Tribal and Peasant Revolts Uprising (UPSC PPT, PDF Download)

Tribal and Peasant Revolts (Uprising)

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  • India, a land of diversity, is also a tapestry woven with tales of resistance and rebellion. Tribal and peasant revolts in India, rooted in historical injustices and socio-economic disparities, have significantly shaped the nation’s trajectory. These movements, echoing the voices of the marginalized, have challenged exploitation, cultural suppression, and political disenfranchisement. This article delves into the historical context, causes, notable examples, and enduring impact of tribal and peasant revolts in India.

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Tribal and Peasant Revolts in India

India has a rich history of tribal and peasant revolts, dating back to the pre-independence era and continuing into the post-independence period. These revolts have been sparked by issues such as land rights, social injustice, economic exploitation, and cultural identity. Here are some notable tribal and peasant revolts in India:

Tribal Revolts:

  1. Santhal Rebellion (1855-1856): Also known as the Santhal Hool, this rebellion was led by the Santhal tribe in present-day Jharkhand, Bihar, and West Bengal. It was against exploitative practices of landlords and moneylenders and is one of the earliest tribal uprisings against British rule.
  2. Birsa Munda Rebellion (1899-1900): Birsa Munda, a tribal leader, led the Munda Rebellion in Bihar (now in Jharkhand). The rebellion was a response to exploitative practices and demands for tribal rights, land, and cultural preservation.
  3. Telangana Rebellion (1946-1951): The Telangana Rebellion was a communist-led peasant uprising against the feudal lords and the Nizam’s rule in the princely state of Hyderabad (now in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh). Peasants demanded land reforms and better working conditions.
  4. Naxalite Movement (Late 1960s – Present): The Naxalite movement, inspired by Maoist ideology, began in the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal. It has spread to various states and involves tribal communities and peasants demanding land rights, social equality, and an end to exploitation.

Peasant Revolts:

  1. Bardoli Satyagraha (1928): Led by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Bardoli, Gujarat, this nonviolent resistance was against an unjust tax imposed by the British colonial administration. It highlighted the power of nonviolent protest in achieving social and political change.
  2. Tebhaga Movement (1946-1947): The Tebhaga movement was a peasant movement in Bengal (now in West Bengal and Bangladesh). Peasants demanded a reduction in the share of the crop that landlords could claim, advocating for a two-thirds share for themselves.
  3. Chipko Movement (1970s): Although not exclusively a peasant movement, the Chipko movement had significant peasant participation. It was an environmental movement in Uttarakhand, where villagers, including peasants, protested against deforestation and the indiscriminate felling of trees.
  4. Farmers’ Protests (2010s – Present): In recent years, India has witnessed several farmers’ protests, primarily in states like Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. Farmers have been protesting against agricultural policies, demanding loan waivers, fair prices for their crops, and the repeal of controversial agricultural laws passed by the government.

These movements reflect the ongoing struggles of tribal communities and peasants in India against various forms of exploitation and injustice, both historical and contemporary.


Peasant Movements with Religious Overtones:

  • In the historical landscape of peasant movements in colonial India, religious sentiments often became a driving force behind social uprisings. One such instance was the Narkelberia Uprising in West Bengal, led by Mir Nithar Ali (1782-1831), famously known as Titu Mir. The movement began as a protest against the imposition of a beard-tax by Hindu landlords and British indigo planters on Muslim tenants. Regarded as the first armed peasant uprising against the British, the revolt eventually acquired a religious dimension. It became intertwined with the Wahabi movement, showcasing the amalgamation of socio-economic grievances with religious fervor.

The Pagal Panthis: A Semi-Religious Rebellion

  • Another notable movement with religious undertones was initiated by the Pagal Panthi, a semi-religious group primarily comprising the Hajong and Garo tribes of the Mymensingh district in Bengal. Founded by Karam Shah, this group organized tribal peasants under the leadership of Karam Shah’s son, Tipu, to resist the oppression imposed by local zamindars. Although the government attempted to introduce equitable arrangements to protect these peasants, the movement faced brutal suppression, highlighting the challenges faced by tribal communities in defending their rights against powerful landlords.

The Faraizi Revolt: Advocating Radical Change

  • The Faraizis, followers of a Muslim sect founded by Haji Shariat-Allah of Faridpur in Eastern Bengal, advocated for radical religious, social, and political transformations. Under the leadership of Shariat-Allah’s son, Dadu Mian (1819-60), the Faraizis organized with the goal of expelling the English intruders from Bengal. Many Faraizis joined the ranks of the Wahabi movement, reflecting the alignment of their religious convictions with the broader anti-colonial struggle.

Moplah Uprisings: Hindu-Muslim Discord Amidst Peasant Unrest

  • Peasant unrest among the Moplahs of Malabar was fueled by increased revenue demands and reductions in field sizes, coupled with official oppression. The second Moplah uprising gained momentum when the Moplahs found support from the Congress and Khilafat supporters during the Non-cooperation Movement. However, Hindu-Muslim differences created a rift between the Congress and the Moplahs, highlighting the complexity of aligning religious and political motivations within the context of peasant movements.

In these instances, the fusion of religious beliefs with agrarian discontent played a pivotal role in shaping the course of peasant uprisings, underlining the multifaceted nature of these movements in colonial India.

Early Peasant Movements in Colonial India

Indigo Revolt (1859-60):

  • The Indigo Revolt of 1859-60, situated in Bengal, was a significant uprising against the exploitation of local peasants by European indigo planters. These planters coerced the peasants into cultivating indigo on their lands instead of more lucrative crops like rice. Exploitation took various forms, including forcing peasants to take advance payments and enter into deceitful contracts. The breaking point came in 1859 when peasants, led by figures like Digambar Biswas and Bishnu Biswas from Nadia district, united in their refusal to grow indigo under duress and resisted the physical pressure imposed by the planters. In response to this resistance, the planters resorted to tactics such as evictions and increased rents in an attempt to maintain control.
  • Crucially, the Bengali intelligentsia played a pivotal role by supporting the peasants’ cause, adding intellectual weight to the revolt. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Government appointed an indigo commission to investigate the problem of indigo cultivation. Following the commission’s recommendations, the Government issued a significant notification in November 1860. This notification stipulated that the ryots (peasants) could not be compelled to grow indigo and ensured that all disputes would be resolved through legal means. This decision marked a turning point, granting the peasants legal protection against the exploitative practices of the indigo planters and bringing an end to this oppressive chapter in Bengal’s agricultural history.

