Santhal Uprising/Rebellion: Causes, Consequences and Impact

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Santhal Uprising was one of the most impactful and important tribal movements in India. It's importance can be understood from the fact that Karl Marx (in Notes on Indian History), Rabindranath Tagore and many other prominent authors described this movement in greater detail. It provided a great impact on future tribal and National Movements. It was the first Movement which set the Swaraj as the ultimate goal of the movement.
Also Read: Birsa Munda Movement : Causes, Impacts and Importance

Who were Santhals? (Background)

Santhals started settling down in the foothills of Rajmahal in around 1780s. Santhals were given land and persuaded by local Zamindars, Moneylenders (Mahajans and Sahukars) and British administration to settle down in region and to push Pahariyas (local tribal group) out from the lower hills of Rajmahal.

Santhals successfully pushed Pahariyas into deep forest in Rajmahal Hills and captured their lands. These Santhals slowly and steadily grown in population as well as land area and get settled in the region as peasants. The land on which Santhals were living was declared as Damin-i-Koh (the land of Santhals). The population and area of Damin-i-Koh was increased tremendously from 40 villages and 3000 population in 1838 to 1473 villages with 82000 population in 1851.

Initially they were supportive to local Zamindars, Mahajans, Sahukars and Britishers (collectively called as 'Dikus' or outsiders by Santhals). But soon the situation started changing and Santhals found that the land they have cleared and brought under the cultivation was slipping away from their hands. The state was levying heavy taxes on the land that the Santhals had cleared, moneylenders were charging them high rates of interest and taking over their land on failure of repayment and Zamindars were asserting control over the Damin-i-Koh area. Hence Santhals found themselves trapped in a conspiracy by Dikus.


1. Economic Cause

Santhals usually taken loan for sowing seeds and for other purposes from local Sahukars and Mahajans at very high interest rates and on the failure of repayment of loans Sahukars and Mahajans tend to capture the land are of Damin-i-Koh region started decreasing. And in the process, British officers and police always supported Sahukars, Zamindars and Mahajans.

New Forest Policy brought by Britishers for using forest resources restricted the authority of Santhals over the forest resources. Which created much disappointment among Santhals.

Santhals were forcibly used for laying down of railway track between Bhagalpur and Vardhwan without any pay.

2. Religious Causes

The Charter Act of 1813 allowed Christian Missionaries to propagate Christianity in India. The Christian Missionaries were targeting tribes  in India and threatening the traditional beliefs and code of conduct of Santhals also.

3. Socio-Political Cause

The traditional Manjhi System and Parha Panchayat System of Santhals, Which involve group decision making and Self P decision at village level. Both of these two systems were affected heavily by British Regulations and laws.

4. Immediate Cause

In the month of June,1855, in a minor incident of theft many Santhal peoples were arrested by local police and brutally beaten up. In response of this incident the inspector of the police station was killed by a mob of  Santhals.

  • This incident incited Santhals.

Start and Progress 

On 30th June, 1855, Under the leadership of Sidhu and Kanhu, a group of 6000 Santhals were gathered in Bhaginidih and took up traditional armours such as Arrow & Bows and bowed to established Swaraj. Sidhu and Kanhu promised new revenue policy and natural justice based on their traditional system of justice.

To stir religious sentiments among the revolutionaries, he said that the God of Santhals (Singh Bonga) came into their dreams and ordered to fight against Dikus and establish Swaraj over Damin-i-Koh region.

During the uprising, Santhals were attacked on police and the British Authorities. Besides these they also looted and murdered Mahajans and Sahukars. In a short span of time it spread all across the Damin-i-Koh region as well as Dhanbad, Bhagalpur, Singhbhum/Virbhum areas. The number of revolutionaries increased almost 10 times from 6000 to 60000.

Decline of the Movement

Seeing the scale of the revolt, British administration immediately ordered for the Marshal Law in Damin-i-Koh region. Major Baro was sent with 10 battalions of Army to contain the revolt but they remained unsuccessful in the their attempt.

After the failure of Major Baro and his Battalions , British administration sent a big unit of Army under the leadership of Captain Alexander and Lieutenant Thomson to suppress the revolt. This time they became successful to contain the revolt. During the process more than 15000 Santhals including Sidhu and Kanhu were killed and many were arrested. The revolt hence finally declined.

Consequences of the Revolt

1. Administrative

The region between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal Hills in Singhbhum district were carved out and named as Santhal Pargana and declared as Non-regulation district.

2. Legal

Tenancy Law was enacted in Santhal Pargana, which provided for village head and village officers, who were entrusted with judicial and policing powers.

3. Social

The traditional Manjhi system was again became operational in the region.

Importance of the Revolt

In terms of aim, Santhal Uprising was the first revolt which set it's aim for attaining Swaraj or Self rule in the Santhal region, which later became the aim of National Movement as well.

In terms of leadership, Sidhu and Kanhu performed very well. He touched every aspects which influenced the movement and let it quickly spread in very wide spectra of region. 

Due to coverage of all aspects by the leaders of the revolt, the movement touched every aspects of society which resulted into huge co-operation among revolutionaries and the leaders  of the movement.

In terms of outcome, the revolt became partially successful and achieved some of it's goals. Despite of the fact that it could not able to achieve Swaraj but it became somewhat successful as Santhal Pargana was declared as Non-Regulation District and gave a certain amount of autonomy at village level.


Despite it failed in achieving it's aim of Swaraj, it influenced future Tribal movements (such as Birsa Munda Revolt) as well as the National Freedom Struggle movement. Santhal Uprising changed the thinking approach of weaker sections of the society, who were earlier afraid of the the Britishers and upper cast groups, now turned into more empowered and confident.