region including Assam. En route, they used to rely for monetary support on the village heads and local landlords. However, with "diwani" or collection rights won by East India Company, the regime's tax demands from the populace increased and local landlords and headmen were unable to provide support to the Sanyasis. Crop failures, and famine, which killed ten million people, or an estimated one-third of the population of Bengal, compounded the problems when much of the arable land lay fallow.  This content prepared by Civils Tapasya Portal by PT's IAS Academy

In 1771, about 150 of the renunciates were put to death by the British Company troops, for no apparent reason. It led to a violent retaliation, especially in Natore in Rangpur, now in modern Bangladesh. Some historians however argue that the particular reaction never gained popular support and hence could not be considered a major cause behind the rebellion.,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comThe other two movements involved a sect of Hindu ascetics, the Dasnami Naga sanyasis. It was alleged that they engaged in lending out money on interest while passing through the region and collected it on their way back. The British looked upon this as an encroachment on their domain and declared the Dasnamis as brigands, liable for criminal offense. They arranged not only for prevention of such money gathering, which right they felt belonged to the Company, but also to stop their entry into the province. The entire propaganda may have been a cover, since a large body of people on the move would always be a challenge and a possible threat to law and order administrators anywhere.,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comMany clashes occurred in the years following the Great Famine; but they continued sporadically up until 1802. During those last three decades of 18th Century the rebellion spread all over the province. The Company's forces tried to prevent the Sanyasis and fakirs from entering the province, or from collecting their money. They were met with resistance and fierce clashes often ensued. In these instances, the regime's troops were not always victorious, inviting cheers from the oppressed population of the day. The Company's hold was poor over territories in far-flung and forested areas of Birbhum and Midnapore districts, as a result of which it often faced reverses in their clash with Naga ascetics and suffered humbling losses.,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comThe Sanyasi rebellion was the first of a series of revolts that the British faced in western districts of Bengal province, which included practically the whole of present-day eastern states of Bihar, Odisha and Paschim Banga. The Chuar Rebellion of Midnapore and Bankura took place 1798-’99, Laik Rebellion in Midnapore extended through 1806-’16, and the Santhal Revolt posed a severe task in 1855-’56.

The inspiration the Sanyasi Rebellion gave to these uprisings that followed is without doubt. Later, it was instituted in vernacular literature by India's first modern novelist, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. His novel, Ananda Math (Monastery Of Bliss), inspired many a rebel in early 20th century and its song, Vande Mataram, is now the National Song of India.

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E. The Vellore Mutiny

The Vellore Mutiny was the first large scale mutiny by Indian sepoys against the British. Many historians see this as a precursor to the 1857 rebellion.. Even though this mutiny was short lived and lasted only one day, it was violent and bloody and mutineers stormed into the Vellore Fort and killed and wounded as many as 200 British soldiers. This sudden outbreak was suppressed by the British and around 100 mutineers were executed and a smaller number were court-martialed.,,

The main cause of this mutiny, like the 1857 rebellion, was a religious one too. The sepoy dress code was changed in 1805. Under the new dress code, the Hindu soldiers were not allowed to wear any kind of religious marks on their foreheads and it was made mandatory for Muslims to shave their beards and trim their moustache.

General Sir John Craddock, Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army, made it compulsory for all solders to wear a round hat, which was largely associated with Europeans and Christians in place of the turban they had been wearing. Both Hindus and Muslims were enraged by this. Rumours had also started circulating that this was the beginning of a process of converting them to Christianity. This further infuriated the soldiers.,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comThe British, on the other hand, made these changes thinking that they would improve the soldiers' looks. In May 1806, a few soldiers who protested against this change in uniform were sent to Fort St. George where they were given 90 lashes each, and then removed from the army. Nineteen other sepoys who protested were given 50 lashes each and were asked to apologize to the East India Company. This rebellion was further instigated by the sons of the deceased Tipu Sultan who were nursing many grudges against the British and helped the sepoys in their uprising.

The garrison of the Vellore Fort composed of four companies of the British Infantry and three battalions of the Madras Infantry. In the early hours of the morning 10th July, 1806, the sepoys began their attack and started by killing Colonel Fancourt who was commanding the garrison. Next to be killed was Colonel Me Kerras of the 23rd regiment, after which Major Armstrong was gunned down by the soldiers. Major Cootes who was outside the fort hurried to Ranipet and informed Colonel Gillespie who reached the fort immediately.  This content prepared by Civils Tapasya Portal by PT's IAS Academy

In the meantime, the rebels had announced Tipu Sultan's son Futteh Hyder as their new ruler and had hoisted a tiger flag atop the fort. This uprising was brought to an end by Colonel Gillespie. 800 Indian soldiers had died in this mutiny and 600 soldiers were imprisoned in Vellore and Tiruchi. Some rebels were shot dead by the British and some were hanged and eventually the mutiny was brought to an end.,, http://vartalapforum.PTeducation.comTipu Sultan's son was sent to Kolkata (then Calcutta) and the Commander-in-Chief and the Governor were recalled. Also, religious interference with the soldiers was done away with and so was flogging of soldiers in the Indian regiment. 

There is quite a bit of similarity in the Vellore Mutiny of 1806 and the Rebellion of 1857, though the latter was on a much larger scale and is often described as the first war of Indian Independence. In 1857, the sepoys tried to quell British rule by announcing Bahadur Shah Zafar as the Emperor of India, just like the mutinees tried to give power to Tipu Sultan's son in 1806. Apart from that, anger against disrespect of religious sentiments of the soldiers was another major cause of unrest.,,

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PT's IAS Academy: India's independence struggle - Study Material 2 - Other uprisings in India - Munda, Indigo, Santhal, Sanyasi, Vellore
India's independence struggle - Study Material 2 - Other uprisings in India - Munda, Indigo, Santhal, Sanyasi, Vellore
Not only was the 1857 Revolt a glorious chapter in modern Indian history, other heroes too valiantly struggled against the British yoke. Here, we study the stories of "Many other uprisings in India" including the Munda rebellion, the Indigo Revolt, the Santhal Uprising, the Sanyasi Rebellion, the Vellore Mutiny, and more.
PT's IAS Academy
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