Pabna Agrarian Leagues (1870s-1880s):

  • During the 1870s and 1880s, significant parts of Eastern Bengal were marred by agrarian unrest due to the oppressive practices of zamindars. These landlords imposed exorbitant rents beyond legal limits and denied tenants the opportunity to acquire occupancy rights. In response, the peasants of Yusufshahi Pargana in Patna district formed the Pabna Agrarian Leagues, a collective effort to resist the unjust demands of the zamindars.
  • The league employed a nonviolent tactic: a rent strike. Peasants, known as ryots, refused to pay the enhanced rents and instead challenged the zamindars in courts. The primary mode of struggle was legal resistance, with minimal violence involved. Remarkably, many peasants successfully acquired occupancy rights and effectively resisted the imposition of enhanced rents through this method.
  • Furthermore, the government responded to the peasants’ plight by promising to introduce legislation safeguarding tenants from the worst aspects of zamindari oppression. This commitment materialized in 1885 with the passing of the Bengal Tenancy Act. This legislation played a crucial role in protecting the rights of tenants and curbing the exploitative practices of zamindars.
  • Notably, the Pabna Agrarian Leagues received support from influential Indian intellectuals, including figures such as Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, R.C. Dutt, and the Indian Association under the leadership of Surendranath Banerjea. Their backing added intellectual and moral weight to the peasants’ cause, reinforcing the significance of the movement in the struggle for agrarian justice in Eastern Bengal.

Deccan Riots (1874-1879):

  • In the Deccan region of western India, the ryots (peasants) were burdened by heavy taxation imposed under the Ryotwari system. Making matters worse, moneylenders, predominantly outsiders from regions like Marwar and Gujarat, exacerbated their woes. The situation took a turn for the worse due to a sharp decline in cotton prices following the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1864, coupled with the government’s decision to raise land revenue by 50% in 1867 and a series of poor harvests.
  • By 1874, the mounting tension between the local ryots and the “outsider” moneylenders reached a breaking point, leading to a significant social boycott movement organized by the ryots against these lenders. This movement, borne out of desperation and frustration, was a form of protest against the exploitative practices of the moneylenders.
  • In response to the agitation, the government employed repressive measures to quell the movement. However, recognizing the need for reconciliation, the Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act was enacted in 1879. This legislative measure was introduced as a conciliatory gesture, aimed at mitigating the financial burden on the ryots and addressing their grievances. The Deccan Riots and the subsequent introduction of the Relief Act underscored the challenges faced by the peasants in the Deccan region and the significance of legislative interventions in addressing socio-economic disparities in colonial India.

The Kisan Sabha Movement (1918-1922):

  • The Kisan Sabha Movement in British India, particularly in the United Provinces (present-day Uttar Pradesh), emerged as a response to the oppressive practices of big landlords and taluqdars who regained control over lands after the 1857 revolt. This resurgence of landlords led to exorbitant rents, summary evictions, illegal levies, renewal fees, and other exploitative measures imposed on the majority of cultivators.
  • In 1918, inspired by the Home Rule activists, kisan sabhas (peasants’ organizations) were established in Uttar Pradesh. The United Provinces Kisan Sabha was founded in February 1918 under the leadership of Gauri Shankar Mishra and Indra Narayan Dwivedi. Other influential leaders included Jhinguri Singh, Durgapal Singh, and Baba Ramchandra. The movement gained further momentum when the Awadh Kisan Sabha was formed in October 1920, driven by disagreements within the nationalist ranks. The Awadh Kisan Sabha advocated for kisans to resist tilling bedakhali land (lands taken away from peasants), refuse to offer hari and begar (forms of unpaid labor), boycott those who didn’t comply, and resolve disputes through traditional panchayats (village councils).
  • The focal points of this movement were primarily the districts of Rai Bareilly, Faizabad, and Sultanpur. The Kisan Sabha Movement played a crucial role in empowering the agrarian community, providing them with a platform to voice their grievances, and fostering a sense of solidarity among peasants against the exploitative practices of landlords and the colonial administration. This movement marked a significant chapter in India’s struggle for independence, highlighting the resilience and collective strength of the rural populace in the face of economic and social injustices.

Eka Movement (1921-1922):

  • In the closing months of 1921, a wave of peasant discontent surged in certain northern districts of the United Provinces, specifically in Hardoi, Bahraich, and Sitapur. This uprising, known as the Eka Movement, was propelled by several pressing issues that afflicted the local peasants. One of the central grievances was the exorbitant rents imposed on them, which were a staggering 50 percent higher than the officially recorded rates. Additionally, the peasants suffered under the oppressive tactics employed by thikadars, who were responsible for revenue collection. The practice of share-rents further intensified their plight.
  • In response to these injustices, the assembled peasants made a collective vow, pledging to pay only the recorded rent but ensuring its timely payment. They resolved not to vacate their lands when evicted, refused to engage in forced labor, denied assistance to criminals, and agreed to abide by the decisions made by local panchayats (village councils).
  • The grassroots leadership of the Eka Movement emerged from figures like Madari Pasi and other leaders from low-caste communities, along with the support of several small zamindars (landlords). However, the movement faced severe repression from the authorities, leading to its eventual demise by March 1922. Despite its short-lived nature, the Eka Movement highlighted the resilience of the peasantry and their determination to challenge exploitative practices, marking a significant episode in the history of agrarian protests in colonial India.

