Tribal Leaders and Freedom Movement
In this post we will discuss about Important Tribal Leaders and their Role in Revolts of Indian Independence.
Tribal freedom fighters and their role in the Freedom Movement
Tilka Manjhi (Bihar)
The Manjhi Revolt of 1785
Determined to defend his people and land, Tilka organized the Adivasis into an army trained in the use of bows and arrows. In 1770, there was a severe famine in the Santhal region. With this began his “Santhal Hool” (the revolt of the Santhals). He continued to attack the British and their sycophantic allies. From 1771 to 1784, Tilka did not surrender to the colonial authorities.
Budhu Bhagat (Jharkhand)
Larka Rebellion of 1832
Martyr Veer Budhu Bhagat struggled not only to free the Chotanagpur region from British regime, also united the people and led them in guerrilla war to raise voice against the British injustice.
Tirot Sing (Meghalaya)
The Khasi Rebellion of 1833
Tirot Sing, also known as U Tirot Sing Syiem was a Khasi chief of the early 19th century. He drew his lineage from the Syiemlieh clan and declared war and fought against British for attempts to take over control of the Khasi Hills. In the Anglo-Khasi War, the Khasis resorted to guerrilla activity, which dragged on for about four years. Tirot Sing was eventually captured by the British in January 1833 and deported to Dhaka.
Telanga Kharia (Jharkhand)
Telanga Kharia Revolt, 1850-1880
Telanga Kharia, belongijng to the Kharia tribe, encouraged the tribals to fight against the British atrocities and injustice in the Chota Nagpur region. Under his leadership, 13 jury panchayats were formed, and he formed an army of around 1500 trained men in guerrilla warfare against the colonial regime.
Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu (Jharkhand)
Santhal Hul of 1855-57
In 1855, the Santhals gathered in the Bhagnadihi Village under the leadership of the brothers – Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu – and declared themselves free from the colonial rule. At the outset, the British rule was paralyzed in the area and the native agents were killed.
Nilamber and Pitamber (Jharkhand)
Revolt against the East India Company in 1857, Palamu
In October 1857, the brothers – Nilamber and Pitamber from Latehar district – led around 500 tribals in an attack against the British agents in the region. The Palamu Fort was occupied by the rebelling tribals. Later, the strong British forces suppressed the rebellion, arrested the brothers and hanged them in Lesliganj.
Veer Surendra Sai (Odisha)
1857 Rebellion of Sambalpur
Surendra Sai was born in the year 1809 in Rajpur Khinda, located about 35 kms. from Sambalpur. Next in line to the throne of Sambalpur after the death of Maharaja Sai in 1827, Surendra Sai helped the tribal people in the fight against the British by encouraging their language and cultural development. He was a man with great military genius. He guarded the passes to check military inflow of the Britishers in Sambalpur. During the 1857 Mutiny, the Hazirabagh Jail was broken down and prisoners were liberated including Veer Surendra Sai. The 1857 rebellion of Sambalpur was essentially a tribal rebellion.
Thamman-Dora and Alluri Seetharama Raju (Andhra Pradesh)
The Koya Revolt, 1862 and 1922-1924
The Koya revolt started against the ‘Muttadars’ (zamindars) who formed a chain of rent collectors fro the colonial rulers in the year 1862. The Britishers deprived the tribals of their traditional rights over the toddy trees (most valuable property of the tribals for they yielded drinks). the traders from the region took advantage of the situation, by extending loans to the tribals they confiscated their produce and cattle. As a result, the tribals attacked the authorities under the leadership of Thamman-Dora in 1879. In 1922-24, this movement synchronized with the Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience Movement launched by Gandhiji under the leadership of Alluri Seetharama Raju (a Kashtriya from West Godavari district whose deep involvement with the tribals made him immortal among them). Guerilla warfare was launched against the British that spanned a course of two years. Among the four southern states of the subcontinent, Andhra Pradesh has the largest tribal population. The major tribal communities being the Raj Gonds, Koya, Chenchu and Hill Reddies.
