Tribal movements were basically directed to preserve the tribal identity which was thought to be in danger due to intrusion of external people affecting the social, political and geo-economical position of the tribes. These movements were mostly violent, isolated and frequent.
There were about seventy tribal movements from 1778 to 1947. These movements can be broadly divided into two parts i.e., movements of the frontier tribes and movements of the non-frontier tribes depending upon the geographical area of their initiation. Both these types of revolts had different sets of causes. Movement of frontier tribes was mostly revivalist and tended to be political and secular. On the contrary, the non-frontier tribes revolted usually against the ‘outsiders’ and the British administration.
The movement of the non-frontier tribes can be divided into three broad parts. First one started from 1795 and continued upto 1860. The movements of this phase were primarily politico-religious led by tribal heads. Second phase was from 1860 to 1920 in which the nature of movements changed from politico- religious to economic also. The penetration of outsiders resulted in the misbalancing of tribal economy.
The leaders of these movements were from the lower class of the society. Third phase (1920-1947) coincides with the phase of intense mass movement for freedom struggle and so its impact was quite obvious on the tribal movements. This phase saw the transformation of tribal movements into a common mass movement with leaders coming also from non-tribal educated groups.
Bhils of Khandesh revolted against the British occupation in 1818. Their struggle lasted for thirty years which was finally suppressed after large .scale military operations combined with conciliatory measures. Santhal uprising was the most massive among movements of the first phase.
The Santhals of Daman-i-koh (modern Sahibganj, Godda, Pakur and Dumka districts of Jharkhand and some parts of Bhagalpur and Banka districts of Bihar) revolted and attempt to oust the dikus or the outsiders whom they considered morally corrupt. In 1854, the first impulse of the revolt was felt when the Santhals started looting money-lenders and Zamindars.
The British government started a major military campaign to suppress the rebellion. Thousands of Santhal men and women were killed. Apart from above mentioned tribal movements, there “Were many other rebellions which took place in-first phase: Pahariyas (Jharkhand 1778); Kol Uprisings (Maharastra 1784- 85); Chauri Revolt (Bihar l798); Kherwar Uprising (Jharkhand 1870); and Gond Uprising (Baster, M.P. 1842) etc.
The hill tribes, Koya and Khonda Dora of Rampa region of Chodavaram revolted in March 1879 against the depredation of the government supported zamindars and the new restrictive forest regulations. The authorities launched military campaigns against the rebellious people and several other ways were used for suppression of the movement. Tribal resentment against the imposition of forest laws and feudal system led to the rise of the revolt of the tribes of Jagdalpur region in modern Chhattisgarh.
The rebels disrupted communication system, attacked symbols of colonial power and tried to seize Jagdalpur town. The British military operation in 1910 suppressed the rebellion. The Ulgulam was led by Birsa Munda during 1895-1900 in Jharkhand. On 19th January, 1900 the rebels were defeated in a fight at Sail Rakeb hill. Birsa was captured and imprisoned, where he died in June 1900. The nature of the rebellions of this phase can be concluded in the following lines:
(a) The movements of this phase changed from politico-religious to economic also.
(b) The leaders come from the lower class of tribal society.
(c) In this phase also, the non-tribal poor & service castes were spared.
(d) Attack on colonial symbols was given priorities, the second decade of the 20th century, Tana
Bhagat movement started initially in a religious form but later transformed into a political one under the impact of the Indian National Congress. This movement was centered on the Oran tribes of Chhotangapur in Jharkhand. Thus the resistance of the local grievances and problems was amalgamated with the National movement. Salient features of the movements of this phase are as follows:
(a) These movements coincide with the national movement & hence the leadership also came from non-tribal educated groups.
(b) This phase saw the transformation of tribal movements into mass movements.
(c) Now, the movements were largely political in nature.
(d) Various legislative & administrative measures were adopted by the British government to suppress the movement.
The tribal movements in the North-East region of India were also politico-religious in nature. Due to the majority of the tribes in the region, and their economic and social position, the movements were hardly socioeconomic in character. Following were the important tribal movements of North-East India:
Khasi Uprising: The conscriptions of labourers of road construction linking up the acquired Brahmaputra Valley with Sylhet passing through the Khasi region resulted in the uprising of the Khasis supported by the Garos and led by the Tirhut Singh. Though the rebellion continued for four years, it was suppressed in 1833 by the colonial power.
Kuki Uprising: The Kukis of Manipur revolted in 1917 under the leadership of Jadonang and his niece, Rani Gaidinliu. The British policy of recruitment of Kuki labourers during the First World War seriously affected the stability of the agriculture based Kuki economy. Also the system of begar imposed upon the tribes and the ban of shifting cultivation led to the rebellion. Guirella warfare of the Kukis lasted for two years when it was crushed by the British in 1919.
Singphos Revolt: Simultaneously with the Khasi uprising, the Singhphos also broke into rebellion in early 1830 which was though suppressed within some months. But the Singphos again rebelled in 1839 when many police officers were killed by them.
The tribal movements of the North-East were to same extent different in nature which can be summed up as follows:
(a) The intrusion of British Administrative system instigated the tribes.
(b) Directed against the colonial exploitation.
(c) Due to majority of tribes in the region & their secured social & economic position, these movements were hardly socio-economic.
(d) Most of the rebellions were confirmed to the tribes only.