Q.1 Tribal movements should be viewed as “history from below.” Discuss the objects and nature of the movements in 19th-century India.

Answer: The term “History from below” refers to the history which seeks to take ordinary
people as its subjects and concentrate on their experiences and perspectives, rather than
the traditional stereotypical political history which primarily focuses on the actions of a few
“great men.”

There were several common characteristics between the tribal movements even though they
were separated by time and place. These include

Common identity: The tribal identity lay in the solidarity shown between a tribe.
They felt a close connection with people due to shared space and identity. However,
this did not mean that all outsiders were treated as enemies. The non-tribal people
who lived in the villages were not seen as outsiders.
● Only moneylenders and traders who were seen as extensions of the colonial
government were termed as enemies or outsiders. It was against these
people that such uprisings were directed.

Foreign government: The laws imposed by the colonial or foreign government
were seen as undermining the traditional and socio economic structure of the tribal
● The traditions, customs and laws of tribals came into conflict with the new
administrative laws and created apprehensions among the tribals about
preserving their identity.
Folk heroes: Many uprisings were led by messiah-like figures who encouraged their
followers to rebel and held out hope that they could end the suffering brought on by
the “outsiders.”
● For instance, the Munda rebellion was led by Birsa Munda who was also
known as Dharti Abba.


India in the 19th century witnessed a series of tribal movements or uprisings undertaken in
various parts of the country.

1.Bhil Uprising (1818-46)● The name of the Bhil tribe owes its
origin to the word “bhillu” which
means bow. They are excellent
● The Bhils who lived in the Western
Ghats controlled the mountain
passes between the north and the
● The rebellion was against British
feudalism and imperialism.
● A reformer, Govind Guru helped the
Bhils of south Rajasthan (Banswara,
Sunth states) to organise themselves
to fight for a Bhil Raj by 1913.
2.Ho and Munda Uprisings (1820-
● Ho tribals led by Raja Parahat in
Singhbhum and Chotanagpur

● It was against new farming revenue
policy and the entry of Bengalis in
their region.
3.Ramosi Uprisings
● The Ramosi were the hill tribes of
the Western Ghats.
● It was against the annexation of the
Maratha land
by the British as they
worked under the Marathas and the
annexation led to a loss of their
● Initially they revolted under the
leadership of Chittur Singh in 1822,
and again in 1839 after the deposition
of Raja Pratap Singh of Satara.
4.Ahom’s Revolt(1828-33)● The Britishers pledged to withdraw
from Assam after the 1st Burma war
in 1824 but they attempted to
incorporate Ahom territory into
companies’ dominion.
● Rebellion sparked under the
leadership of Gomdhar Konwar.
5.Koli Uprising(1829)● The Koli people were fishermen in
the Western Ghat( Gujarat and
● Revolted against large-scale
employment and destruction of many
forts of Koli.
6.Kol Rebellion(1832)● Tribals of Chotanagpur (Ranchi,
Singhbhum, Hazaribagh, and
● Under the leadership of Buddho

● The reason for their revolt was large
scale transfer
of land from Kol
headman to outsiders like Sikhs and
muslim farmers.
7.Khond Rebellion(1837-56)● Tribals of hills from Tamil Nadu to
● Revolted against interference in
practice of Human sacrifice Mariah
their tribal customs and the
imposition of new taxes.
● Led by Chakra Bisoi.
8.Santhal Uprising or Santhal
● The santhal tribe inhabited the region
between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal
hills in Bihar(called Daman-i-Koh).
● It was directed at the money-lenders
and zamindars who had the support
of the police to subject the peasants
to oppressive exactions and
dispossession of lands.
● It was led by two brothers Sidu and
9.Kharwar Rebellion (1870)● Tribals of Bihar led by Bhagrith

● Against revenue settlement activities.
10.Bhuyan and Juang Rebellions
● Tribes of Keonjhar, Orissa .
● Revolted twice in 1867 and 1891, led
by Ratna Naik.
11.Koya Uprising (1879-80)● Tribals of the Eastern Godavari

● It was against the oppression by
police and moneylenders, new
regulations and denial of their
customary rights over forest areas.
● Led by Tomma Sora and Raja

12.Munda Rebellion or Ulgulan of
Munda (1899-1900)
● Tribals of the Chotanagpur area
● It was essentially a revivalist
, which sought to purge
Munda society of all foreign elements
and restore its pristine character.
● Revolt was against the destruction of
their system of common land holding
by Britishers and their agents.
Birsa Munda led this revolt and it
was called the ‘Ulgulan’ or the ‘Great


The tribal people have always been conservative and protective of their culture, tradition,
and hierarchical customs. The rise of British colonisation was in direct contrast to their
traditions and way of living and therefore it agitated the tribals.

Practice of settled agriculture: The mainstay of the tribes was shifting agriculture,
hunting, fishing, and the use of forest produce. With the influx of non-tribals, the
practice of settled agriculture was introduced. This led to land loss and tribals being
landless agricultural labourers.

Ownership of forest produce: The tribal people were dependent on forest produce
for their livelihood and before the British came, they had full control over the forests.
However, with changing administrative structure, they were deprived of the rights to
consume and use various products that were produced abundantly in the forest.

Christian missionaries: There were numerous instances of conversion of tribal
people into christians. It was against this conversion activity that Birsa Munda started
the Birsait sect.
Private ownership of land: by non-tribal landlords: The tribals had a system of
joint land ownership which was replaced by the notion of private property and this
gave rise to a new class of landlords and zamindars.

Introduction of outsiders: The British introduced outsiders like money lenders into
the tribal areas which led to severe exploitation of the local tribals. They became
bonded labourers under the new economic system.

Society became non-egalitarian: Tribal society was traditionally egalitarian
compared to mainstream society which was marked by caste and class distinctions.
The arrival of outsiders or non-tribals caused the tribal people to be relegated to the
lowest levels of society.


The tribal people have always had a strong sense of tradition and a desire to protect their
culture. This was disturbed by the colonial invasion and as a result they occasionally
engaged in violent, sectarian movements to defend their tribal identity from outside governments and landowners. These varied grievances reached their climax in the revolt of
1857, which in spite of targeting certain groups of Indians, remains the prominent uprising
against the British before the beginning of the Indian Freedom movement.

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