Tribals have been in the forefront of India’s freedom struggle. Even much before the people of mainland India, tribals started their armed resistance against British colonial rulers in different parts of India.
One such important rebellion was the historic Hull rebellion led by tribal heros Sidhhu and Kanu of Santhal Pargana. Sidhu, Kanu along with Chand and Bhairab were the four sons of Narayan Majhi of Santal Pragana’s Bhagnadihi village. Kanu was born in the year 1820. The Rajmahal mountain ranges of Shantal pargana were called as Damine Koh, meaning flying mountains.
Childhood of Sidhu and Kanu passed in acute poverty. From the very beginning they were witness to how the local landlords and moneylenders with the support of Britishers exploited and looted the Santhals of his area.
Local landlords were keeping tribal people as Dadans to exploit their free labour. They were snatching away their land in different pretexts. Even their women were subject to sexual exploitation.
At that time a railway line was being laid in that area. Snatching away the fertile land of tribals for this purpose had created strong resentment among them.
After realizing the need of a protest against this injustice, Kanu first interacted with the local tribal people. People responded to his idea positively and shared their bitter experience and resentment against the feudal landlords along with the Britishers. Kanu and his brothers have organized a series of meetings to end this exploitation of Santhals. Big meetings were conducted where thousands of people including non-tribal poor who were also exploited by the landlord-money landers and local British officials participated. They collectively decided to fight against this exploitation and injustice and also to bring it to the notice of British Governor staying at Kolkata. They had an illusion that the Governor would solve their problem as the local British officers instead of listening to their grievances were supporting the landlord and money lenders.
As per this decision a huge meeting was held near his village Bhagnadihi on 30th June 1855 to start their formal agitation. Thousands of people from four hundred villages of that area participated.
Not only Santhals but other exploited people of different non-tribal communities participated. Kanu was unanimously elected as the leader and Sidhu as the deputy leader to lead the agitation. This was the historic day in the history of Santhal pargana area. Later Britishers called this agitation as Santhal Rebellion. Hul in Santhali means Revolutionary appeal and many Santhali Hul Songs became popular then. In that meeting Kanu had given the call of “Chalo Kolkata ” to meet the Governor of British and the march started there. This created panic among the local landlords – money landers and British officials. An unsuccessful attempt was made to stop this march under the leadership of Mahesh Daroga who was killed on 7th July at the hands of agitators.
To stop that march of tribals, a huge contingent of British police led by Major Byaroj attacked the people but he was fought back and forced to run away. Very soon people realized that they will not be allowed to march to Kolkata and so the armed rebellion is the only option. Instead of assembling in big numbers they decided to form a small team of armed rebels and started attacking the local landlords and moneylenders. On 12th July rebels captured the Rajabati or palace of Pakur. That palace had been used as the main camp of Britishers to suppress tribal protest and suppression. Before the rebels reached there all except the women and children fled. Rebels did no harm to them. Only food grains were looted.
Seeing the rising tide of the rebellion, the Britishers sent their army which resorted to large scale repression and harassment of people. This forced Kanu-Sidhu and their associates to realize that the methods of appeal and application had gone and armed rebellion was the only option to save the Santhals. They gave a call to end the British rule. This political slogan was given consciously.
Soon the rebellion spreaded through the border districts of Bengal and Jharkhand. Bankura, Birbhum, Murshidabad, Ranigunj area of Burdwan and Asansol became the centres of rebellion.
An armed women’s wing was also developed under the leadership of Kanu’s wife Phulmani to resist the British forces but all of them were killed by the enemy. It is officially accepted that more than 15,000 rebel farmers, mainly tribals, were killed by the British army.
British officials had conspired to capture both Sidhu and Kanu by engaging spies. For the exchange of money some betrayers had provided information first about Sidhu and he was captured in 1855. A drama of trying him for his crime was enacted in a British court and hanging order was given. He was soon hanged from a tree by the Britishers in 1855. But his death did not stop the rebellion. Rather it sharpened day by day. More and more landlords and moneylenders of the area and British were eliminated by surprise attacks of rebels. Britishers knew Kanu was the main leader and rebellion cannot be crushed without capturing or killing him. Finally, he was captured on 30th Nov 1855 and after a trial drama from 14-16 Jan 1856, he was sentenced to death by the British court. On 23 Jan 1956 he was brought to his village and hanged there. This was done only to terrorise the local people.
Sidhu and Kanu were fearless fighters who had sacrificed their life for the cause of the people. Their rebellion against British colonialists and their native associates like landlords and money landers was a glorious chapter in the history of India. Their rebellion forced the Britishers to enact laws like the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act. This struggle continues to inspire the common people particularly the tribals of our country to resist exploitation and assert the right over land and forest resources.
In this context every year 30th June is observed as the Hul Day by the people of Santhal Pargana and bordering districts of Bengal.