Mappila Revolt (1921):

  • The Mappila Revolt, which occurred in the Malabar region, was driven by the discontent of Muslim tenants, known as Mappilas, against their Hindu landlords. The Mappilas were aggrieved by several issues, including the lack of security of tenure, high rents, renewal fees, and other oppressive exactions imposed upon them by the landlords. Their resentment against this oppression fueled a movement that later merged with the concurrent Khilafat agitation, an Islamic campaign for the restoration of the Caliphate.
  • During this period, leaders of the Khilafat-Non-Cooperation Movement, such as Gandhi, Shaukat Ali, and Maulana Azad, addressed Mappila gatherings, symbolizing a joint resistance against British colonialism and landlord exploitation. However, the situation took a drastic turn in August 1921 when the arrest of a revered priest leader, Ali Musaliar, triggered widespread riots.
  • Initially, the revolt targeted symbols of British authority, including courts, police stations, treasuries, and offices, as well as unpopular landlords, many of whom were Hindu jenmies. However, as the revolt progressed, it acquired communal overtones, leading to the targeting of specific religious communities. This communalization of the rebellion led to the isolation of the Mappilas from the broader Khilafat-Non-Cooperation Movement, further complicating the dynamics of the revolt.
  • The Mappila Revolt, while rooted in agrarian discontent, ultimately transformed into a complex social and political movement with significant communal implications, highlighting the intricate interplay between colonial policies, agrarian grievances, and communal tensions in the Malabar region during the early 20th century.

Bardoli Satyagraha (1926):

  • The Bardoli Satyagraha, a significant episode in India’s struggle for independence, unfolded in the Bardoli taluka of the Surat district and was marked by intense politicization following Mahatma Gandhi’s arrival. The movement was ignited in January 1926 when authorities decided to impose a steep 30 percent increase in land revenue, prompting widespread discontent among the local populace.
  • In response to the revenue hike, the Bardoli Inquiry Committee was established to examine the issue. This committee, after thorough investigation, concluded that the proposed revenue increase was unjustified. In February 1926, Vallabhbhai Patel was called upon to lead the movement. His leadership was embraced by the women of Bardoli, who conferred upon him the title of “Sardar” (leader). To effectively organize the movement, Patel established 13 chhavanis or workers’ camps in the taluka. Additionally, the Bardoli Satyagraha Patrika, a publication, was launched to mobilize public opinion in favor of the cause. An intelligence wing was set up to ensure that all tenants adhered to the movement’s resolutions.
  • Support for the Bardoli Satyagraha came from various quarters. Notably, K.M. Munshi and Lalji Naranji resigned from the Bombay Legislative Council in solidarity with the movement. In response to the agitation, the Government imposed a condition that enhanced rent had to be paid first by all occupants, a requirement that was not fulfilled. Subsequently, a committee was formed to investigate the matter comprehensively. This committee found the proposed revenue hike to be unjustified and recommended a much more modest increase of 6.03 percent, signifying a significant victory for the Bardoli Satyagraha and highlighting the power of nonviolent resistance in challenging unjust policies.

Tebhaga Movement (1946):

  • The Tebhaga Movement, initiated in September 1946, was a mass struggle advocated by the Bengal Provincial Kisan Sabha to implement the Flood Commission recommendations. These recommendations aimed to provide two-thirds’ share, known as tebhaga, to the bargardars or share-croppers (also called bagchasi or adhyar) instead of the previous one-half share they received while working on lands rented from the jotedars. The movement’s central slogan, “nij khamare dhan tolo,” emphasized the sharecroppers’ right to take the harvested paddy to their own threshing floor rather than the jotedar’s house, reinforcing the tebhaga principle.
  • Primarily concentrated in north Bengal, the movement gained momentum among the Rajbanshis, a low-caste group of tribal origin, with significant participation from Muslims. However, the movement’s momentum waned due to various factors. The introduction of the Bargardari Bill by the League ministry served as a pacifier, diluting the movement’s intensity. Additionally, the popularization of the Hindu Mahasabha’s agitation for a separate Bengal, coupled with renewed riots in Calcutta, further eroded the movement’s strength. These events hindered the movement’s progress and ended the possibility of substantial support from urban sections, causing the Tebhaga Movement to dissipate relatively quickly.

Telangana Movement (1946-1948):

  • The Telangana Movement, regarded as the most significant peasant guerrilla war in modern Indian history, unfolded in the princely state of Hyderabad under the rule of Asajahi Nizams. Hyderabad was characterized by religious-linguistic domination, severe political and civil liberties restrictions, and extreme forms of forced exploitation imposed by landlords like deshmukhs, jagirdars, and doras, who subjected the peasants to forced labor (vethi) and illegal exactions. The uprising commenced in July 1946 when a village militant was murdered by a deshmukh’s thug in Jangaon taluq of Nalgonda.
  • In response to this oppression, the peasants organized themselves into village sanghams and mounted attacks using improvised weapons such as lathis, stone slings, and chili powder. The movement reached its peak intensity between August 1947 and September 1948, resulting in the defeat of the Razaqars, the Nizam’s stormtroopers, by the determined peasants. However, the movement gradually lost momentum after Indian security forces took control of Hyderabad.
  • Despite its eventual decline, the Telangana movement achieved several positive outcomes. In villages controlled by guerrillas, forced labor and exploitation ceased. Agricultural wages were increased, illegally seized lands were returned to their rightful owners, and measures were implemented to establish land ceilings and redistribute lands more equitably. Additionally, efforts were made to improve irrigation systems, combat cholera, and enhance the overall condition of women in the region. Importantly, the movement also contributed to the overthrow of the autocratic-feudal regime in India’s largest princely state, paving the way for the formation of Andhra Pradesh along linguistic lines, marking a significant milestone in the history of the region.

