Reflection of the Santal Rebellion and the situations of the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh

–John Tripura

On June 30 of this year is going to be celebrated the161 anniversary of the Santal rebellion Day which is also commonly known as “Santal Hul”. Even after 161 years, the Santal indigenous peoples from Bangladesh and India still today remember their legacy and celebrate the “Hul Festival” every year for their glorious incident of 1855 against the British Colonization. They remember and worship their leaders – Sidhu-Kanhu-Chand-Bhoirob-Phulo and Jhano. Santal rebellion was one of the most memorable and landmarks in the history of Colonial rule. Though the British left the country many years back but the alternative Bangladeshi British are still suppressing on the indigenous peoples of this country. And we can see that the revolution is still continuing. Including the Santal’s and many other indigenous peoples are still has not seen any changed of the wheel of their fortune. During the liberation period in 1971, the Bangladeshi indigenous peoples have also fought against the Pakistani occupation Army and lay down their lives side by side the mainstream Bengali population of this Country. But even after 44 years of the independent, we cannot see any constructive favour on indigenous peoples of this country. The indigenous peoples have always been used as a pawn in the political chess game in Bangladesh.


The Santals are one of the most peace loving people and with full of cultural diversity. And for them, agriculture was one of the main occupations and of great significance where forest land and the sacred grove were symbolic of their guardian spirit or to a protector to them. Due to Colonial rule and the local moneylenders, the Santals faced undue oppression which finally led to the Santal Rebellion back in 1855. It was a revolt against the oppressive environment propagated by the colonial rule through a distorted revenue system and kept alive by the local zamindars, the police and the courts of the legal system set up by the British

Before the British came to India the Santals resided peacefully in the hilly districts of Cuttack, Dhalbhum, Manbhum, Barabhum, Chhotanagpur, Palamau, Hazaribagh, Midnapur, Bankura and Birbhum. They leaded a peaceful life by farming agricultural crops; clearing the forest and also engaged themselves in hunting for their daily life. But as after the British have had established their colonial the rights of the Santals being exploited slowly. After few years the British and their counterparts started claiming the lands which are owned by the Santal community people. The British were helped by the local Zamindars, (moneylenders) who were with them for their own selfishness. The peaceful, simple and honest Santals were cheated and turned into slaves by the zamindars the money lenders who first appeared to them as mere businessmen who gave them loans. And the Santals peoples have to be slaves until they could repay their loans to the moneylenders. But this was hard to be repaying the loans by the sandals people and it was never ended. The sandals women were continuously raped and sexually exploited by the British and the zamindars. And finally, this oppression has turned into rebels and the Santals people took an oath to launch an attack on the British authority.

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In the 19th century that two santal heroes, Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu mobilised ten thousand peoples and has declared a rebellion against the British colonists. Sidhu and Kanhu claimed to have seen in a vision the Thakur Jew or God of the Santals who gave them a book in five batches. It was their faith in this Protector that gave them the strength to fight against the Colonials and the Zamindars. The legend narrates the presence of a Thakur Jew or god who guides the Santals to divest their land of every ‘diku’ or outsider in order to retrieve the ownership of their land. And immediately after the declaration, the sandals have taken arms, and the revelation was continued from June 1855 to till January 1856. Against the bows and arrows came guns and thousands of Santals were shot down. Elephants were used to systematically destroy their villages. The British trapped these outstanding archers and killed the celebrated leaders Sidhu and Kanhu in a battle. The Santal villages were plundered and the rebellion was brutally subdued.


However, when I was going through the history of Santals Rebellion I was just reflecting the present situation of the indigenous peoples of this country. Even in the 20th century, the indigenous peoples are still stubbing due to shortest of food in Bangladesh. The indigenous peoples have been continuously evicted from their ancestral land in the name of development. The recent incident in Nahar Khasi and Garo Punji around 700 people were given eviction notice from their ancestral land which indicates the same injustice regarding the deprivation of lands and forced eviction. On the other hand, the Bangladesh government is continuously giving false promises to the indigenous peoples regarding full implementation of the CHT Accord and to create a separate land commission for the plain land indigenous peoples. We all knew that the present leading Awami league government has given promises in their election manifesto that if they are being elected they will make a separate land commission for the plain land indigenous peoples and also they will fully implement the CHT Accord, but even after their second term elected in 2014 we cannot see any single step has been taken or a progress regarding their promises. If we looked back to the “State Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1950” it has been clearly mention at Article 97 and following that:

“The Government may from time to time, by notification, declare that the provisions of this section shall, in any district or local area, apply to such of the following aboriginal castes or tribes as may be specified in the notification, and that such castes or tribes shall be deemed to be aboriginals for the purposes of this section, and the publication of such notification shall be conclusive evidence that the provisions of this section have been duly applied to such castes or tribes, namely:-

Sonthals, Banais, Bhuiyas, Bhumijes, Dalus, Garos, Gonds, Hadis, Hajangs, Hos, Kharias, Kharwars, Kochs (Dhaka Division), Koras, Maghs (Bakerganj District), Mal and Sauria Paharias, Maches, Mundas, Mundais, Oraons and Turis.

But what we have seen in the 15th Amendment instead of recognising the indigenous peoples as indigenous in the constitution they have identified the indigenous peoples as tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities (Article: 23A.). And they also mentioned in the Article 6 (2) of the constitution that “the peoples of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalees as a nation”. So it is very clear that the government is completely ignoring the indigenous peoples of this country.

On the other hand, the Jatya Adivasi Parishad (JAP) (A political indigenous movement group from North Bengal) from its inception since 1993 was demanding for a separate land commission for the plain land indigenous peoples and also keeps arranging a long march, demonstrations, human chain and submission of the memorandum to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. But till now nothing has been changed to their future but dramatically has increased a ratio of a torture, rape, exploitation and forced eviction from their ancestral land. On 23 June the JAP has organised a discussion programme on the occasion of observing the 161 Santal Rebellions at CIRDAP in Dhaka. They have come up with the slogan “no more bows and arrows it is time to take up the guns”. My question to the government is who will take the responsibilities if the revelation really starts again?

However, the Santals and other indigenous peoples of Bangladesh do not want any false promises but they want a political commitment to establish their rights. Though, the popular legend Thakur Jew was established during the time of the great heroes Sidhu-Kanhu-Chand-Bhoirob-Phulo and Jhano at Santal Rebellion of 1855 to fight against the dikus‟ or outsiders in order to protect their own lands. Sidhu-Kanhu-Chand-Bhoirob-Phulo and Jhano were failed to protect their lands during the rebellion period in 1855 from the British colonial but after 122 years in 1977, the Santal people got their land back with the help of Kanu Sanyal during the time of CPIM government in west Bengal, India. But what about in Bangladesh? The Santals in Bangladesh are most vandalise and vulnerable situation. They are losing their lands day by day and the situation of the Santals and other indigenous peoples of Bangladesh is not less than the British colonial period.

2 thoughts on “Reflection of the Santal Rebellion and the situations of the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh

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