Chapter-6 People’s Resistance Against British Before 1857 (Spectrum – Modern History of India – Short Notes)



People’s Resistance Against British Before 1857

Spectrum – Modern History of India – Short Notes

People’s Resistance: Meaning

  • The peasants, artisans, tribals, ruling classes (active or dispossessed), military personnel (those under the Company as well as the demobilised soldiers of ex-rulers), religious leaders (Hindu and Muslim), etc., fought for the protection of their interests, at times separately and at times together.
  • The agitation in Benares in 1810 against a house tax imposed by the colonial government, the Surat riots in 1814 against the salt duty, the rising in Bareilly in 1816 against police tax and municipal taxes, are some examples of urban movements.
  • According to Bipin Chandra, people’s resistance took three broad forms: civil rebellions, tribal uprisings and peasant movements. Military revolts as a form of people’s resistance, which involved Indians employed in the Company’s forces is also considered.

Genesis of People’s Resistance

  • Causative Factors for People’s UprisingsThe major factors responsible for the people’s resentment and uprisings against the Company rule are as follows.
  1. Colonial land revenue settlements, heavy burden of new taxes, eviction of peasants from their lands, and encroachments on tribal lands. Exploitation in rural society coupled with the growth of intermediary revenue collectors, tenants and moneylenders.
  2. Expansion of revenue administration over tribal lands leading to the loss of tribal people’s hold over agricultural and forest land.
  • Promotion of British manufactured goods, heavy duties on Indian industries, especially export duties, leading to devastation of Indian handloom and handicraft industries.
  1. Destruction of indigenous industry leading to migration of workers from industry to agriculture, increasing the pressure on land/agriculture.
  • Civil UprisingsThe word ‘civil’ encompasses everything which is not related to defence/military

Major Causes of Civil Uprisings

  1. Under the Company rule, there were rapid changes in the economy, administration and land revenue system that went against the people.
  2. Several zamindars and poligars who had lost control over their land and its revenues due to the colonial rule, had personal scores to settle with the new rulers.
  • The ego of traditional zamindars and poligars washurt due to being sidelined in rank by government officials and a new class comprising of merchants and money-lender.
  1. The ruin of Indian handicraft industries due to colonial policies impoverished millions of artisans whose misery was further compounded by the disappearance of their traditional patrons and buyers—princes, chieftains, and zamindars.
  2. The priestly classes instigated hatred and rebellion against alien rule, because the religious preachers, priests, pundits, maulvis, etc., had been dependent on the traditional landed and bureaucratic elite. The fall of zamindars and feudal lords directly affected the priestly class.
  3. The foreign character of the British rulers, who always remained alien to this land, and their contemptuous treatment of the native people hurt the pride of the latter.
  • General Characteristics of Civil Uprisingsrepresented common conditions, though separated in time and place.

Important Civil Uprisings

Sanyasi Revolt (1763-1800)-

  • A group of sanyasis in Eastern India to fight the British yokeThey raided Company factories and the treasuries, and fought the Company’s forces.
  • Sometimes referred to as the Fakir Rebellion.
  • Majnum Shah (or Majnu Shah), Chirag Ali, Musa Shah, Bhawani Pathak and Debi Chaudhurani were important leaders.
  • Debi Chaudhurani’s participation  recognizes the women’s role in early resistances against the British.
  • Anandamath, a semi-historical novel by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, is based on the Sanyasi Revolt.
  • Bankim Chandra also wrote a novel, Devi Chaudhurani,

Revolt in Midnapore and Dhalbhum (1766-74)

  • The English took hold of Midnapore in 1760.
  • The zamindars of Dhalbhum, Manbhum, Raipur, Panchet, Jhatibuni, Karnagarh, and Bagri, living in the vast tract of Jungle Mahals of west and north-west Midnapore—were ultimately dispossessed of their zamindaries by 1800s.
  • The important leaders of the uprisings were Damodar Singh and Jagannath Dhal.

Revolt of Moamarias (1769-99)-

  • The revolt of the Moamarias in 1769 was a potent challenge to the authority of Ahom kings of Assam.
  • The Moamarias were low-caste peasants who followed the teachings of Aniruddhadeva (1553-1624).
  • Their revolts weakened the Ahoms and opened the doors for others to attack the region, for instance, in 1792, the King of Darrang (Krishnanarayan), assisted by his band of burkandazes (the demobilised soldiers of the Muslim armies and zamindars) revolted. The Moamarias made Bhatiapar their headquarters. Rangpur (now in Bangladesh) and Jorhat were the most affected region.

Civil Uprisings in Gorakhpur, Basti and Bahraich (1781)

  • Warren Hastings made a plan to earn money by involving English officers as izaradars (revenue farmers) in Awadh..
  • Hannay secured the izara of Gorakhpur and Bahraich to the amount of 22 lakh rupees for one year.
  • The zamindars and cultivators rose against the unbearable exactions in 1781.

