Kol Uprising

The Kol uprising of 1831-1832 was born out of frustration and anger—frustration with the new system of Government and laws, and anger at the people who either enforced them or took undue advantage of them.
The real tragedy of the tribal people of this area was that their chiefs, alienated by their conversion to Hinduism, and the English administrators, born and bred in the tradition of agricultural landlordism, had no sympathy with the tradition of tribal ownership of land or idea of peasant proprietorship. That was why the former brought in non-tribal settlers and the latter a complex administrative machinery run by an unsym-
pathetic society. Against these the tribal people found no remedy except unrest and violence.
It becomes clear that from two sides their traditional society was being undermined : custom was being undermined by contract, a barter economy by a money economy they had not yet learned to handle, divisions of the land determined by tribal custom were replaced by a landlord-tenant relationship, and tribal solidarity was being destroyed from within by the hinduization of the chiefs, and from without by the pressures of the British raj.
How far these developments could have been checked it is hard to say. One could not surely have wished to see the tribal people completely isolated and preserved as museum or zoo specimens. Yet the introduction of so many new things at the same time and the unthinking effort to ‘civilize’ them were certainly instrumental in disturbing their minds and upsetting
the habits to which they were adjusted.
The events leading to the out-break of the unrest and its spreading so quickly seem to suggest that this grim tragedy could have been avoided if the peculiar problems of this tribal area had been realized earlier because the task of personally administering the area was diffcult and unrewarding. The occasional, eccentric officer—and Nathaniel Smith certainly was eccentric—who did seek to interfere often did so without real understanding, and with the best of intentions, in trying to civilize the tribal people or to correct their ‘criminal habits’ caused still more harm.
When the disturbances began the Bengal Government did not at first realise that by its own actions—or inaction—it had a partial responsibility for the disaster. No Governor-General, not even the reforming Bentinck, visited the area. Few commissioners or district officers had any personal knowledge of Chota-Nagpur. So, having in the past been led to believe that the tribal people had no genuine grievances, when they
broke out, their violence was attributed to savagery and innate wickedness. Naturally, therefore, a policy of vigorous repression was followed, the whole area was thoroughly sacked and hundreds of insurgents were killed.
Thus this unrest, which opened the eyes of the Bengal Government to the peculiar administrative problem on the south-west frontier, was a watershed in the history of this area. It made the Government aware of the ineffectiveness—rather futility—of stern measures and reprisals. To that extent the object of the tribal unrest was largely fulfilled.
It may even be argued that less terror and destruction would not have served the purpose. The panic caused in the areas west of this region as far as Banaras and in the east of it up to Calcutta certainly had wide repercussions. The reverberations of the tribal nagara were heard as far as Mirzapur in the west, and even the Meerut-observer had to take note of certain events. The many letters which appeared in the Calcutta press
also suggests that public opinion was much aroused by events. Not only the radical (e. g. the Bengal Hurkaru) but also the Government-sponsored newspaper (e.g. the Calcutta Gazette) of Calcutta admitted that these areas had been utterly neglected by the British Indian administration. There was no map worth the name, no clear idea about the lay out or the potentialities
of the hill and jungle. It was from ignorance that so many blunders and atrocities had been committed. With the new knowledge provided by the constant traversing of the area, the unsuitability of the general regulations for this area was at last clearly revealed.
Fortunately at this time there was a reforming Governor-
General, and his Councillors were bitter enemies of the Cornwallis system. Last, but not least, Captain Wilkinson, the Political Agent to the Governor-General on this frontier, who had served for over a decade in the Deccan and had felt the influence of the ideas of Elphinstone, Munro and Malcolm, was able to influence Government decisions through his friends, Major Benson and Major Sutherland, who were private secretaries to Bentinck and Metcalfe respectively.
This cumulative influence, popular and official, led to a salutary change, and the tribal people of this area received a welcome relief through Regulation XIII, 1833. The special uncomplicated rules, framed for this area, gave them relief from the corrupt police, law officers and revenue collectors, from the abuses and levies of excise farmers and salt darogas. The money-lenders and merchants also had their claws blunted by the provisions about debt which recognised the vulnerability of the tribal people, whether raja or ryot. The aloofness of the administration was also done away with by the permanent residence in the tribal areas of the Agent and his assistants, and by the friendly, informal intercourse they permittted on tour. The administration of the law was made far less complex, and
by the ban upon vakils and the introduction of panchayats was prevented from becoming an instrument in the hands of the unscrupulous. Not only was the Company’s administration thus adapted to tribal needs, and its officers and officials made servants rather than oppressive masters of the tribal people, but the conflicts within tribal society itself eased. If rajas and
jagirdars were saved by Wilkinson and Davidson from the clutches of the money-lender, the mankis and ghatwals, the junior members of chiefly families, and the minor zamindars were saved from oppression by their rajas. The result was twenty years of peaceful development in the Agency.