Early Peasant Movements in Colonial India: A Summary

Movement Context and Issues Leaders and Influences Strategies and Outcomes
Indigo Revolt Exploitative practices of European indigo planters Leaders: Digambar Biswas, Bishnu Biswas Resistance against forced indigo cultivation; Government intervention led to protection for peasants and legal resolution of disputes
Pabna Agrarian Leagues Zamindari oppression and enhanced rents Leaders: Notable intellectuals, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, R.C. Dutt Legal resistance through rent strikes; Acquisition of occupancy rights; Passing of Bengal Tenancy Act in 1885
Deccan Riots Heavy taxation, outsider moneylenders, bad harvests Leaders: Peasant community Social boycott movement against outsider moneylenders; Repressed by the government; Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act in 1879
Kisan Sabha Movement High rents, evictions, illegal levies Leaders: Gauri Shankar Mishra, Indra Narayan Dwivedi Organized Kisan Sabhas; Non-cooperation and legal resistance; Formation of Awadh Kisan Sabha; Dispute resolution through panchayats
Eka Movement High rents, oppression by revenue collectors, share-rents Leaders: Madari Pasi, low-caste leaders, small zamindars Peasant vows of non-cooperation; Legal resistance and grassroots leadership; Movement ended due to severe repression
Mappila Revolt Oppression by Hindu landlords, lack of security, communal tensions Leaders: Initially national leaders; later, local Mappila leaders Merged with Khilafat agitation; Communal tensions escalated; Targets shifted from British authority to unpopular landlords
Bardoli Satyagraha Unjustified land revenue hike Leaders: Vallabhbhai Patel, K.M. Munshi, Lalji Naranji Public mobilization through chhavanis; Bardoli Satyagraha Patrika; Resignation from legislative council; Committee recommended justified revenue hike
Tebhaga Movement Share-croppers’ rights, tebhaga implementation Leaders: Bengal Provincial Kisan Sabha, Rajbanshis, Muslims Mass struggle for tebhaga implementation; Focus on sharecroppers’ rights; Movement dissipated due to political developments and lack of support
Telangana Movement Religious-linguistic domination, forced exploitation, land reforms Leaders: Village sanghams, peasant community, Indian security forces Peasant guerrilla war; Land reforms, improved irrigation, raised agricultural wages; Formation of Andhra Pradesh on linguistic lines

This table provides a concise overview of the context, leaders, strategies, and outcomes of the early peasant movements in colonial India, showcasing the diverse challenges faced by peasants and the varied methods employed to resist oppression and fight for their rights.


Tribal Revolts of Mainland

The tribal revolts in mainland India were significant episodes during the British colonial period, illustrating resistance against the expansionist policies. One such instance was the Pahariyas’ Rebellion in 1778, where the martial Pahariya tribes residing in the Raj Mahal Hills rose against the British incursion into their territory. Faced with fierce opposition, the British authorities were compelled to seek a resolution. In response, they declared the contested area as a ‘damni-kol’ region, a move intended to establish peace and resolve the conflict. This rebellion, like many others, highlighted the indigenous people’s determination to protect their land and autonomy against colonial encroachment, portraying the complex dynamics and challenges faced during this historical period.

Chuar Uprising:

  • The Chuar Uprising, a pivotal event in the history of tribal revolts during the British colonial era, was sparked by a dire combination of famine, exorbitant land revenue demands, and economic hardship faced by the Chuar aboriginal tribes residing in the Jungle Mahal of Midnapore district and the Bankura district in Bengal. These tribal communities, primarily engaged in farming and hunting, found themselves pushed to the edge due to these adversities. The uprising, occurring in two distinct phases from 1766 to 1772 and resurfacing between 1795 and 1816, reflected the enduring resistance of the Chuars.
  • In 1768, the zamindar of Ghatsila, Jagannath Singh, joined forces with thousands of Chuars, leading to the capitulation of the British Company government. Subsequently, in 1771, Chuar leaders like Shyam Ganjan of Dhadka, Subla Singh of Kaliapal, and Dubraj rose in rebellion. However, the most significant uprising transpired in 1798 under the leadership of Durjan Singh, the dispossessed zamindar of Raipur, who had lost his land due to the operations of Bengal Regulations. Despite their valiant efforts, the revolt was brutally suppressed by the British forces. Other notable leaders among the Chuars included Madhab Singh, the brother of the Raja of Barabhum, Raja Mohan Singh, the zamindar of Juriah, and Lachman Singh of Dulma. The Chuar Uprising stands as a testament to the resilience and determination of tribal communities in the face of colonial oppression and economic exploitation.

Kol Mutiny (1831):

  • The Kol Mutiny of 1831, a significant uprising in Chhotanagpur involving the indigenous Kols and other tribes, emerged as a response to the widespread land transfers from Kol headmen to outsiders such as Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim farmers and money-lenders. These outsiders were oppressive, imposing heavy taxes and exacerbating the grievances of the Kols. Covering regions like Ranchi, Singhbhum, Hazaribagh, Palamau, and parts of Manbhum, the Kols found themselves in a dire situation, leading to their resentment. Under the leadership of Buddho Bhagat, the Kol rebels took a decisive stand in 1831, resulting in the killing or burning of approximately a thousand outsiders.
  • In response to this unrest, large-scale military operations were initiated to restore order in the region. The Kol Mutiny of 1831 stands as a testament to the profound challenges faced by indigenous communities in the face of land dispossession, economic exploitation, and oppressive taxation, highlighting the resilience and determination of these tribal populations in the fight against injustice and colonial encroachment.

