: How a Fearless Adivasi Led India’s 1st People’s Revolt Against the British #IndiaNEWS #History Decades before what our history books consider to be the ‘First War of Independence’ (1857),
How a Fearless Adivasi Led India’s 1st People’s Revolt Against the British #IndiaNEWS #History
Decades before what our history books consider to be the ‘First War of Independence’ (1857), there was the tribal rebellion led by Tilka Manjhi, a fearless Adivasi warrior, in present-day Bihar and Jharkhand from 1771 till his capture and extra-judicial murder in 1785.
This was India’s first people’s revolt triggered by the East India Company’s (EIC) exploitative practices against Adivasi communities in conjunction with the oppressive local princely class and zamindars beholden to the British colonialists. Tilka Manjhi’s heroics would go on to inspire other Adivasi rebellions like the Halba rebellion of 1774, the Bhil revolt of 1818, Kol uprising of 1831 and Santhal Hool (revolution) of 1855-56.
No other class or community of Indians offered this sort of heroic resistance against the EIC in the early days than India’s indigenous communities across present-day Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal.
(Above images courtesy Indian History Collective/Instagram and eBihar/Facebook)
Born into an Adivasi family (historians remain unsure whether he was a Pahadia/Paharia or a Santhal) on 11 February 1750 in Tilakpur village (situated in present-day Sultanganj block, Bhagalpur district, Bihar), Tilka Manjhi’s official name as stated in British records was Jabra Pahadia. He was given the name of Tilka, which in Pahadia language means ‘person with angry red eyes’ given his fiery nature, and Manjhi when he took over as village head.
It was from a very early age that Tilka witnessed the exploitation at the hands of EIC in conjunction with the zamindars and princely class. Before the arrival of the EIC, the local zamindars would levy unreasonable taxes against Adivasis, and things only got worse with the arrival of the EIC.
When the British began directly administering and collecting taxes (1765) in the Chhotanagpur plateau (which covers much of present-day Jharkhand and adjacent parts of Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal), particularly the Santhal Pargana region in present-day Jharkhand following their victory against Mir Qasim at the 1764 Battle of Buxar, the Adivasis began incurring greater debts, particularly to local moneylenders (mahajans).
Conspiring with the mahajans, the British EIC began taking away ancestral land belonging to these communities in lieu of the debts they had racked up. As a result, many Adivasis transitioned to becoming agricultural labourers or tenants on land that once belonged to them.
As a young man growing up in these times, Tilka witnessed this up close and personal. By the time he was only 20, Tilka had begun the process of mobilising and addressing small groups of his fellow Adivasis in the Bhagalpur area, exhorting them to rise above caste and tribal affiliations to oppose EICs rule and exploitation by local zamindars and mahajans.