We had previously covered the article on Alluri Sitaram Raju and Rani Gaidinliu who revolted against the oppressive forest laws which were introduced by the British. In this article we will shed light on another brave yet forgotten rebellion which took place in the Kingdom of Bastar (located in south of Chhattisgarh) and its charismatic leader Gunda Dhur who is still alive in the folk songs of the region, for his immense contribution to the tribal cause when they were suffering under the exploitative British Colonialism.
Background : The Kingdom of Bastar
The kingdom of Bastar is located in the southernmost part of Chhattisgarh. Many tribes have lived in this region throughout the history of India, some of them were Muria Gonds, Dhurwas, Bhatras, Maria, and Halbas. These tribes lived in symbiotic relationship with the forest which was an important source for their livelihoods.
The people of Bastar kingdom believed that their village was given by the Earth and it’s their duty to protect the land, its resources and forests at any cost. To safeguard their forest lands , these people also held big meetings in groups (Pargana: cluster of villages) to discuss key issues relating to forest.
Colonialism & Exploitation of Tribals
During the colonial period , the British passed several laws which restricted the tribal people to cultivate their own land. We had already discussed the condition of tribal people in Nagaland and Andhra Pradesh and the revolt of Raju and Rani Gaidinliu.
The condition of Bastar kingdom was no different. Furthermore the British recruited several tribal workers for laboring but their wages were low and conditions of work were very bad.
Later the colonial government passed several forest laws in which two thirds of the forest area was declared reserved. This was done through the Indian Forest Act of 1878.
The tribal people were heavily dependent on forest resources but when the establishment of British authority interfered in their land, the condition of tribal people became vulnerable.
After some time, the colonial government also stopped shifting cultivation and restricted hunting and collection of forest produce due to which the natives were directly affected.
The tribal workers were forced to work for free for the forest department. The famines of 1899-1900 and 1907-1908 also played significant role in damaging people’s livelihood. The villagers began to discuss these issues with other people.
Gunda Dhur: Leading the tribal people in Revolt
So Who was Gunda Dhur ?
The first tribe to present the idea of revolt was the DHURWA TRIBE which resides in the Kanger forest. Later, a charismatic person from Nethanar village became the leader of the tribal people. He was the great hero of tribals of Chhattisgarh- Gunda Dhur.
Gunda Dhur led the tribal revolt against British. Although they were armed with traditional weapons like sword and arrows but they were full of indomitable courage. On 2 February 1910, the Bastar rebellion (Bhumkaal Rebellion) was started under the leadership of Gunda.
In the year of 1910 Mango boughs, a lump of earth, chillies and arrows were circulated among the villagers as a hidden message to take part in the revolution.
The first target of the Rebels was to loot the Bazaars (markets). They looted Pushpal bazaar which was associated with British Raj and its oppressive laws. All the grain was later distributed among the peasants. Later they attacked and were able to sack some police stations too.
The houses of the officials – especially the British were looted, missionary schools were burnt.
This revolt was very much similar to the revolt which was later led by Alluri Sitaram Raju in 1920 and revolt led by Rani Gadinliu in 1930. Both these revolt were against the oppressive laws of the British and introduction of Christian missionary.
William Ward a missionary closely observed the revolt he writes
“From all directions came streaming into Jagdalpur, police, merchants, forest peons, schoolmasters and immigrants”.
It is also true that from every village two or three people joined the rebellion with only one motto and that was to get rid of the British and their oppressive Raj.
The result of this aggressive offence from the tribal people under their hero Gunda Dhur was tremendous. In a week ,the whole unit of the British settlements were wiped out from the kingdom of Bastar.
Furious from this , the British decided to suppress the rebellion as quickly as they could. They were able to convince one of the rebel leader whose name was Sonu Manjhi and promised him that he would be given huge sums of money and other allowances.
Due to this , the British were able to suppress the rebellion. The last conflict of this revolt took place at Alinargaon village. Few tribal fighter tried to offer peace terms but the British troops were sure that they cannot give them another chance.
The British mercilessly killed the rebles and did not even hesitate to slaughter the innocent family members of the rebels. Due to this many village people left their home and migrated to different places.
To generate a sense of fear among local people the British forces tortured the people and tied them to to horses and pulled them through roads in full public view.
It took the British who had artillery support, guns and a lot of ammunitions three months to establish their control over the kingdom of Bastar.
But the leader of the revolt i.e. Gunda Dhur was never captured by the British. Several search expeditions were initiated by the British to capture him but all went in vain.
The effect of this rebellion was extraordinary and resulted in a victory for the tribal people of Bastar. The British suspended the reservation of the forest and the area which was reserved for the British government was reduced to half of its original size.
Legacy of Gunda Dhur
Due to this Gunda Dhur is known as the Immortal hero of the tribals. He is still alive in the folk songs and his stories are told in schools and villages of Chhattisgarh.. Government of India has instituted a state level Sports Award in his name. Quite recently, i.e in 2014, Ghunda Dhur was the face of Chhattisgarh’s State Tableau at the Annual Republic Day Parade.
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