Sunday, July 6, 2014


One hundred and fifty nine years ago, on June 30 , 1855,  thousands of Santals, led by four brothers, Sido, Kanhu, Chand and Bhoirab Murmu, in the village of Bhognadihi  in what was to later become Santal Parganas, rose as one to take an oath against  the British tyranny and ruthless exploitation by local landlords, moneylenders and traders. It was to be one of the fiercest uprisings that the British ever faced in India.

Simmering from the continuous injustice perpetrated on them ever since they were forced to migrate from their native heartland in the Chhota Nagpur plateau, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, they declared themselves free and vowed to fight unto the last against the British rulers as well as their agents.  Hul in Santali means a movement for liberation. 

Attack by 600 Santals upon a party of 50 sepoys,
40th regiment native infantry
The rebellion soon reached the scale of a full-fledged war. At the outset, Santal rebels, led by Sido and Kanhu, captured control over a large tract of the region between the Rajmahal hills and Birbhum district. For a while, British rule in this vast area became completely paralyzed, but the British soon rallied back with their superior arms and out-and-out butchery.  In spite of the  courage and  incredible bravery of the approximately fifty thousand strong Santals, twenty to thirty thousand of them were brutally  decimated by the British Indian Army. The brothers were captured and killed. John Company was finally able to suppress the rebellion in 1856, though some outbreaks continued.

In his Annals of Rural Bengal, W W Hunter quotes a British commanding officer during the Santal rebellion: " It was not war - they did not understand yielding... So long as their national drums beat, the whole party would stand and allow themselves to be shot down.. " . They went on fighting to the last man... "There was not a single sepoy in the British army who did not feel ashamed of himself."

But the Santal Hul was not in vain. It led to the formation of the Santal Parganas (in Jharkhand). Efforts were also initiated to offer protection to these indigenous people from ruthless colonial exploitation. The anniversary of the Santal Hul is celebrated every year.

Group from Purulia perform on Hul Diwas at the Folk
& Tribal Cultural Centre,  Kolkata
On June 30, 2014, the Folk and Tribal Cultural Centre, West Bengal at Kolkata celebrated Hul Diwas with performances by groups from Bankura, West Medinipur, Birbhum and Purulia districts. In his speech, Dr Upen Biswas, the Hon'ble Minister for Backward Classes Welfare urged all tribals  to take inspiration both from their rich and proud origins and the fearless courage that their ancestors had displayed during the Hul.  It is not enough, he continued, to merely celebrate Hul Diwas each year -  they should go forward fearlessly  in society and learn to be independent - and not just depend on government jobs. "You can do it", he encouraged.  He shared with the audience that many tribals  have been given the  opportunity  to  sit for the IAS exams, for the first time in West Bengal. Moreover, he continued, it is now possible for tribals to cut through the red tape and apply directly for funding to the SC & ST Development & Finance Corporation.

Group from Birbhum  
It was also announced that there would be an Adivasi Bhawan set up in each district - as a sort of transit house for visiting  members of tribal communities. Click on the link below for an excerpt of Dr Biswas's speech (in Bengali).

Dr Pashupati Mahato who was invited to sing a Jhumur song for the occasion, spoke first on the origin of the word Santal : from Samantol (plains) people as against the Paharis or hill tribes (of the Rajmahal hills, a destination to which the Santals from Chhota Nagpur  were compelled to migrate by the British)  to Sonthol  to Santhal and finally Santal.                                              

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