Monday, October 17, 2011

History of armed revolution against British Rule (contd-2)

Reprint of authors postMonday, July 4, 2011

Rebillion in South India in 1800's

Palaiyakkarar, Poligar, Polygar or Palegar or Polegar was the feudal title for a class of territorial administrative and military chiefs (Knights and Barons) appointed by the Naicker rulers of South India (notably Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks and the Kakatiya dynasty) during 16th - 18th centuries. The word is an English corruption of Palaiyakkarar (Tamil) or Palegaadu (Telugu) or Paaleyagaara (Kannada). The Polygars of Madurai Country were instrumental in establishing administrative reforms by building irrigation projects, forts and religious institutions. Their wars with the British after the demise of Madurai Nayaks is often regarded as one the earliest Indian Independence struggles. Many were hanged and some banished forever to Andaman Islands by the British. Puli Thevar, Veerapandya Kattabomman, Dheeran Chinnamalai, Marudu brothers were some of the most notable Polygars who rose up in revolt against the British rule in South India. The war against the British forces predates the Sepoy Mutiny in Northern India by many decades but still largely given less importance by historians

Polygar Wars.

Polygar War is a series of wars fought by a combine of Palaiyakkarar's against the British troops, between 1798 and 1805. The war between the British and Kattabomman Nayak (Veerapandiya Kattabomman) is often classified as First Polygar war (1799), while Second Polygar War 1800-1805 against the British was fought by a much bigger combine over entire western Tamil Nadu headed by Dheeran Chinnamalai and Marudhu Pandiyan brothers of the Sivaganga.

The Polygars often had artillery and resisted stubbornly and the storming of their hill forts proved on several occasions’ sanguinary work. The British columns were exposed throughout the operations to constant harassing attacks; and had usually to cut their way through almost impenetrable jungles fired on from under cover on all sides. It took more than a year to suppress the rebellion completely, resulting in the abolition of the Polygar system.

End of the Polygar systemAfter a long and expensive campaign the British finally defeated the revolting Polygars, of whom many were beheaded and hanged while others were deported to the Andaman Islands. Of the Polygars who submitted to the British some of them were granted Zamindari status, which has only tax collection rights and disarmed them completely. (The Zamindari system originated in Bengal, but was adopted by the British.)

Karnataka did not tamely submit to the foreign rule of the British. There were anti-British violent uprisings between 1800 and 1858. The earliest of these was of Dhondia Wagh, who after the fall of Tipu, unfurled the flag of revolt against the British in 1800 from the Bidanur-Shikaripur region; many former princes joined him. His revolt spread from Jamalabad to Sode in Coastal Districts and above the Ghats upto Belgaum and Raichur Districts. He was killed at Konagal in September 1800, and his colleague Krishnappa Nayak of Belur (Balam) was killed in February 1802. This was followed by the Koppal Rebellion led by one Virappa in 1819. The year-1820 saw the Deshmukh rebellion near Bidar. A strong revolt was witnessed at Sindhagi in Bijapur District in 1824. The revolt of Kittur Channamma in 1824 and of Sangolli Rayanna in the same kingdom in 1829 are also famous. This was followed by the Nagar Uprising of 1830-31 accompanied by similar agrarian revolts in the Kanara District in 1831. Sarja Hanumappa Nayak of Tarikere also joined the insurgents. Though this revolt failed, it cost Krishnaraja III his throne. There was an uprising in Kodagu during 1835-37, which was also strong in Dakshina Kannada (Sullya and Mangalore). One former official of the Peshwa called Narasappa Petkar organized a revolt against the British in 1841. Karnataka responded to the 1857-58 uprisings positively. In November 1857, the Halagali Bedas revolted against the Arms Act. The rulers of Naragund and Surapur, joined by Mundargi Bheemarao, a Zamindar and the Desais of Govanakoppa, Hammige, Soraturu etc, also revolted in 1858. There was a long revolt in Supa jointly led by men from Goa and Uttara Kannada who included some Siddis (Negroes) in 1858-59.

