Hul Diwas: Remembering the Santal rebellion against the British

Hul Diwas: Remembering the Santal rebellion against the British

Context- Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted about Hul Diwas on June 30, remembering the sacrifice of Adivasis in their fight against British colonial authorities.

(Credits- Wikipedia)

The Santal rebellion or ‘Hul’ – literally, revolution – began in 1855, two years before the the uprising of 1857, often referred to as “the first war for Indian independence”.

It was an “organised war against colonialism” led by the Santals, standing against the myriad forms of oppression – economic and otherwise – they were subjected to by the British and their collaborators. Led by two brothers Sidhu and Kanhu, it saw the participation of as many as 32 caste and communities rallying behind them.

Every year, the state of Jharkhand celebrates June 30 as ‘Hul Diwas’, marking the beginning of the rebellion, even though some historical accounts date it to the first week of July instead.

Who were the Santals?

  • The Santal people – or Santalis – were not the original inhabitants of modern day Santhal Pargana – which includes the six districts of Dumka, Pakur, Godda, Sahibganj, Deoghar and parts of Jamtara. They had migrated from the Birbhum and Manbhum regions (present-day Bengal), starting around the late 18th century.
  • The 1770 famine in Bengal caused the Santals to begin moving and soon, the British turned to them for help. With the enactment of the Permanent Settlement Act of 1790, the East India Company was desperate to bring an ever-increasing area in its control under settled agriculture. They, thus, chose the area of Damin-i-Koh, at the time heavily forested, to be settled by the Santals, in order to collect a steady stream of revenue.
  • However, once settled, the Santals bore the brunt of colonial oppression. Santal migration was “forced” by the British merely to collect more revenue. Predatory money-lenders and the police were a byproduct of this system.
  • Today, the Santal community is the third largest tribal community in India, spread across Jharkhand-Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal.

Why did the Hul happen?

  • The social conditions which drove the peasants to rebel against the British are succinctly described in a contemporary edition of the Calcutta Review.
  • Zamindars, the police, the revenue and court alas have exercised a combined system of extortions, oppressive extractions, forcible dispossession of property, abuse and personal violence and a variety of petty tyrannies upon Santhals.
  • Usurious interest on loans of money ranging from 50 to 500 percent; false measures at the haut and the market; willful and uncharitable trespass by the rich by means of their untethered cattle, tattoos, ponies or even elephants, on the growing crops of the poorer race; and such like illegalities have been prevalent.”
  • By 1854, there was talk of rebellion in tribal councils and meetings. The rebellion finally began after a massive assembly of over 6,000 Santhals representing around 400 villages that took place on June 30, 1855.

What was the narratives of the British?

  • Bidwell in his letter to the Secretary to the Government of Bengal, Fort William said: “For the causes of insurrection…the manifestos of the insurgents (say) that there were grievances of…excessive taxation…prevalence of falsehood, negligence of Sahibs(Britishers), extortion of Mahajans, corruption and oppression.”
  • However, after examining various accounts, he said that he found there were no signs of over taxation(land rent), but he felt more needed to be done to obviate the sufferings inflicted by ‘Mahajans’(money lending).

Syllabus- Prelims; Current Affairs

Source- Indian Express