Colonial Rule – Tribals, Dikkus and the Vision of a Golden Age
Before the British, in many areas, the tribal chief enjoyed a certain amount of economic power and the right to administer their territories.
Under the British rule, this picture changed. They lost much of their administrative power and were forced to follow laws made by the British.
They had to pay to the British and were unable to fulfil their traditional functions.
The British were uncomfortable with the people who were not settled, they want tribals to have a fixed home as it becomes easier to control settled people.
The British also wanted a regular source of revenue, they tried to control Jhum cultivationbut it was not possible to do fixed cultivation in all areas, especially dry ones.
Tribals started to protest for the practice of Jhum cultivation, and facing the widespread protest the British let them carry on with the practice.
Britishers took over the forest and extended their control to all forest which was essential to tribal people and declared forests as state property.
Some forests were declared as reserved forests, which the British require for timber and people were not allowed to practice Jhum, collect fruits or hunt in these forests.
The forests laws forced people to leave the Jhum practice and find a new source of livelihood, which created a lack of labour for the British.
To get the labour the British officials decided to give Jhum cultivators small patches of land in forests and allow them to cultivate these in return for the cheap labour.
The traders and the moneylenders started coming to these people often and exploited them by buying the products like silk at cheap prices from tribal people and sold them at five times the price.
The tribals who had moved far in search of work was in an even worse situation, they were working at tea plantations or were recruited to work in coal mines at very low wages and they were stopped from returning to their home.
The Revolts and Birsa Movement
The continued exploitation and heavy taxes made the tribal people angry and resulted in many rebellions.
In 1831-32, the Kols rebellion, Santhal revolt in 1855, Bastar rebellion(central India) in 1910, Warli revolt in Maharastra in 1940 and the Birsa revolt in the mid-1870s were few of the major revolts.
Birsa Munda was from a poor family and as an adolescent, he heard tales of Munda uprising and saw sirdars(leaders) of the community urging the people to revolt.
He went to a missionary school, where he heard more about freedom of Mundas, which influenced him a lot.
Birsa later urged his followers to recover their glorious past and earn their lands back and look towards a golden age again.
The political aim of Birsa movement worried the British, for it wanted to drive out missionaries, moneylenders, Hindu landlords and the government and set up a Munda raj with Birsa as the head.
As the movement spread the British officials decided to take a step and thus in 1895 they arrested Birsa and convicted him with charges of rioting and jailed him for two years.
After Birsa got released in 1897, he started the movement again and symbolises the Europeans and the Dikus as ‘Ravana‘.
They attacked the police stations, raided the Zamindars and moneylenders, and raised a white flag as a symbol of Birsa Raj
After the death of Birsa in 1990, the movement faded away.
This movement was very significant as it forced the colonial government to make laws so that the land of tribals could not be easily taken by the Dikus, and also it showed the power of the tribal people that they can lead themselves in their own ways and symbols.