Tribal Movements



  • The name of the Bhil tribe owes its origin to the word “bhillu” which means bow. Hunter-gatherer by profession, the natives of the tribe had expertise in archery integrated with practical experience in the art of bow making.
    • They used these self-produced means of art, for war and trade purposes
  • Eklavya, the prominent archer prodigy, was known to be born to a Bhil couple.


Bhil uprising against the British

  • The Bhil uprising of 1818 was one of the first British resistance movement taken up by any group or tribe in the country.
  • The rebellion was against the British feudalism and imperialism in Rajputana.
  • The tribe had had a long history of a peaceful living, but the changes brought about by the British administration and the feudal order made them tumultuous against the government.
  • The causes of uprisings include:
    • The coming of the British rule in India brought about certain administrative changes in the country.
    • Before these changes, the Bhil tribesmen fully enjoyed the undiversified forest rights.
    • In the year 1818, all the Bhil tribal states joined hands with British Administration to conclude a treaty.
    • Now, the British became the real master as they were now handed over the right of intervention and policy formation for both the external and internal affairs of the state.
    • Further, the Bhils were deprived of the rights to consume and use of various products that were produced abundantly in the forest.
    • A ban was imposed on the domestic consumption and trade of certain products in the nearby villages and tribes.
      • For instance, the cutting of Mango and Malwa trees was prohibited
    • The natives of the tribe were prohibited to distil liquor openly in their homes. The states gave the contract of distilling liquor to the traders and earned income out of it.
    • The price of abundant articles like opium was increased for the Bhils. The British were given exclusive rights over the article and they consequently established a new system altogether for weighing it.
      • This led to the tribe’s resentment against the British as they were being deprived of various basic amenities.
    • Also, the money-lenders exploited the Bhils economically.
      • They would seize their lands, in reply to their inability to pay back the loans taken on a high rate of interest, from the money-lenders.
      • In 1879, annoyed by their activities, the Bhils revolted by killing some of these money-lenders.
    • Further, the British government in the country was keen to ensure a smooth passage of trade to the Bombay and Surat ports and also for speedy movement of the troops from the areas inhabited by the Bhil tribesmen.
      • For this purpose, contracts were given to people outside the tribe to cut down the trees for construction of roads. This hurt the sentiments of the tribe.
    • On the whole, their refusal to surrender their rights and the zeal to stand against the British administration became the immediate cause of the Bhil rebellion from 1818-1900.

Consequences of the uprising

  • To counter the Bhil rebellion from 1818, the British government sent in forces to crush the uprising by suppressing the dissents.
  • The forces compelled the Bhil warriors to surrender immediately, but it backfired as it created all the more bitterness and resentment against the British
  • The forces were not able to move deep in the forest to crush the revolt completely owing to the ever-increasing difficulties in the dense forest.
  • Also, the subordinates of the ruler of Mewar tried to bring the Bhils to the negotiation table but to no success.
  • Finally, Col Walter, a British representative, concluded a peace settlement with the tribesmen.
    • The natives were given concession in their rights to various taxes and their forest rights.
    • Even though the British could claim to have suppressed the uprising, yet they were never able to achieve permanent peace in the areas inhabited by the Bhils.

Thus, the Bhil revolt is significant in Indian history, as it exposed the exploitation of the tribesmen and the efforts by external forces to control the natives. The political consciousness of the Bhil community against the British, brought in an awareness among other common citizens in India, during the colonial Rule.



  • The Kol uprising was a revolt of the Adivasi Kol people of Chhota Nagpur region, during 1829-1839 as a reaction to British Policies.
  • These people have their own cultures, customs and traditions which is very different from the mainstream. They learn to survive in most hostile environment but stay united.
  • The Kol uprising of 1831- 32 was born out of frustration and anger of Tribal people, against the new system of British Government and laws.


Reasons for Uprising

  • The uprising was a reaction to the appointment of a Political Agent to the Government in South Bihar, and ceded districts nearby around 1819.
    • This resulted in many people moving into these areas which were the lands of numerous Adivasi tribes.
  • Until the British arrived, these tribes had no rulers and their lands were divided according to families that were bound by “parhas” or conferences.
    • With the application of new land laws, the Kols were exploited by outsiders moving into the area and taking up agriculture and commercial activities that were alien to tribal culture.
  • Also, many of the lands of the locals were taken away as securities for un-returned loans.
  • Another irritation was the taxation on the movement of products, such as salt that were formerly freely moved. Corrupt official practices and lawlessness followed.

