The plot, stratagems and alliances of the rebellion itself, form the bulk of the book by Peter Stanley. Meet new heroes you probably haven't heard of. Bookstrapping Rating: 3.5 stars
Continuing our patriotic theme for August at Bookstrapping, we take you on a trip back in time, to 1855. Two years before the famous Uprising of 1857, was the not-so-famous Santal Rebellion which rocked the Bengal Presidency.
The Santals were a migrant tribe whose origin was debated — were they connected to Maoris or Persians, was the question. What is known, however, is that in the 18th century they lived by shifting cultivation in the forests of Chota Nagpur. They moved northwestward, ‘reclaiming wasteland and ousting no man’, reaching ‘Sonthal’ only by the 1830s.
What’s absolutely astonishing about the rebellion of 1855, is that the Santals fought for a region that they were passing through — did it belong to them at all? And yet, the glimpse of their spirit and their travails, provided in the book, is as disturbing as it is enlightening.
Interestingly, the current President of India, Draupadi Murmu also belongs to the Santali tribe.
In hindsight, the British East India company’s hold over India was the most unusual political phenomenon that ever existed. A handful of Englishmen administered a populace whose culture they knew nothing about, living in places they barely travelled to, with an army of sepoys who belonged to their captive nation! The officers concerned themselves with a ‘revenue number’ that they had to collect — regardless of the inhuman sufferings passed down the administrative chain. Of course, the Indian Mahajans and Zamindars were no better!
Coming back to the Santal rebellion, the British were able to subdue it because they had the experience of quashing the Kol rebellion of 1831-32, which also arose from ‘the evil consequences of introducing into an underdeveloped tribal area, a complex, legalistic administrative system.’
The plot, stratagems and alliances of the rebellion itself, form the bulk of the book. Meet new heroes you probably haven't heard of and take a moment to be grateful for the freedom we enjoy today. After all, the Santal rebellion was less than 200 years ago!
Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta is a columnist, biographer and bibliophile. She is credited with the internationally acclaimed Red Dot Experiment, a decadal six-nation study on how ‘culture impacts communication.’ On Twitter @OfficialReetaRG