The Santal Rebellion of 1855–56: Tribesmen driven to despair by encroachment of outsiders and the misery caused by an iniquitous system – Colonial history

von Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph. Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982, pp. 36-37:

Rebellions of aboriginal tribesmen against the authority of the government are among the most tragic conflicts between ruler and ruled. Whatever course the clash may take, it is always a hopeless struggle of the weak against the strong, the illiterate and uninformed against the organized power of a sophisticated system. There may be loss of life on both sides, but it is always the aboriginals who court ruin and economic distress. I do not refer here to the past risings of martial frontier tribes whose aims were basically political, but to the rebellions of primitive aboriginal tribes of Peninsular India, such as the Santal  Rebellion in Bihar, the Bhil Rebellion in Khandesh, and the Rampa Rebellion in the East Godavari District. All these uprisings were defensive movements; they were the last resort of tribesmen driven to despair by the encroachment of outsiders on their land and economic resources. As such they could all have been avoided had the authorities taken cognizance of the aboriginals’ grievances and set about to remedy them, not as it happened in most cases after the rising, but before the pressure on the tribesmen made an outbreak of violence unavoidable.

The  Santal  Rebellion of 1855–56, with which we are here only marginally concerned, was mainly an effort to undo the steady loss of land to non-tribal immigrants, but E. G. Mann, writing in 1867, listed also a number of specific grievances as having caused the  Santals  to rise against an inefficient and lethargic government, totally inexperienced in dealing with primitive tribes. Among the causes of the rising were: the grasping and rapacious manner of merchants and moneylenders in their transactions with the  Santals, the misery caused by the iniquitous system of allowing personal and hereditary bondage for debt, the unparalleled corruption and extortion of the police in aiding and abetting the moneylenders, and the impossibility of the  Santals  obtaining redress from the courts. The causes of the  Santals ‘ uprising, one of the greatest rebellions in the annals of tribal India, were very similar to the circumstances which led to outbreaks of violence in other tribal areas. […]

Source: Tribes of India
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