As a result of above reasons, in 1831, the Kol tribesmen of Chhota Nagpur, who were upset over exploitation by agents of the East India Company (EIC), rose in revolt against the EIC.

  • The rebel kols were under the leadership of Buddhu Bhagat, Joa Bhagat, Jhindrai Manki, Madara Mahato and others.
  • The Kol insurrection started in 1831, when the farm of two Sikh thikadar (contractors) was plundered and burnt. In 1832, there were clashes between the armed forces and the tribals Kols rebels.
  • The characteristic feature of the Kol rebellion was that the Kol tribesmen did not fight alone. Other tribesmen like the Hos, Oraons, and Mundas joined forces with them.


British Reaction

  • British historiography described the Kol uprising as banditry.
  • Despite putting up a very brave fight, the Kols were defeated in the end.
  • Thousands of tribal men, women and children were killed and rebellion was suppressed. But the sacrifice of Buddhu Bhagat and other tribesman didn`t go in vain. However, this rebellion inspired many other followers.




  • The 19th century witnessed innumerable movements, but the ones like the Santhal revolt hold a significant position, in India’s struggle for freedom.
  • The Santhal rebellion was a rebellion in present day Jharkhand, Eastern India against both the British East India Company (BEIC) and zamindari system by the Santhal.


Background to the Rebellion

  • In order to control the vast territory of India, East India Company began to implement revenue policies, law and order rules to be followed by the countrymen, from the time they began consolidating, after Battle of Plassey in 1757.
  • In 1793, Lord Cornwallis introduced the Permanent Settlement in some parts of the country like Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa.
    • Under the permanent revenue system, landlords had perpetual and hereditary rights over the land as long as they paid a fixed revenue to the British government. If the peasants were not able to pay their rent, the British auctioned away large tracts of land belonging to the Santhals, to anyone who would pay them fixed revenue and so in this process, several tribal lands were sold.
    • In this process, the Santhal lost control over the land, and their old tribal systems and political structures that had continued for generations came to an end.
  • The Santhals were the tribal people inhabiting the forest of Rajmahal hills. In 1832, East India Company demarcated the Damin-i-Koh from the region of Jharkhand and gave it to Santhals, to settle with a promise of non-interference in their land.
    • But with changing times and the rising demand of the Britishers, the rent to the Santhals raised to an exorbitant rate.
    • Ultimately, the Santhals were trapped in a situation where they had the only option to revolt against the Britishers and the Zamindars.
  • Another reason cited for the Santhal rebellion was that the Santhals followed the barter system and they faced trouble paying the zamindars in cash, and as a result, they had to borrow money from the moneylenders at an exorbitant rate, which ultimately trapped them into a vicious cycle.
    • To come out of this cycle and save the identity of the Santhals, the only solution was to revolt against the British policies.


The Rebellion

  • The Santhal revolt (also known as the Hul revolt ) started on 30th June 1855, with the help of prominent leaders like Sidhu, Kanhu, Chand, and Bhairav, and also their two sisters Phulo and Jhano.
  • The depressed and anguished Santhals engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Britishers and formed their own troops which included the farmers, villagers, and the women.
    • In this quest, they were able to capture large parts of land including Rajmahal Hills, Bhagalpur district, and Birbhum.
  • They militarized over 10000 Santhal people. The villagers put to fire the storehouses and the warehouses and all forms of communication lines were disrupted.
    • The government applied all possible means to suppress the movement. In order to curb the rebellion, Britishers used heavy loaded weapons against bows and arrows used by the Santhals.
  • The landlords were in the support of the government whereas the local people supported the Santhals in full vigour.
  • Unfortunately, the duo brother Sidhu and Kanhu were arrested and the revolt had a brutal end.
    • The Santhals were repressed and the movement came to an end in 1856.


How Was the revolt, different From the Other Revolts?