Ho and Munda Uprisings (1820-1837):

  • The Ho and Munda uprisings between 1820 and 1837 were pivotal events in the tribal history of Singhbhum, now in Jharkhand. The Raja of Parahat orchestrated a rebellion among the Ho tribals against the occupation of Singhbhum, a struggle that persisted until 1827 when the Ho tribals were ultimately compelled to surrender. However, in 1831, they reignited their resistance, this time joined by the Mundas of Chotanagpur. The resurgence of rebellion was triggered by their vehement opposition to the newly implemented farming revenue policy and the influx of Bengali settlers into their homeland.
  • In 1899-1900, the Mundas, particularly in the region south of Ranchi, rallied under the leadership of Birsa Munda. This uprising, known as Ulgulan, became one of the most significant tribal movements during the period between 1860 and 1920. What initially began as a religious movement soon gained political momentum, evolving into a formidable force fighting against the imposition of feudal and zamindari tenures, as well as exploitation by money-lenders and forest contractors. The Mundas, in particular, asserted their claim over Chhotanagpur in 1879, marking a determined effort to reclaim their autonomy and resist external intrusions on their traditional way of life. These uprisings underscore the enduring spirit of tribal resistance against socio-economic and political injustices in colonial India.

The Santhal Rebellion (1855-56):

  • The Santhal Rebellion of 1855-56 stands as a significant episode in the history of colonial India, depicting the resilience of the Santhal people against continued oppression. The Santhals, primarily agricultural settlers, had sought refuge in the plains of the Rajmahal hills in Bihar. However, their plight worsened due to the relentless exploitation by zamindars and money-lenders, who, with the support of the police, subjected the peasants to oppressive taxes and land dispossession.
  • In response to these injustices, the Santhals, under the leadership of Sidhu and Kanhu, two courageous brothers, took a bold stand. They not only rebelled against the oppressive zamindars but also challenged the authority of the British East India Company. Proclaiming an end to Company rule, the Santhals declared the region between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal as autonomous territory. Their rebellion was a courageous assertion of their right to live free from exploitation and dispossession, reflecting their determination to resist oppressive forces and regain control over their land and livelihoods. The Santhal Rebellion remains a powerful testament to the struggle for justice and autonomy waged by indigenous communities in colonial India.

Khond Uprisings (1837-1856):

  • Between 1837 and 1856, the Khonds residing in the hilly tracts stretching from Odisha to the Srikakulam and Visakhapatnam districts of Andhra Pradesh rose in revolt against the oppressive rule of the British East India Company. Under the leadership of Chakra Bisnoi, a young raja, the Khonds were joined by other tribal communities such as the Ghumsar and Kalahandi, united in their resistance against several injustices. These included the suppression of their practice of human sacrifice, the imposition of new taxes, and the intrusion of zamindars into their traditional territories.
  • This period saw a series of uprisings as the Khonds fiercely defended their cultural practices and autonomy against the encroachments of colonial authorities and local elites. Their collective resistance reflected a deep-rooted determination to preserve their way of life and resist external forces seeking to undermine their traditions.
  • Even in 1914, the Khonds continued their struggle, hoping that an end to foreign rule would grant them the opportunity to establish an autonomous government. These uprisings demonstrate the enduring spirit of indigenous communities in the face of colonial oppression, emphasizing their resilience and determination to protect their cultural heritage and freedom.

Koya Revolts:

  • The Koya Revolts, spanning multiple occurrences from 1803 to 1886, marked a series of uprisings by the Koya people residing in the eastern Godavari region of modern Andhra Pradesh. These revolts were not isolated incidents; rather, they represented a sustained resistance against various injustices faced by the Koya community.
  • In 1803, 1840, 1845, 1858, 1861, and 1862, the Koyas, aided by Khonda Sara chiefs, rebelled against their oppressors. Grievances included oppression by the police and moneylenders, the imposition of new regulations, and the denial of their customary rights over forest areas, which were vital for their way of life and sustenance. These revolts were expressions of their determination to protect their rights and preserve their traditional practices against encroachments.
  • The year 1879-80 witnessed another significant uprising led by Tomma Sora, further highlighting the persistence of Koya resistance. Unfortunately, after Tomma Sora’s demise, another rebellion was organized in 1886 under the leadership of Raja Anantayyar, showcasing the deep-seated discontent and the unyielding spirit of the Koya people. These revolts underscore the enduring struggle of indigenous communities in the face of oppressive colonial policies and the unwavering resolve to defend their way of life and ancestral lands.

Bhil Revolts:

  • The Bhil Revolts, occurring in various waves during the 19th and early 20th centuries, were significant instances of indigenous resistance against the British East India Company’s rule. The Bhils, residing in the Western Ghats and controlling crucial mountain passes between the north and the Deccan, found themselves pushed to rebellion due to a multitude of factors.
  • In 1817-19, the Bhils rebelled against the Company rule, driven by the harsh realities of famine, economic distress, and misgovernment. This initial revolt was followed by subsequent uprisings in 1825, 1831, and 1846, indicating the sustained discontent and resistance among the Bhil communities. The repeated revolts highlighted their refusal to succumb to the oppressive conditions imposed upon them.
  • Later, in the early 20th century, a reformer named Govind Guru emerged as a prominent leader among the Bhils in south Rajasthan, particularly in the Banswara and Sunth states. He played a crucial role in organizing the Bhil communities, empowering them to unite and fight collectively for their rights and autonomy. By 1913, the Bhils, under the guidance of leaders like Govind Guru, were actively working towards establishing a Bhil Raj, emphasizing their determination to reclaim their independence and assert their identity in the face of colonial domination. The Bhil Revolts stand as a testament to the resilience of indigenous communities in the fight against external oppression and their unwavering struggle for self-determination.

