People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXI

No. 25

June 24, 2007

Jharkhand In The 1857 War Of Independence

 

J S Majumdar

 

THREE currents of revolts and resistance against the East India Company, over lapping each other but not inter-related, were observed in the area of present day Jharkhand during 1857 war of independence.

 

After the battle of Palassy, giving diwani (revenue administration) of Bengal Bihar and Orissa to East India Company on August 12, 1765 by the Mughal emperor was a turning point in Indian history as EMS Namboodiripad pointed out in his seminal work, A History of Indian Freedom Struggle. Unlike Bengal, the feudatory chiefs in Jharkhand were almost independent, maintained army and administered justice in their own territories and paid tribute at their will to Mughal emperor. After they got Diwani, to force payment of revenue and to impose subordination, East India Company launched armed campaign against the feudal chiefs of Jharkhand in 1767. The British armed campaign and armed resistance by the feudatory chiefs continued, intermittently, almost for three quarters of a century. Feuding feudal chiefs helped Company army to defeat themselves.

 

The other current of armed revolt and resistance against the British armed forces was by the adivasis spanning over 128 years. No other place in India has seen such armed revolts, resistance and sacrifice of the masses against the might of the British government for such a long period. Chronicle of such revolts include Mal Paharia revolt (1772-80), Santhal revolt under the leadership of Tilka Manjhi (1780-85), Munda revolt in Tamar under the leadership of Bishnu Manki and Maiju Manki (1795-1800), Chuar revolt (1798), Bhumij revolt of Manbhoom (1798-99), Chero revolt under the leadership of Bhukhan Singh in Palamau-Surguja (1800-02), Munda revolt in Palamau under the leadership of Bhukhan Munda (1819-20), Ho uprising (1821), Oraon revolt under the leadership of Buddhu Bhagat (1830-32), Kol uprising (1831-32), Kherwar revolt under the leadership of Bhagirath, Dubai Gosai and Patel Singh (1832-33), Bhumij revolt under the leadership of Ganga Narain Singh (1832-33), Santhal Hul under the leadership of Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu (1856), Kherwar movement under the leadership of Bhagirath Manjhi (1874), Kherwar revolt (1881), Sardar movement of Munda tribes (1858-81, 1890-95), Munda Ulgulan under the leadership of Birsa Munda (1895-1900).

 

Adivasi armed revolts and resistance characteristically differed from other contemporary currents of struggle for independence. Adivasi revolts were mass uprisings of peasants. They used bows and arrows and other traditional arms against fire arms. Their struggle was for freedom, natural justice, identity and traditional rights on land, forest and water. They adopted the tactics of guerilla war fare. They fought against the British army and their sepoys, police, zamindars, money lenders and government administrators.

 

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Permanent zamindari settlement of 1793 added to the woes of the adivasis. Zamindars, the police, the revenue and court alas have exercised a combined system of extortion, oppressive extraction, forcible dispossession of property, abuse and personal violence and a variety of petty tyrannies upon the..Santhals. (Calcutta Review, 1856). Under Indian forest act, waste lands of adivasi villages were converted as protected forest depriving the adivasis of their traditional rights on forest produce. Obviously, adivasis in general did not have faith on the sepoys and feudal lords, who led 1857 war of independence.

 

Yet, 1857 war of independence in Jharkhand broke out at Hazaribagh on July 30 when Santhals rebelled against the Company government, broke the jail and freed the prisoners. Hazaribagh deputy commissioner fled to Barhi. Hazaribagh became free.

 

Credit of mobilising the Santhal adivasis against Company government goes to Shekh Bhikhari. Shekh Bhikhari was himself a zamindar of 12 villages and later became dewan of Khatanga state of Tikait Umrao Singh. Both of them were patriots and closely followed the war of independence which began in other parts of the country. They encouraged the sepoys of Ramgarh army battalion, which was within the territory of Khatanga state, to revolt. The sepoy leaders were also in touch with Mangal Pandey. On July 31 under the leadership of Madho Singh and Nadir Ali Khan sepoys of Ramgarh army camp revolted. The foreign officers and loyal sepoys were defeated in Chutupalu ghat. The combined forces of sepoys of Umrao Singh and zamindar Madho Singh led by Shekh Bhikhari marched towards Ranchi to join hands with Thakur Bishwanath Sahdeo and Pandey Ganpat Rai.
Thakur Bishwanath Sahdeo was the jagirdar of Barkagarh state under the Maharaja of Chotanagpur. In 1855 he revolted against British rule and defeated British army. Pandey Ganpat Rai was the dewan of Maharaja of Chotanagpur. Both of them joined hands to fight the British rule despite opposition by Maharaja of Chotanagpur, who sided with the British government. Bishwanath Sahdeo and Ganpat Rai proceeded to meet Veer Keur Singh of Jagdisgpur of present Bihar for alliance against the British. They were intercepted by British army. Ganpat Rai led the rebellion of sepoys in Doranda army camp of Ranchi. The combined forces of Umrao Singh, Shekh Bhikhari, Madho Singh, Bishwanath Sahdeo and Ganpat Rai and rebellious sepoys of Ramgarh battalion and of Doranda army camp broke jail and freed the prisoners, burnt record rooms and administrative offices at Ranchi. Ranchi commissioner Dalton, deputy commissioner Denis and judicial commissioner Oaks fled from Ranchi through Kanke-Pithoria road. Ranchi became free.

 

Two brothers Nilambar and Pitambar organised the Bhogtas and Kherwars of Palamau. They joined hands with jagirdar of Chero. They were influenced by Doranda sepoy rebellion. They freed Lesliganj and Shahpur, southern part of Daltonganj.

 

Thus, beginning on July 30, 1857 within few months large areas of Hazaribagh, Ramgarh, Ranchi and Palamau of present day Jharkhand were liberated from British rule.

 

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At local level due to disunity, absence of central command, lack of trained armed personnel and of ammunitions, the freedom fighters could not sustain.

 

By 1858, the war of independence in the area of present day Jharkhand was ruthlessly suppressed by the British army. Two hundred Santhal rebels in Hazaribagh and hundreds of sepoys were executed. Shekh Bhikhari was arrested on January 6, summarily tried on January 7 and was hanged on January 8, 1858. Thakur Bishwanath Sahdeo and Ganpat Rai were hanged side by side at the gate of Ranchi zila school to terrorise the people. Nilambar Pitambar retreated in Manika forest and continued their fight. Latter they were arrested and hanged to death.

 

In 1857 feudal India, the declared objective of the war of independence was to re-establish the Mughal emperor to the Delhi throne. At local level the freedom fighters wanted to establish native rule and maintain their feudal social system and cultural identity. The concept of parliamentary democratic system in India would come much later in twentieth century. 1857 war of independence was naturally led by the feudal lords. Second phase of freedom struggle under the leadership of national bourgeoisie would come by the end of nineteenth century with the growth of industrialisation and formation of national bourgeoisie. The role of the working class and their ideological and political struggle would again come much later with the contradiction growing in the changing material conditions.

 

By no means can supreme sacrifice of the patriots of the 1857 war of independence be under-estimated. The entire area in northern India, from Bengal to Delhi, was in ferment. The people rose in revolt against the foreign rule. The sepoys and leadership of the then feudal society joined hands but could not succeed. This is the 150th year of that great rebellion. Let us remember the martyrs who laid down their lives against imperialism.