  • Organized movement
    • The Santhal uprising was an organized movement with good leadership qualities. In a short period of time, it was successful in uniting about 60,000 people.
    • If we look at the other spontaneous movement of that time, we find that none of the movements was that well-arranged as the Santhal revolt. The unity of the Santhals shook the nerve of the Britishers.
  • Use of weapons & Tactics
    • Despite the Santhal using bows and arrows against the weapons and artillery used by the Britishers, the guerrilla tactics, which was a new occurrence for Bihar to fight against the Britishers, gave Santhals an upper hand.
  • Trained leadership
    • The prominent leaders of the war, Sidhu, and Kanhu in a short span of time, were successful in mobilizing a huge number of people to fight against the cause.
  • Blow on British powers
    • The Santhal rebellion was a blow on the British powers. It was such a fierce movement that Britishers had to implement martial law to quell the powers of Santhals
  • Growth of Revolutionary Nationalism
    • The Santhal revolt fostered a sense of unity among the Santhal tribes.
    • It was seen as the beginning of larger wars to free the people from the oppressive British rule.
    • This movement resulted in a feeling of nationalism which helped to mobilize people for further wars, like the Revolt of 1857.
  • Identity of the tribal people
    • The Santhal rebellion gave birth to the modern Santhal identity.
    • It also promoted the tribal people to protect their culture and tradition from any kind of destruction and interference.
  • Successful movement
    • It was seen that the Britishers did acknowledge their follies, despite the Santhals being defeated
    • Further, after the end of the war, the Santhal Paraganas Tenancy Act was enacted which provided the tribes some protection against the oppressive British Rule.
    • This was successful in inculcating nationalist feelings among the people.


Thus, the Santhal uprising is not only a movement of great Historical importance. It rather, is the root cause behind it, the rights to tribal lands that finds mention, which becomes relevant in present context. Thus, History truly is a continuum and it is important to understand the past, to make sense of the present, in order to deal with current Tribal related issues in India.


The Rebellion

  • After the First Anglo Burmese War(1824-26), the British planned the construction of a road connecting Brahmaputra Valley (present day Assam) with Sylhet (present day Bangladesh).
  • The Jaintias and the Garos in the North-Eastern part of India (present day Meghalaya), opposed the construction of this road which was of strategic importance to the British for the movement of troops.
  • In 1827, the Jaintias tried to stop work and soon the unrest spread to the neighbouring Garo hills.
  • Alarmed, the British burnt several Jaintias and Garo villages. The hostilities increased with the introduction of House Tax and Income Tax by the British in 1860’s.
  • However, the Jaintias leader U Kiang Nongbah was captured and publicly hanged and the Garo leader Pa Togan Sangma was defeated by the British.


In news

  • The Government of India has honored U Kiang Nangbah not just by declaring a holiday on the day that he was martyred, but also by opening a government college in the town of Jowai in his honor in 1967.
  • Also, a postage stamp was also issued in his name in 2001.



  • The Rampa Rebellion of 1922, also known as the Manyam Rebellion, was a tribal uprising led by Alluri Sitarama Raju in Godavari Agency of Madras Presidency, British India.
  • It began in August 1922 and lasted until the capture and killing of Raju in May 1924.
  • This Rebellion had no connection with the Rampa Rebellion of 1879.



  • The Rampa administrative area, situated in the hills of the present Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh, comprised around 700 square miles, and comprised mostly of Tribal population.
  • They had traditionally supported their food requirements, through the use, in particular, of the Podu system, whereby each year some areas of jungle forest were burned to clear land for cultivation.
  • The British wanted to take control of the forest land for building railways and ships.
    • Also, the British authorities wanted to improve the economic usefulness of lands in Godavari Agency, an area that was noted for the prevalence of malaria and blackwater fever.
    • This commercial exploitation had a great impact on the local tribal people, as they lost their land to traditional cultivation activities.
    • Thus, the revolt was mainly against the passing of Madras Forest Act, 1882 which put restrictions on the free movement of tribal communities in the forest land and prevented them from engaging in their traditional Podu agricultural system.
  • Further, the tribal people of the forested hills, who now faced starvation, had long felt that the legal system favoured the zamindars and merchants of the plains areas, which had also resulted in the earlier Rampa Rebellion of 1879.
    • As a result, the tribal people objected the British laws.
  • Simultaneously, there was discontent among the muttadars, who had been hereditary tax collectors and de facto rulers in the hills prior to the arrival of the British.
    • They had acted on behalf of the rajas, the actual rulers who lived on the plains.
    • Later, the British subsumed them into the colonial administration, leaving them as bureaucrats with no substantive power
    • Hence, the tribal and Muttadars had a common foe.