Ramosi Risings:

  • The Ramosi Risings, occurring in the early 19th century, reflected the discontent and resistance of the hill tribes residing in the Western Ghats against the British rule and their administrative policies. With the annexation of the Maratha territories by the British, the Ramosis, who had previously been employed by the Maratha administration, found themselves deprived of their livelihoods, leading to profound economic distress and frustration.
  • In 1822, under the leadership of Chittur Singh, the Ramosis rose in rebellion and resorted to plundering the areas around Satara. Subsequent eruptions took place in 1825-26 under figures like Umaji Naik of Poona and his supporter Bapu Trimbakji Sawant, with disturbances continuing until 1829. The unrest among the Ramosis persisted due to their dissatisfaction with the British colonial rule and their loss of employment opportunities following the changes in administration.
  • Interestingly, the British authorities adopted a pacifist approach towards the Ramosis. Instead of employing strict suppression, the British authorities, in some instances, recruited members of the Ramosi community into the hill police, attempting to mitigate tensions and maintain peace. These events underscore the complexities of colonial governance and the varying strategies employed by both the colonial rulers and the indigenous populations, reflecting a delicate balance of power and negotiation during this period of social and political upheaval.

Here is a table summarizing the details of the Tribal Revolts on the mainland:

Rebellion Key Incidents
Pahariyas’ Rebellion – Uprising in the Raj Mahal Hills against British expansion in 1778. – Ended with British declaring the territory as “damni-kol area.”
Chuar Uprising – Uprisings spanning 1766 to 1772 and again between 1795 and 1816 in Jungle Mahal, Midnapore, and Bankura, Bengal. – Major uprisings under Jagannath Singh and Durjan Singh. – Suppressed through large-scale military operations.
Kol Mutiny (1831) – Started due to large-scale land transfers and enhanced land revenue demands in 1831. – Leadership by Buddho Bhagat. – Ended only after large-scale military operations.
Ho and Munda Uprisings – Ho tribals’ rebellion against the occupation of Singhbhum continued until 1827, and a later one in 1831. – Joined by the Mundas to protest farming revenue policy and the entry of Bengalis. – Ulgulan rebellion in 1899-1900 against zamindari tenures and exploitation.
Santhal Rebellion – Santhals’ rebellion against zamindars due to oppressive exactions in the Rajmahal hills, Bihar, 1855-56. – Led by Sidhu and Kanhu who declared the area between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal as autonomous.
Khond Uprisings – Revolts from 1837 to 1856 against Company rule in the hilly tracts extending from Odisha to Srikakulam and Visakhapatnam. – Led by Chakra Bisnoi in opposition to human sacrifice, new taxes, and entry of zamindars.
Koya Revolts – Koyas’ rebellions in 1803, 1840, 1845, 1858, 1861, 1862, and again in 1879-80 under Tomma Sora against oppression by police, moneylenders, new regulations, and denial of customary rights over forest areas.
Bhil Revolts – Bhils revolted against Company rule in 1817-19 due to famine, economic distress, and misgovernment. – Repeated revolts in 1825, 1831, and 1846. – Govind Guru organized the Bhils in south Rajasthan for a Bhil Raj by 1913.
Ramosi Risings – Ramosis in the Western Ghats rebelled against British rule and economic changes due to the annexation of Maratha territories in the early 19th century. – Uprisings in 1822, 1825-26, and continued disturbances till 1829. – British followed a pacifist policy and recruited some Ramosis into the hill police.


Tribal Movements of the North-East

Khasi Uprising:

  • In response to the East India Company’s plans to construct a road connecting the Brahmaputra Valley with Sylhet, the Khasis, Garos, Khamptis, and Singphos living in the hilly region between Garo and Jaintia Hills staged a significant uprising. The British authorities had introduced a large number of outsiders, including Englishmen, Bengalis, and laborers from the plains, into these regions, causing unrest among the indigenous tribes. Under the leadership of Tirath Singh, these tribes organized themselves to resist the intrusion and drive away the strangers from the plains. This uprising reflected the indigenous peoples’ determination to protect their homeland from external encroachments and maintain their way of life against the increasing influence of outsiders in the region.

Singphos Rebellion:

  • The Singphos rebellion in Assam began in the early 1830s, and although it was swiftly suppressed initially, the Singphos continued to organize further revolts against the British authorities. In 1843, Chief Nirang Phidu led a significant uprising, marked by an attack on the British garrison, resulting in the death of numerous soldiers. This event underscored the determination of the Singphos to resist colonial rule. Additionally, there were other smaller movements in the region during this period, including the 1836 rebellion of the Mishmis and the Khampti uprising in Assam between 1839 and 1842. Furthermore, the Lushais launched revolts in 1842 and 1844, during which they attacked villages in Manipur, showcasing the widespread discontent and resistance against British dominance in the northeastern region. These events highlighted the complex and multifaceted nature of tribal resistance against colonial powers during the 19th century.

Here is the table summarizing the Tribal Movements of the North-East:

Movement Overview Significant Events
Khasi Uprising The East India Company aimed to construct a road connecting the Brahmaputra Valley and Sylhet through the hilly region between Garo and Jaintia Hills. The influx of outsiders, including Englishmen, Bengalis, and plain laborers, triggered the resistance of Khasis, Garos, Khamptis, and Singphos. Formation of organized resistance under Tirath Singh to expel outsiders from the plains.
Singphos Rebellion In the early 1830s, Singphos in Assam initiated a rebellion against the British, though it was initially suppressed. Chief Nirang Phidu led a major uprising in 1843, resulting in an attack on the British garrison and significant casualties among soldiers. Smaller tribal movements included the Mishmis’ revolt (1836), the Khampti rebellion in Assam (1839-1842), and the Lushais’ revolt (1842-1844) when they attacked villages in Manipur. Ongoing resistance efforts by Singphos, with Chief Nirang Phidu’s uprising in 1843 standing out as a significant event. Smaller tribal movements included Mishmis, Khamptis, and Lushais revolts.


The Movement of the Working Class

The movement of the working class in India mirrored the exploitation experienced during the industrialization of Europe and the Western world. Similar to their counterparts in the West, Indian workers faced challenges such as low wages, extended working hours, unhygienic and dangerous working environments, the use of child labor, and a lack of basic amenities. These harsh conditions highlighted the pressing need for labor reforms and workers’ rights in India, sparking movements and struggles aimed at improving the lives and working conditions of the labor force. The plight of the Indian working class became a significant focal point in the larger socio-economic landscape of the country, driving efforts towards advocating for fair treatment, improved labor laws, and social reforms to uplift the lives of the working people.

