Tribal Issues | Part 2 | Pre Independence Tribal Revolts

We plan to take up two major revolts where the details can help you answer some static questions @IAS Mains. Post that, we will help you with a consolidated table on the all the major uprisings and revolts in India (leaving none!) and then will cover the revolts of North East India in a separate table.

The Santhal Uprising

Santhals: Live in Daman-i-koh= area between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal
Uprising = ‘hool’ in Santhal language

This was one of the most massive revolt

  1. A determined attempt to expel the outsiders — the dikus
  2. Proclaimed the complete ‘annihilation’ of the alien regime

Social conditions which drove them to insurrection

  • Zamindars, police, revenue & courts exercised a combined system of extortions, oppressive exactions, forcible dispossession of property, abuse & personal violence and a variety of petty tyrannies
  • Usurious interest on loans (50 – 500 %)
  • False measures at the haul and the market
  • Wilful and uncharitable trespass by the rich by means of their untethered cattle, tattoos, ponies and even elephants, on the growing crops of the poorer race

How did the fire broke?

  • By 1854, the tribal heads, the majhis and parganites, had begun to meet and discuss the possibility of revolting.
  • Stray cases of the robbing of zamindars and moneylenders began to occur.
  • 30 June, 1855- tribal leaders called an assembly of 6000 Santhals, representing 400 villages, at Bhaganidihi.
  • They decided to raise the banner of revolt, get rid of the dikus once and for all, to usher in Satyug- ‘The Reign of Truth,’ and ‘True Justice.’

Belief in the magic

They believed that their actions had the blessings of God. Sido and Kanhu, the principal rebel leaders, claimed that Thakur (God) had communicated with them and told them to take up arms and fight for independence.

Non tribal help

  1. Insurrection was helped by a large number of non-tribal and poor dikus.
  2. Gwalas (milkmen) and others helped the rebels with provisions and services;
  3. Lohars (blacksmiths) accompanied the rebel bands, keeping their weapons in good shape.


  • Government realized the scale of the rebellion & organized a major military campaign
  • Mobilized many regiments, declared Martial Law, offered rewards of upto Rs. 10,000 for the capture of various leaders
  • The rebellion was crushed ruthlessly
  • More than 15,000 Santhals were killed while tens of villages were destroyed.
  • Sido was betrayed and captured and killed in August 1855
  • Kanhu was arrested by accident at the tail-end of the rebellion in February 1866
  • ‘The Rajmahal Hills were drenched with the blood of the fighting Santhal peasantry.’


The Munda Rebellion

Rebellion = ‘ulgulan’ in Munda language | Leader = Birsa Munda


For over 30 years the Munda sardars had been struggling against the destruction of their system of common land holdings by the intrusion of jagirdar, thikadar (revenue farmers) and merchant moneylenders.

The Break Out:

  • Birsa had a vision of God & declared himself to be a divine messenger & possessing miraculous powers.
  • Thousands supported him, seeing a messiah in him.
  • Under the influence of the sardars, the religious movement soon acquired an agrarian and political form.
  • Birsa moved from village to village, organizing rallies and mobilizing his followers on religious and political grounds.
  • On Christmas Eve, 1899, Birsa proclaimed rebellion to establish Munda rule in the land.

The form of the revolt:

  • Encouraged ‘the killing of thikadars and jagirdars and Rajas and Hakims (rulers) and Christians.’
  • Armed with- swords, spears, battle-axes, and bows and arrows
  • Satyug would be established in place of the present-day Kalyug

The end:

Birsa was captured in the beginning of February 1900 and died in jail in June. The rebellion had failed. But Birsa entered the realms of legend.




This series is a part of How to crack the Tribal Issues for IAS Mains?. For a much detailed understanding, read up with all the post in this section as we develop this story in full.

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By B2B

Revisiting the Basics

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