The Revolt

  • Alluri Sitarama Raju, a sanyasi, a person of justice and strong will power, raised his voice against the unlawful British Policy.
    • He harnessed the discontent of the tribal people to support his anti-colonial zeal, whilst also accommodating the grievances of those Muttadars who were sympathetic to his aim.
  • Tribal people were the victims of the colonial rulers’ greed and Raju wanted justice for them.
    • So, Raju headed the Rampa Rebellion along with the band of tribal people and other followers.
    • Alluri Raju also used guerrilla warfare to fight against the British. He raided many police stations like Dammanapalli, Krishna Devi Petra and Annavaram.
  • The revolt started in August 1922 and ended in May 1924 after the capturing and killing of Raju.
  • However, there was no commission of enquiry placed on the problems faced by the tribes and the reason for rebellion.
  • According to the British, “It was the prevalent diseases through which the tribal people had acquired tolerance, which hindered the British suppression of the rebellion”.

Topic in news

  • In 2022, two special postal covers were released, celebrating the centenary of the Rampa rebellion, led by Alluri Sitarama Raju.



  • The Munda Ulgulan (rebellion) is one of the most prominent tribal revolts in the history of Indian Independence.
  • Even though the end was not favourable, it sent a message across the borders that the tribal people know how to raise their voice and to what extent.



  • The Munda was a tribe based in Chhota Nagpur of Jharkhand whose means of living was agriculture.
  • The cause of this uprising was similar to that of other rebellions – the British Colonizers, Zamindars and Missionaries.
  • The Mundas practiced Khuntkatti System, where the whole clan jointly owned the land fit for cultivation.
    • However, over the course of 19th century, the non-tribal people started to settle in the land of Munda and became Jagirdars and zamindars.
    • The land owned by Mundas were seized or forfeited and they were forced to work as landless labourers in the fields of these Jagirdars and zamindars.
    • They exploited these meek tribal people by charging them high rate of interest and withholding their receipts. Such practices brought the indigenous people in conflict with Dikus (outsiders).
  • Further, large forest areas was constituted as the protected forest and took away their rights from these lands.
    • The landlords and Dikus (outsiders) strengthened their hold over the properties of the Mundas and demanded begari (wageless labour).
    • The holders of lands were reduced to holders of plough.
    • As a result, their condition got worse and they lost their grip over ancestral land.
    • Thus, the people of Munda tribe were desperately in need of a person, who could show them the way and lead them to fight back for their land.


The Rebellion

  • It was at this time, Birsa Munda, spearheaded the tribal movement.
  • Born in 1875, he began to understand the nature of exploitation met out against his tribal villagers.
    • He had knowledge about the Golden Age of Munda tribe, which existed before the advent of dikus and had seen its transformation into an impoverished tribe.
    • He strived for a positive political programme, his object being the attainment of independence, both religious and political.
    • The movement sought the assertion of the rights of the Mundas, as the real proprietors of the soil.
    • This ideal agrarian order, according to Birsa, would be possible in a world free from the influence of European official
  • As a result, he called upon the Mundas to fight against superstition, give up animal sacrifice, stop taking intoxicants, to wear the sacred thread and retain the tribal tradition of worship in the sarna or the sacred grove.
    • The rebellion, was essentially a revivalist movement, which sought to purge Munda society of all foreign elements and restore its pristine character.
  • Further, by 1890s, he was mobilizing people and enraging the tribal in the region.
    • In 1894, he declared a revolt against the British and the dikus and declared to create a ‘Munda Raj’.
    • Under his leadership, the villagers attacked the police stations, churches and government properties in 1899.
  • However, on 9 January, 1900, the rebels were defeated. Birsa was captured and died in jail. Nearly 350 Mundas were put on trial and of them three were hanged and 44 transported for life.


Significance of the Movement

  • Although the rebellion could not reach the desired end, it left a significant impact on the tribal movement of India.
    • It showed that the tribal people had the capacity to protest against injustice and express their anger against colonial rule.
  • The British enacted the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 which restricted the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal people.
    • The “Khuntkatti” rights were recognised and ”Beth begari” was banned.
    • Consequently, tribals won a degree of legal protection for their land rights.
  • Most importantly, Birsa Munda, in just 25 years of age, left a legacy behind him, and he is named among the exceptional freedom fighters of India.

