The Santhal rebellion (sometimes referred to as the Sonthal rebellion), commonly known as Santhal Hool, was a native rebellion in present-day Jharkhand, in eastern India against both the British colonial authority and zamindari system by the Santhal people. It started on June 30, 1855 and on November 10, 1855 martial law was proclaimed which lasted until January 3, 1856 when martial law was suspended and the movement was brutally ended by troops loyal to the British. The rebellion was led by the four Murmu Brothers - Sidhu, Kanhu, Chand and Bhairav.
The uprising of the Santhals began as a reaction to end despotic British revenue system, usury practices, and the zamindari system in India; in the tribal belt of what was then known as the Bengal Presidency. It was a revolt against the oppression of the colonial rule propagated through a distorted revenue system, enforced by the local zamindars, the police and the courts of the legal system set up by the British.
The Santhals lived in and depended on forests. In 1832, the British demarcated the Damin-i-koh region in present day Jharkhand and invited Santhals to settle in the region. Due to promises of land and economic amenities a large numbers of Santhals came to settle from Cuttack, Dhalbhum, Manbhum, Hazaribagh, Midnapore etc. Soon, mahajans and zamindars as tax-collecting intermediaries deployed by British dominated the economy. Many Santals became victims of corrupt money lending practices. They were lent money at exorbitant rates when they never repay then their lands were forcibly taken, they were forced into bonded labour. This sparked the Santal rebellion by Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu, two brothers who led the Santals against the Britishers but were defeated.
On 30 June 1855, two Santal rebel leaders, Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu, mobilized ten thousand Santhals and declared a rebellion against British colonists. Sidhu Murmu had accumulated about ten thousand Santhals to run parallel government against the British rule. The basic purpose was to collect taxes by making his own laws.
Soon after the declaration, the Santhals took to arms. In many villages the Zamindars, money lenders and their operatives were put to death. The open rebellion caught the British Government by surprise. Initially a small contingent was sent to suppress the rebels but it could not succeed and this further fueled the spirit of the revolt. When the law and order situation was getting out of hand the British Government finally took a major step and sent in a large number of troops assisted by the local Zamindars and the Nawab of Murshidabad to quell the Rebellion. British Government had announced an award of Rs. 10,000 to arrest Sidhu and his brother Kanhu Murmu.
A number of skirmishes occurred after this which resulted in large number of casualties for the Santhals. The primitive weapons of the Santhals, weren't a match against the musket and cannon firepower of the British. Troop detachments from the 7th Native Infantry Regiment, 40th Native Infantry and others were called into action. Major skirmishes occurred from July 1855 to January 1856, in places like Kahalgaon, Suri, Raghunathpur, and Munkatora.
The revolt was brutally crushed, the two celebrated leaders Sidhu and Kanhu were killed. Elephants supplied by the Nawab of Murshidabad were used to demolish Santhal huts and likewise atrocities were committed by the British army and its allies in suppressing the Rebellion. Of the 60,000-odd tribesmen who had been mobilised in the rebellion, over 15,000 were killed, and tens of villages were destroyed. They did get the support of Gwalas (milkmen) and Lohars (blacksmiths).
Although the Rebellion was crushed with a heavy hand, some British army officers like Major Jervis who observed-
"It was not war; they did not understand yielding. As long as their national drum beat, the whole party would stand, and allow themselves to be shot down. Their arrows often killed our men, and so we had to fire on them as long as they stood. When their drum ceased, they would move off a quarter of a mile; then their drums beat again, and they calmly stood till we came up and poured a few volleys into them. There was not a sepoy in the war who did not feel ashamed of himself."
Charles Dickens in Household Words wrote-
"There seems also to be a sentiment of honour among them; for it is said that they use poisoned arrows in hunting, but never against their foes. If this be the case and we hear nothing of the poisoned arrows in the recent conflicts, they are infinitely more respectable than our civilised enemy, the Russians, who would most likely consider such forbearance as foolish, and declare that is not war."
Although its impact was largely overshadowed by that of the other rebellion, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the legend of the Santhal Rebellion lives on as a turning point in Santhal pride and identity. This was reaffirmed, over a century and a half later with the creation of the first tribal province in independent India, Jharkhand.
Santhal Pargana was created by the Government and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act was passed.