How did colonial rule affect the tribals in India and what was the tribal response to colonial oppression?


05:23 AM

The question How did colonial rule affect the tribals in India and what was the tribal response to colonial oppression?" was asked in the Mains 2023 GS Paper 1.  Let us look at the model answer to this question.

Answer:  Colonial rule affected almost all sections of society in India and tribals were no exception. With the pursuance of increasing economic interest of the British government led to introduction of various policy measures in tribal regions which affected their very existence.

How did colonial rule affected tribals:

  • Effect of land revenue policy:
    • Introduction of permanent settlement (1793) in tribal areas in Bengal abolished the traditional practices of collective and traditional ownership of lands (Khutkutti system).
    • A major portion of the tribal subsistence went into the private hands (zamindars) in undivided Bengal.
    • Colonialland revenue settlements posed a heavy burden of new taxes as well as evictions from their traditional dwellings.
    • Exploitation by the outsiders (Dikus) such as police, traders, and moneylenders aggravated the tribals' sufferings.
    • The British introduced a cash-based market economy in tribal regions, which accentuated the role of middlemans (moneylenders and others).
    • They also introduced a new legal system in place of the traditional way of justice followed by tribals.
  • Forest policy:
    • The British government declared the forest to be under the exclusive ownership of the state with the coming of the Indian Forest Act 1865 and forest policy 1884.
    • Thus, the government extended its control over the forest areas and forest produce.
    • This all led to erosion of the customary tribal rights over land and forest.
  • Advent of Christian missionaries: The missionaries perceived as representatives of the alien rule by the tribals as they interfered with the traditional customs of the tribals.

Tribal resistance to colonial oppression

Resistance against colonial power was region specific. These movements were launched under the leadership of their respective chiefs. 

  • Kol Mutiny (1831):
    • The Kols resented large-scale transfers of land from Kol headmen to outsiders (Diku) like Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim farmers and moneylender.
    • Under the leadership of Buddho Bhagat, the Kol rebels killed or burnt about a thousand outside
  • Santhal Revolt of 1855:
    • It was led by Sidhu and Kanhu against the colonial agents- Dikus.
    • Thousands of Santhals marched armed with their traditional weapons - bows, arrows, axes etc.
    • The Santhal rebellion forced the government to change its policy towards them. Around 5000 sq. miles were carved out as "Non-Regulation" districts (Santhal Parganas).
  • Birsa Munda Revolt In the 1890s:
    • Munda tribals rose in revolt under Birsa Munda. The objective was to attain religious and political independence and establishment of Birsa Raj- free from all exploitation.
    • The revolt broke out in December 1899 and was directed against the Dikus and missionary activities. Birsa was arrested in 1900 and died of illness. Many rebels who were arrested were imprisoned and sentenced to death.
    • Finally the government passed the Tenancy Act of 1903 which recognised the Mundari Khuntkatti system. The ' Government 'also passed the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act in 1908.

Consequently, tribal issues were acknowledged by the British government as well as mainstream Indian political parties. After independence Indian policy makers adopted a path of tribal integration while respecting their cultural spaces.