Though the uprisings were suppressed, their lessons were not totally forgotten. It was the Nagar Uprising (1830) which ultimately resulted in the founding of Mysore Representative Assembly in 1881. The British learnt to respond to the grievances of the people quickly. Local self governing bodies were founded in towns in 1850's and 1860's. People also learnt that without proper organisation, it is not possible to free the country from the British. The British also felt the need to improve the means of transport and communication to enable them to meet situations of breach of peace. The communication facilities initiated by them mainly served their colonial economic purposes
Monday, July 4, 2011

Santal rebellion, 1855

The Santhal rebellion (sometimes referred to as the Santhal rebellion), commonly known as Santal Hul was a native rebellion in present day Jharkhand, in eastern India against both the British colonial authority and corrupt upper caste zamindari system by the Santal people. It started on June 30, 1855 and on November 10, 1855 martial law was proclaimed which lasted until January 3, 1856 when martial law was suspended and the movement was brutally ended by troops loyal to the British Raj. The rebellion was led be the four Murmu Brothers - Sindhu, Kanhu , Chand and Bhairav.

Background of the rebellionThe insurrection of the Santals began as a Tribal reaction to racism and corrupt usury moneylending practices, and the zamindari system and their operatives, in the tribal belt of what was then known as the Bengal Presidency.

Before the advent of the British in India, Santals resided in the hilly districts of Cuttack, Dhalbhum, Manbhum, Barabhum, Chhotanagpur, Palamau, Hazaribagh, Midnapur, Bankura and Birbhum. They engaged in their agrarian way of life by clearing the forest and also by hunting for subsistence. But as the agents of the new colonial rule claimed their rights on the lands of the Santals, they retreated to reside in the hills of Rajmahal. After a brief period, the British operatives along with their native counterparts, i.e., the local upper caste landlords and zamindars jointly started claiming their rights in this new land as well. The unsophisticated and unlettered Santals felt cheated and betrayed. The Santal tribes were turned into slaves by the zamindars and the money lenders who first appeared to them as businessmen and traders and had allured them first by goods lent to them on loans. However hard a Santal tried to repay these loans, they never ended. In fact through corrupt practices of the money lenders, the compound interest accumulated on the principal amount of the loan multiplied to large sum, an amount (for repaying) which an entire generation of an indigent Santal family had to work as slaves. Furthermore, the Santali women who worked under labour contractors were sexually disgraced and used as concubines and comfort women by the money lenders, zamindars and agents of the Raj. This loss of freedom and respect that the Santals enjoyed turned them into rebels and finally they took oath to launch an attack on the most visible symbol of authority, i.e., the British Raj.

The Santal rebellionOn 30 June 1855, two Santal rebel leaders, Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu, mobilized ten thousand Santals and declared a rebellion against British colonists.

The Santals initially gained some success in guerilla war tactics using bows and arrows but soon the British found out a new way to tackle these rebels. As the legend goes, the Santals skilled in archery could fire arrows extremely accurate and with great impact. The British soon understood that there was no point fighting them in the forest but to force them come out of the forest. So in a conclusive battle which followed, the British, equipped with modern firearms and war elephants, stationed themselves at the foot of the hill on which the Santals were stationed. When the battle began, the British officer ordered fire without bullets. As the Santals could not trace this trap set by the much experienced British war strategists, they charged in full force. This step proved to be disastrous for them for as soon as they neared the foot of the hill, the British army attacked with full power and this time by using real bullets. The hapless Santals were cut to pieces.

Thereafter the British attacked every village of the Santals, plundered them, raped their women and whipped and castrated their teenagers, to make sure that the last drop of revolutionary spirit was annihilated. Although the revolution was brutally suppressed, it marked a great change in the colonial rule and policy. The day of rebellion is still celebrated among the Santal community with great respect and spirit for the thousands of the Santal martyrs who sacrificed their lives along with their two celebrated leaders in their glorious albeit unsuccessful attempt to win freedom from the rule of the zamindars and the British operatives.

Although its impact was largely shadowed by that of the other rebellion, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the legend of the Santal Rebellion lives on as a turning point in Santal pride and identity. This was reaffirmed, over a century and a half later with the creation of the first tribal province in independent India, Jharkhand.

Mrinal Sen's film Mrigaya (1976) is set in this time