Early Efforts:

  • During the early nationalist movement in India, particularly among the Moderates, there was a lack of emphasis on the cause of labor. The Moderates showed indifference towards labor issues, both in Indian-owned and British-owned factories. They were concerned that labor legislation might diminish the competitive advantage of Indian-owned industries. Furthermore, the Moderates were hesitant to introduce class divisions within the nationalist movement and, as a result, did not support the Factory Acts of 1881 and 1891.
  • Despite this, there were notable efforts made by individuals to address labor concerns. In 1870, Sasipada Banerjea initiated a workingmen’s club and started the newspaper Bharat Shramjeevi. In 1878, Sorabjee Shapoorji Bengalee attempted to pass a bill in the Bombay Legislative Council that aimed to improve working conditions for laborers. In 1880, Narain Meghajee Lokhanday established the newspaper Deenbandhu and founded the Bombay Mill and Millhands Association to advocate for workers’ rights.
  • A significant turning point occurred in 1899 when the Great Indian Peninsular Railways witnessed its first strike. This strike garnered widespread support and marked a significant moment in the labor movement, highlighting the growing discontent and the need for labor reforms in India. Despite the initial indifference of the early nationalists, these efforts laid the foundation for future labor movements and advocacy for workers’ rights in the country.

All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC):

  • The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was established on October 31, 1920. Lala Lajpat Rai, who was the president of the Indian National Congress at that time, was elected as the inaugural president of AITUC, while Dewan Chaman Lal assumed the role of the first general secretary. Rai was notable for being the first to draw a connection between capitalism and imperialism, asserting that “imperialism and militarism are the twin children of capitalism.”
  • The formation of AITUC was met with approval during the Gaya session of the Congress in 1922. The Congress welcomed the establishment of AITUC, acknowledging its significance in representing the rights and interests of workers. To support this new trade union organization, a committee was formed within the Congress to provide assistance and cooperation, marking an important step in the collaboration between the nationalist movement and the labor movement in India. This collaboration laid the foundation for the broader struggle for workers’ rights and social justice in the country.

Trade Union Act, 1926:

  • The Trade Union Act of 1926 played a significant role in shaping the landscape of labor movements in India. This legislation marked a crucial step by officially recognizing trade unions as legal entities, granting them a formal status as legitimate associations. The Act established clear guidelines for the registration and regulation of trade union activities, providing a structured framework for their functioning.
  • One of the notable provisions of the Trade Union Act was the immunity it offered to trade unions. This immunity, encompassing both civil and criminal aspects, shielded trade unions from prosecution for activities that were deemed legitimate and within the scope of their defined roles. However, the Act did impose certain restrictions on the political activities of these unions, setting boundaries on their engagement in political matters.
  • By providing legal recognition and protections, the Trade Union Act of 1926 empowered trade unions in India, allowing them to operate within defined parameters while safeguarding their rights and activities. This legislation laid the foundation for the organized labor movement in the country, enabling workers to advocate for their rights and interests in a structured and lawful manner.

Trade Disputes Act, 1929:

  • The Trade Disputes Act of 1929 was a pivotal piece of legislation in India that aimed to regulate industrial disputes and strike actions. One of the key provisions of this Act made it mandatory to establish Courts of Inquiry and Consultation Boards for the resolution of industrial disputes. These bodies played a crucial role in mediating conflicts between labor and management, providing a structured mechanism for settling disagreements in the workplace.
  • Additionally, the Trade Disputes Act placed restrictions on strikes in public utility services such as posts, railways, water, and electricity. It deemed strikes in these essential services illegal, unless each individual worker intending to participate in the strike provided an advance notice of one month to the administration. This advance notice requirement aimed to minimize disruptions in vital public services, ensuring that essential services continued to operate smoothly.
  • Furthermore, the Act prohibited trade union activities of a coercive or purely political nature. This provision curtailed unions from engaging in activities that could be deemed as forceful or excessively political. The Act also explicitly banned sympathetic strikes, where workers strike in support of other workers’ disputes, further limiting the scope of industrial actions.

In summary, the Trade Disputes Act of 1929 established mechanisms for resolving industrial disputes, regulated strikes in public utility services, and restricted trade union activities to maintain industrial peace and stability.

Meerut Conspiracy Case (1929):

  • The Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929 marked a significant event in the Indian labor movement. In March 1929, the British colonial government arrested 31 prominent labor leaders, including figures like Muzaffar Ahmed, S.A. Dange, Joglekar, Philip Spratt, Ben Bradley, and Shaukat Usmani. These arrests led to a three-and-a-half-year-long trial, culminating in the conviction of several labor activists.
  • Following the Meerut Conspiracy Case, the working class movement experienced a decline. This downturn was exacerbated by a split in 1931 when the corporatist faction, led by N.M. Joshi, separated from the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) to establish the All India Trade Union Federation. This split weakened the unity of the labor movement in India.
  • However, in 1935, there was a significant development as the communists, who had previously split from the AITUC, rejoined the organization. This reunion marked an attempt to consolidate the fragmented labor movement and revive its strength. Despite the challenges posed by internal divisions and government repression, the Indian labor movement continued to evolve and adapt to changing political landscapes during this period.

Here is the Details:

Period Key Developments
Exploitation of Working Class Indian working class faced low wages, long hours, hazardous conditions, child labor, and lack of basic amenities during industrialization.
Early Efforts 1870: Sasipada Banerjea started Bharat Shramjeevi club and newspaper.

1878: Sorabjee Shapoorji Bengalee advocated for better working conditions in Bombay.

1880: Narain Meghajee Lokhanday initiated the Deenbandhu newspaper and founded the Bombay Mill and Millhands Association.

1899: First strike by Great Indian Peninsular Railways received widespread support.