Important Tribal Leaders and their Role in Revolts
Diva-Kishun Soren (Jharkhand)
Soren Revolt 1872
Soren and Diva Soren were maternal brothers. His guru’s name was Raghunath Bhuiyan. After Raja Abhiram Singh of Podhat accepted the independence of the British, he inspired the people to stand against King Abhiram Singh of Podhat and the British administration. The rebellion began in 1872 AD under the leadership of Diva-Kisun. This rebellion lasted for a long time, but at last the local people informed the British administration about Diva-Kisun hiding in the mountain. Diva-Kisun was arrested by the British administration and soldiers of Raja Abhiram Singh and hanged in Seraikela jail.
Pa Togan Sangma (Meghalaya)
Garo Attack against the British Occupation, 1872
Pa Togan Sangma or Togan Sangma or Pa Togan Nengminja Sangma was a Garo (Tibeto-Burman ethnic group from the subcontinent) tribal leader. Along with other Garo warriors, Pa Togan Sangma attacked the British officials while they were sleeping during their occupation of the region.
Govind Guru (Rajasthan)
Bhagat Movement 1883
The great famine of 1899-1900 affected tribals disproportionately. From this tragedy emerged a social reform movement that aimed at the betterment of the marginalised. Led by Govind Guru, the Bhagat Movement was initiated to address the challenges faced by the Bhils. In 1913, along with his followers, Guru reached Mangarh. Rumour spread that they were planning to revolt against the princely states. The combined forces of the British and the princely states bombarded the crowd with bullets and artillery, killing over 1000 – this came to be knowas the Magadh Massacre.
The Tribal Movement of Gujarat
Vedcchi Movement, 1885-1947
The Vedcchi Movement had its origin in the movement for political independence of India. The Adivasis lost their right of access to (to prepare their own liquor from) the toddy trees, which resulted in the growing indebtedness and they became either tenants or landless labourers. A reform movement started from within the tribal community, preaching prohibition (1915-1920). At the juncture of Adivasi socio-reform movement (that witnessed expansion of educational facilities) suffering a set-back, they came in touch with the Gandhian workers. Thereafter, they got initiated into the nation-wide freedom struggle movements.
According to Census 1971, the major tribals of the state are the Bhils, Bublas, Naikdas and Dhodias that are mainly scattered across the northwestern parts. Vedchhi is a village in Surat district. The tribal tract of Surat, where the the Vedcchi Movement started, constituted of major communities of Dhodhia, Chandhari and Gamits.
Thangal General (Manipur)
Anglo-Manipur War, 1891
General Thangal, a Naga tribal of Senapati district of Manipur. He was among the most prominent heroes of the Anglo-Manipur War 1891. He was hanged to death on 13th August 1891 at Pheida-pung, Imphal.
Paona Brajabashi (Manipur)
Khongjom Battle of 1891
The Anglo-Manipuri war or the Khongjom Battle broke out in 1891. Attempting to resist British forces marching from Tamu (on the border between Manipur and Myanmar today), 700 Manipuri soldiers were dispatched to Thoubal led by Major General Paona Brajabashi, a brave soldier of the kingdom of Manipur. Historians describe this as the fiercest battle against the British in Indian history. Manipur celebrates Khongjom Day every year on 23rd April.
Birsa Munda (Jharkhand)
Munda Rebellion, 1899
Birsa, a Munda youngster, started thinking about the ills plaguing his society and decided to remove them by setting his people free from the British domination. He provided the Mundas with leadership, with religion and with a code of life seeking dignity and freedom. In 1894, he led the Mundas for redressal of grievances to Chaibasa and was arrested. He spent two years of rigorous imprisonment. He continued to serve his people, especially the needy and the sick and was worshipped as ‘Birsa Bhagvan‘. Birsa struggled against the British throughout his life. He was arrested on 3rd February, 1900, in Chakradharpur forest, after a fierce encounter and died in captivity. His memory continues to be revered.
Matmur Jamoh (Arunachal Pradesh)
Resistance against British Rule in Adi Land (beginning 1909), leading to the Anglo-Abor War of 1911
On the left bank of Siang river nestles the beautiful and serene Komsing village, which rose to prominence when the Noel Williamson was murdered here by Matmur Jamoh when he carrying the message of the death of King Edward VII to the tribal chiefs. Another band of his followers killed Dr Gregorson at Pangi, on March 31, 1911.