Thus, the sacrifices, devotion and hope poured in the revolt by Munda tribe have its own legacy followed by the people of India.

In news

  • Every year, Birth anniversary of Birsa Munda is observed on November 15th.
  • In recognition of his impact on the national movement, the state of Jharkhand was created on his birth anniversary in 2000.



  • The Khond is a native clan of India dominatingly living in Orissa and the Srikakulam and Visakhapatnam regions of Andhra Pradesh.
  • The clan extended from Bengal to Tamil Nadu covering focal regions. They are the biggest ancestral gatherings of Orissa.


Events leading to the disturbances

  • Kalahandi, where majority of Khonds had settled, was ruled by Hindu Raja Udit Partab Deo.
    • To achieve high revenue collection, the Raja drastically curtailed the powers of the Umraos or chief headmen, and ousted the Khonds from their villages and gave these villages to the Kultas, who were an industrial caste of cultivators.
    • This reduced the Khonds to the level of hopeless drudges, and they brewed in deep discontent by 1881.
  • The Ghumsar wars of 1835-37 and the wars of 1846-48 fought between the Khonds and the British were wars of conquest aimed at expansion and consolidation of colonial rule.
    • This process resulted in the suppression of practice of Meriah or Human Sacrifice from the mid of 19th Century.
  • Further, there was a transformation in the mode of Political legitimisation.
    • On one hand, the traditional tribal organisation had been based on mutual cooperation between the ruling Hindu elite and the Khonds from whom they derived legitimacy.
    • Colonial rule not only breached the relations between the Khonds and Hindu elite, it also subjugated the Khonds to the British.
    • Also, the inroads made by colonial conquest in the Khond tracts, further exposed the vulnerable tribal population to ‘outside’ forces that significantly altered the Khond tribal organisation.
  • As a result, the Khond disturbances of 1882, which went on for over half a year, occurred in two phases:
    • In first phase, there was large-scale plundering of Kulta Villages and property.
    • The second phase saw intensive bloodshed and cruelty.

Thus, the Khond revolt, which started as a result of Colonial policies, contested the sovereignty of the British. However, nothing much came out of the unrest, other than bolstering of colonial structures in the state.

  • Thus, the disturbance went down in the history of tribal unrest, as a distinctly ‘Agrarian’ unrest.



  • During the colonial time period, tribal uprisings were taking place in different parts of India due to the local reasons and Tana Bhagat movement is one of them.
  • This movement was religious in its initial stage, but gradually targeted the political objectives.
  • This movement is considered as an extended part of the Birsa movement.
  • Tana Bhagat movement was started in April 1914, under the leadership of Jatra Bhagat.
  • Basically Tana Bhagat movement was started to stop the evil practices which were taking place in the Oraon community of Chotanagpur and to oppose the Jamindars policies which were exploiting the Oraon people directly.
  • People adopted non-violence as their strategy to make this movement successful as the followers of this movement were influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.


Reasons of the movement

  • In April 1914 Jatra Bhagat announced, that he had a direct message from God Dharmesh (God of Oraon community) to revive the Oraon religion, because some bad practices like- exorcism, ghost hunter, animal sacrifices for God and alcoholism etc. have entered in their religion and somehow these practices should be abandoned. So these all religious issues provided the platform for movement in the initial stage.
  • Jamindars were exploiting the Oraon community people by taking extra rent of lands. This kind of rebel behaviour of Jamindars agitated the Oraon community.
  • The role of pahan (priests) and mahto (village representative) in the village gave way to the Jatra followers, to raise voice against these people as they believed in ghosts and other evil practices.
  • The Oraon people were also forced for unpaid labour by their landlords.
  • Further, the people of the community, faced land alienation from the Government.



  • Animal sacrifices were stopped
  • Drinking alcohol was prohibited
  • Superstitious belief did not get importance
  • People were exempted from imposed taxes
  • The followers decided that they will not provide services as coolies or labourers
  • Demand of self-governance



  • Later this movement joined the national movement of Mahatma Gandhi and adopted his principles of truth and non-violence.
    • Also, the followers of this movement participated in congress sessions of Calcutta, Gaya and Lahore.
  • In this way the followers of the Tana Bhagat movement took part in national movements against the British rule. In present also Oraon community people follow the Gandhian thought.
    • This movement was very unique in its nature, because it tried to associate with the national movement and played a significant role in Indian independence.