Revolt of Raja of Vizianagaram (1794)

  • In 1758, a treaty was made between the English and Ananda Gajapatiraju, the ruler of Vizianagaram, to jointly oust the French from the Northern Circars.
  • The East India Company went on to demand a tribute of three lakh rupees from Vizayaramaraju, the Raja of Vizianagaram.
  • This angered the raja as there were no dues to be paid to the Company supported by his subjects rose up in revolt.

Revolt of Dhundia in Bednur (1799-1800)

  • Dhundia Wagh, a local Maratha leader, who was converted to Islam by Tipu Sultan and put into jail
  • Dhundia organised a force which consisted of anti-British elements, and carved out a small territory for himself.
  • A defeat by the English in August 1799 forced him to take refuge in Maratha region.
  • In September 1800, he was killed while fighting against the British forces under Wellesley.

Resistance of Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja (1797; 1800-05)

  • Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja, popularly known as Kerala Simham (Lion of Kerala) or ‘Pyche raja’, was the de facto head of Kottayam (Cotiote) in Malabar region.
  • Kerala Varma fought against the British between 1793 and 1805. The English appointed Vira Varma, the uncle of Pazhassi Raja, as the Raja of Kottayam. The new raja, to meet the revenue target fixed by the Company, levied exorbitant rates of tax on the peasants.
  • This led to a massresistance by the peasants under the leadership of Pazhassi Raja in 1793. Pazhassi Raja fought bravely using guerilla warfare, and in 1797 a peace treaty was madeIn November 1805, the Kerala Simham died in a gun-fight at Mavila Todu near present day Kerala- Karnataka border.

Civil Rebellion in Awadh (1799)

  • Wazir Ali Khan, the fourth Nawab of Awadh, with the help of the British, had ascended the throne in September 1797.
  • In January 1799, he killed a British resident, Geogre Frederik Cherry, who had invited him to lunch. Wazir Ali’s guards killed two other Europeans and even attacked the Magistrate of Benares.

The whole incident became famous as the Massacre of Benares. After surrender in December 1799, wazir ali was placed in confinement at Fort William, Calcutta.

Uprisings in Ganjam and Gumsur (1800, 1835-37)

  • Strikara Bhanj, a zamindar of Gumsur in Ganjam district, refused to pay revenues in 1797. In 1800, he openly rebelled and defied the public authorities. Dhananjaya rebelled against the English but was forced to surrender in June 1815.
  • Dhananjay Bhanj rose in rebellion for the second time when the British forces occupied Gumsur and Kolaida in November 1835.
  • The revolt greatly reduced the government’s authorityThe struggle lasted till February 1837, when Doora Bisayi, a formidable leader, was arrested.

Uprisings in Palamau (1800-02)

  • In 1800, Bhukhan Singh, a Chero chief, rose in rebellion. Colonel Jones camped for two years in Palamau and Sarguja to suppress the rebellion.

Poligars’ Revolt (1795-1805)

  • The poligars (or palayakkarargal) of South India gave a stiff resistance to the British between 1795 and 1805.
  • The main centres of these strong uprisings were Tinneveli (or Thirunelveli), Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga, Sivagiri, Madurai, and North Arcot.
  • The problem started in 1781, when the Nawab of Arcot gave the management and control of Tinneveli and the Carnatic Provinces to the East India Company.
  • The first revolt of the poligars against the Company was basically over taxation, but had a larger political dimension in that the English considered and treated the poligars as enemies.
  • Kattabomman Nayakan, the poligar of Panjalankurichi, led the insurrection between 1795 and 1799. Company forces were defeated by Veerapandiya Kattabomman, a price was put on the latter’s head.
  • This led to greater rebellion by the poligars. The second phase, started in February 1801The fugitives led by Oomathurai, brother of Kattabomman, who fled to Sivaganga in Ramnad joined the rebellion of the ‘Marudus’ led by Marathu Pandian which was suppressed in October 1801.
  • Between 1803 and 1805, the poligars of North Arcot rose in rebellion, when they were deprived of their right to collect the kaval By February 1805, the rebels were suppressed.

Uprising in Bhiwani (1809)

  • In 1809, the Jats of Haryana broke into rebellion.

Diwan Velu Thampi’s Revolt (1808-1809)

  • The highhanded attitude of the Company compelled Prime Minister (or Dalawa) Velu Thampi to rise against the Company, assisted by the Nair troops.
  • Velu Thampi addressed a gathering in Kundara, openly calling for taking up arms against the British to oust them from the native soil.
  • This was later known as the Kundara Proclamation.