All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) 1920: AITUC founded with Lala Lajpat Rai as the first president and Dewan Chaman Lal as the first general secretary. Lajpat Rai linked capitalism with imperialism. Gaya session of Congress in 1922 welcomed AITUC, forming a committee to assist it.
Trade Union Act, 1926 – Recognized trade unions as legal entities. – Established conditions for registration and regulation of trade union activities. – Provided immunity to trade unions from prosecution for legitimate activities but imposed restrictions on political activities.
Trade Disputes Act, 1929 – Compulsory appointment of Courts of Inquiry and Consultation Boards for settling industrial disputes. – Made strikes in public utility services illegal without one month’s advance notice. – Prohibited coercive or purely political trade union activities, including sympathetic strikes.
Meerut Conspiracy Case (1929) – Government arrested 31 labor leaders, leading to a three-and-a-half-year trial. – Convictions included Muzaffar Ahmed, S.A. Dange, Joglekar, Philip Spratt, Ben Bradley, Shaukat Usmani, and others.
Post-1931 Developments – 1931: Split in the movement as corporatist trend led by N.M. Joshi formed All India Trade Union Federation, weakening the labor movement. – 1935: Communists re-joined AITUC, attempting to reunify and strengthen the working class movement.


Caste Movements/Backward-Class Movements

Satya Shodhak Samaj:

  • In Western India, Jyotirao Govindrao Phule played a pivotal role in the upliftment of lower castes through his organization, Satya Shodhak Samaj. He vehemently criticized Brahmanical domination in the guise of religion and also censured the Indian National Congress for its neglect of the weaker sections of society.
  • The primary objective of his organization was to achieve social justice for these marginalized sections. Phule took proactive measures by establishing numerous schools and orphanages catering to children and women from all castes, emphasizing education and empowerment.
  • His dedication to social reform was evident when he was elected as a member of the Poona Municipal Committee in 1876. In recognition of his impactful work, he was honored with the title of Mahatma in 1888. Phule’s influential writings, including works like “Dharma Tritiya Ratna,” “Ishara,” and “Life of Shivaji,” continue to inspire movements for social equality and justice.

Shri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam Movement:

  • The non-Brahmin movement found a prominent advocate in Kerala through the efforts of Shri Narayana Guru, a respected leader belonging to the backward Ezhava caste. Under his leadership, the SNDP Yogam (Shri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam) was established, extending its influence beyond Kerala. Narayana Guru implemented a comprehensive two-point program aimed at uplifting the Ezhava community, primarily focusing on eradicating the deeply rooted practice of untouchability. As a significant step towards social integration, he constructed several temples that were openly accessible to people from all castes, challenging the prevailing caste-based discrimination.
  • In his critique of Mahatma Gandhi, Narayana Guru questioned Gandhi’s faith in Chaturvarna, which he viewed as the foundation of the caste system and untouchability. Instead, he advocated for a more inclusive vision encapsulated in the slogan “one religion, one caste, and one God for mankind,” emphasizing the need for unity and equality among all individuals. Through his visionary approach, Narayana Guru made significant strides in dismantling social barriers and promoting a more egalitarian society in Kerala.

Justice Party:

  • The Justice Party emerged in 1916 under the leadership of prominent non-Brahmin figures including Dr T.M. Nair, P. Thyagaraja Chetty, and C.N. Mudaliar. These leaders, recognizing the significance of education in breaking the Brahmins’ hold on government offices, sought to uplift their communities through educational advancement. The party originated from the South Indian Peoples’ Association, an association of non-Brahman Hindus. Thyagaraja Chetty urged non-Brahmins to unite and address their grievances through the Manifesto, highlighting the need for political advocacy.
  • Consequently, the South Indian Liberal Federation was established in August 1917. The Justice Party’s primary objective was to secure justice for all Dravidians by advocating for a separate state, under British guidance. Unlike some other movements, the Justice Party rejected passive resistance and noncooperation, believing these methods to be disruptive to a stable government. Instead, the party aimed to achieve its goals through active political engagement and collaboration with the British authorities.

Self-respect Movement:

  • The Self-respect Movement, initiated by Ramaswamy Naicker in 1925, aimed to enhance the living standards of the Dravidian people while exposing Brahmin dominance and their control over various aspects of Hindu life. Naicker organized the “Dravida Nadu Conference” advocating for an independent “Dravida Nation.” This demand was reiterated in response to the Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution for Pakistan. Naicker supported Pakistan’s creation and sought Muslim League’s backing for the “Dravida Nation.”
  • In 1944, Naicker founded the Dravida Kazagham, urging members to wear black shirts symbolizing Dravidians’ downtrodden status. The Dravida Kazagham’s goal was an independent Dravidian Republic with linguistic divisions and internal autonomy. Members refrained from wearing religious marks and boycotted Brahmins at events. Hindu deities’ idols were destroyed, and Sanskrit epics were distorted for political purposes. The movement later divided, with Annadurai forming the Dravida Munnetra Kazagam, supported by Karunanidhi, Natarajan, and Sampath.

Here is the details:

Movement Leaders Objectives and Activities
Satya Shodhak Samaj Jyotirao Govindrao Phule Upliftment of lower castes, criticism of Brahmanical domination, social justice for weaker sections. Established schools, orphanages, and actively participated in municipal committees.
Shri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam Movement Shri Narayana Guru Upliftment of the backward Ezhava caste, eradication of untouchability, establishment of temples open to all castes, criticism of Chaturvarna and caste system.
Justice Party Dr T.M. Nair, P. Thyagaraja Chetty, C.N. Mudaliar Political advancement of non-Brahmin Hindus, establishment of a separate state for Dravidians, opposition to passive resistance and noncooperation.
Self-respect Movement Ramaswamy Naicker Improvement of Dravidian people’s living conditions, exposure of Brahmin tyranny, advocacy for a separate Dravida Nation, destruction of Hindu deities’ idols, boycott of Brahmins.

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