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Peasant movements and tribal uprisings in the 18th and 19th centuries: Kol Rebellion (1832)

Peasant movements and tribal uprisings in the 18th and 19th centuries:  Kol Rebellion (1832)

  • Some of the peasant rebellions in pre-1857 India were participated exclusively by the tribal population whose political autonomy and control over local resources were threatened by the establishment of British rule and the advent of its non-tribal agents.
  • The Bhils, for example, were concentrated in the hill ranges of Khandesh in the previous Maratha territory.
    • British occupation of this region in 1818 brought in the outsiders and accompanying dislocations in their community life.
    • A general Bhil insurrection in 1819 was crushed by the British military forces and though some conciliatory measures were taken to pacify them, the situation remained unsettled until 1831 when the Ramoshi leader Umaji Raje of Purandhar was finally captured and executed.
  • The Bhils’ local rivals for power, the Kolis of Ahmadnagar district, also challenged the British in 1829, but were quickly subdued by a Large army contingent. The seeds of rebellion however persisted, to erupt again in 1844-46, when a local Koli leader successfully defied the British government for two years.
  • Another major tribal revolt, the Kol uprising of 1831-32, took place in Chota Nagpur and Singbhum region of Bihar and Orissa.

Kol’s early Rebellion

  • The tribal inhabitants of Chota Nagpur comprised Kols, Bhils, Hoes, Mundas and Oraons. They led an independent life. Chhotanagpur area remained a centre of turbulent uprisings throughout the 19th century.
  • In 1820 the king of Porhat owed allegiance to the British and agreed to pay huge taxes annually.
    • He claimed the neighboring Kol region as his own to the consent of the British.
    • He went on to collect taxes from the Ho segment of the Kols which they resented. A few officials were killed too.
  • The British sent troops in support of the king.
    • The Kols took up traditional arms like bows and arrows to face British troops armed in modern weapons.
    • They put up a very brave fight but had to surrender in 1821.

Kol Rebellion (1832)

  • The Kol uprising of 1831-32, took place in Chota Nagpur and Singbhum region of Bihar and Orissa.
  • In these areas, they used to enjoy independent power for centuries. But now:
    • British penetration and imposition of British law posed a threat to the power of the hereditary tribal chiefs.
    • The Raja of Chota Nagpur started evicting tribal peasants by farming out land to outsiders for higher rents.
      • This settlement of non-tribals and constant transfer of land to merchants and moneylenders — generally referred to as the sud or outsiders — led to a popular uprising, as their plea for justice failed to move the authorities.
  • The transfer of tribal lands and the coming of moneylenders, merchants and British laws created a lot of tension.
    • The Mahajans extracted 70 per cent or more interest and many Kols became boded labourers for life.
    • The Chhota Nagpur region was leased out to money-lenders for revenue collection.
    • Their oppressive tactics, high revenue rates, British judicial and revenue policies devastated the traditional social framework of the Kols.
    • The trouble increased with large-scale transfers of land from Kol headmen (Mundas) to outsiders like Sikh and Muslim farmers.
  • Above factors prompted the Kol tribe to organise themselves and rebel.
  • The forms of rebellion:
    • The Kol tribals organized an insurrection in 1831-32 which was directed mainly against Government officers and private money-lenders. Other tribes also followed the same.
    • It consisted of attacks on the properties of the outsiders, but not their lives.
    • Plunder and arson, were the chief modes of peasant protest, while the rate of killings was negligible.
    • But sometimes insurgents adopted cruel means.
      • They torched houses and killed the enemies (mainly outsiders).
      • Only carpenters and blacksmiths were spared since they made weapons and other useful goods for them.
    • The rebellion soon spread over a considerable area, including Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Palamau and Manbhum.
  • After two years of intense resistance they lost to modern weapons of the British.
    • The rebellion “wiped off the Raj from Chota Nagpore in a matter of weeks”. The British army had to move in to quell the disturbances and restore order.
    • Thousands of tribal men, women and children were killed and the rebellion was suppressed.
    • The immensity of the Kol rebellion could he gauged from the fact that troops had to be rushed from far off places like Calcutta, Danapur and Benaras to quell it.
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