Gunda Dhur (Chhattisgarh)
Rebellion of the Dhurwas of Kanger forest in Bastar 1910
The British rule in Bastar was abolished, the tribal rule was re-established even though for a short span of time. Consequently, the reservation of land for industrial use by the colonial regime was suspended and the reserved area was reduced almost to half.
Jatra Bhagat (Jharkhand)
Tana Bhagat Movement, 1920-1921
Jatra Bhagat, also known as Jatra Oraon, from the Gumla District (his followers were known as ‘Tana Bhagats’) organized the Oraon tribals (one of the five largest tribes in South Asia) to fight against the oppression being done by the local zamindars and authorities. In 1921, the tribals actively participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement. On their persuasion, ‘The Bhagat Agricultural Lands Restoration Act’ was passed in the then Bihar, for the land alienated tribals.
Malati Mem (Assam)
Anti-opium campaign in tea gardens, 1921
Malati Mem (Mangri Orang) was one of the leading members of the anti-opium campaign in tea gardens. In 1921, she was killed by government supporters at Lalmati in Darrang district for supporting Congress Volunteers in the prohibition campaign.
Haipou Jadonang (Manipur)
Leader of the Naga Nationalist Movement, 1930
Haipou Jadonang, a Rongmei Naga leader (one of the major indigenous Naga tribes of North-East India) from Manipur, was a spiritual and political leader who fought for freedom from the clutches of the British colonial rule. He began establishing an army, Riphen, that comprised of 500 men and women who were well trained in military tactics, weaponry and reconnaissance missions. Besides these activities, the recruits assisted in civilian matters such as farming. He was arrested in 1931 and hanged by the colonial rulers.
Laxman Naik (Odisha)
Koraput Revolt, 1942
Laxman Naik, belonging to the Bhumia tribe of Odisha, was accepted as the tribal leader by the people of Koraput and its surrounding region like Malkanagiri and Tentulipada. The tribal people devoted themselves for the cause of national freedom. He mobilized the tribal people for development works like construction of roads, building bridges and establishing schools. He asked the villagers not to pay any tax. He spearheaded the fight against colonial oppression and exploitation. During the Quit India Movement 1942, he was nominated to represent Matili. He used nonviolence as a main weapon against colonial power.
The tribal people called him “Gandhi of Malkangiri. The Bonda tribes of this region seized Matili police station under the leadership of Laxman Naik. The police opened fire, klling around 7 people and injuring many. At the break of dawn on 29 March 1943, Laxman Naik gallantly marched towards the Gallows of the Berhampur jail where he was executed by the colonial rulers.
Rajmohini Devi (Madhya Pradesh)
Rajmohini Devi Movement, 1951
Rajmohini Devi, belonging to the Manjhi tribe (Gond group), had immense influence upon the tribals of Surguja and adjoining areas. She established the Bapu Dharma Sabha Adivasi Seva Mandal, and had about 80,000 followers in 1960. She was inspired by the Gandhian ideals. She enlightened the tribals and fought against the evils of drinking, superstitions and worked towards the liberation of women.
Madhya Pradesh is the third largest state in India with the largest concentration of tribal population, according to the Census 1971. The two major tribal communities being the Gonds and Bhils. The Surguja district lies in present-day Chhattisgarh.
Narayan Singh (Chhattisgarh)
Hero of the First War of Independence of Chhattisgarh, 1856-1857
The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 was not confined to the activities of Indian Armymen, it spread to the tribal hinterland as well. One such exmaple is Narayan Singh, the tribal landlord whose ancestors belonged to the Gond tribal group residing in Sarangarh. In August 1856, he relieved the cultivators by distributing grain hoarded by a merchant – an act of public benefit for which he was publicly executed by the colonial authorities on 10th December, 1857 at Raipur.
He was earlier arrested in 1856 for a period of 10 months, from whence he escaped by digging an underground tunnel on 28th August 1857. With the assistance of landlord of Deori, the British forces arrested Narayan Singh.
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