Bhil Uprising



  • 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.