Disturbances in Bundelkhand (1808-12)

  • The vast province of Bundelkhand, conquered by the British during the Second Anglo-Maratha Wars (1803-05), was put within the Presidency of Bengal.
  • The first major resistance came from Lakshaman Dawa, the killadar (fort commander) of Ajaygarh fort. Lakshman was permitted to retain the fort as a temporary arrangement for two years ending in 1808.
  • The next resistance came from killadar of Kalanjar, Darya Singh, which was suppressed in January 1812.
  • The most serious threat came from Gopal Singh. To put a stop to these disturbances, the British had to adopt a policy of binding down the hereditary chieftains of Bundelkhand by a series of contractual obligations—

Parlakimedi Outbreak (1813-34)

  • When the Company acquired Ganjam, Narayan Deo was the raja of Parlakimedi, whose resistance forced the British to dispatch an army under Colonel Peach.

Kutch or Cutch Rebellion (1816-1832)

  • There was a treaty between the British and Maharaja Bharamal II of Kutch in 1816, by which power was vested in the throne.
  • The British interfered in the internal feuds of the Kutch and, in 1819, Raja Bharmal II raised Arab and African troops with the firm intention of removing the British from his territory.
  • A British resident governed the areas as the de facto ruler with the help of a regency council.

Rising at Bareilly (1816)

  • The immediate cause of upsurge was the imposition of the police tax which aroused the burning indignation of the citizens.
  • Several armed Muslims from Pilibhit, Shahjahanpur and Rampur rose in rebellion for thedefence of the faith and the Mufti.

Upsurge in Hathras (1817)

  • Due to progressively increasing high revenues, Dayaram constantly failed to pay arrears and even committed many acts of hostility by giving harbour to government fugitives.
  • So, the Company with a large army attacked Hathras in February 1817.

Paika Rebellion (1817)

  • The Paiks of Odisha were the traditional landed militia (‘foot soldiers’ literally) and enjoyed rent free land tenures for their military service and policing functions on a hereditary basis.
  • The English Company’s conquest of Odisha in 1803, and the dethronement of the Raja of Khurda.
  • Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar had been the military chief of the forces of the Raja of Khurda.
  • In 1814, Jagabandhu’s ancestral estate of Killa Rorang was taken over by the Company, reducing him to penury.
  • The spark waslighted by the arrival of a body of Khonds from Gumsur into the Khurda territory in March 1817. With active support of Mukunda Deva, the last Raja of Khurda, and other zamindars of the region, Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar led a sundry army of Paikas forcing the East India Company forces to retreat for a time.
  • The rebellion came to be known as the Paika Bidroh (rebellion). The Paik Rebellion succeeded in getting large remissions of arrears, reductions in assessments, suspension of the sale of the estates of defaulters at discretion, a new settlement on fixed tenures and other adjuncts of a liberal governance.

Waghera Rising (1818-1820)

  • Resentment against the alien rule coupled with the exactions of the Gaekwad of Baroda supported by the British government compelled the Waghera chiefs of Okha Mandal to take up arms.
  • The Wagheras carried out inroads into British territory during 1818-19. A peace treaty was signed in November 1820.

Ahom Revolt (1828)

  • After the First Burma War (1824-26). instead of withdrawing, the British attempted to incorporate the Ahoms’ territories in the Company’s dominion.
  • This sparked off a rebellion in 1828 under the leadership of Gomdhar Konwar, an Ahom prince, alongwith compatriots.
  • Finally, the Company decided to follow a conciliatory policy and handed over Upper Assam.

Surat Salt Agitations (1840s)

  • A strong anti-British sentiment resulted in attacks by the local Surat population on the Europeans in 1844 over the issue of the government’s step to raise the salt duty from 50 paise to one rupee.

Kolhapur and Savantvadi Revolts

  • Facing the spectre of unemployment, the Gadkaris rose in revolt and occupied the Samangarh and Bhudargarh forts.Similarly, the simmering discontent caused a revolt in Savantvadi areas.

Wahabi Movement

  • The Wahabi Movement was essentially an Islamic revivalist movement founded by Syed Ahmed of Rai Bareilly who was inspired by the teachings of Abdul Wahab (1703-87) of Saudi Arabia and Shah Waliullah of Delhi.
  • After the defeat of the Sikh ruler and incorporation of Punjab into the East India Company’s dominion in 1849, the English dominion in India became the sole target of the Wahabis’ attacks.
  • Wahabis played an important role in spreading anti- British sentiments. A series of military operations by the British in the 1860s on the Wahabi base in Sithana and various court cases of sedition on the Wahabis weakened the Wahabi resistance.

Kuka Movement

  • The Kuka Movement was founded in 1840 by Bhagat Jawahar Mal (also called Sian Saheb) in western Punjab.
  • Its basic tenets were abolition of caste and similar discriminations among Sikhs, discouraging the consumption of meat and alcohol and drugs, permission for intermarriages, widow remarriage, and encouraging women to step out of seclusion.
  • On the political side, the Kukas wanted to remove the British and restore Sikh rule over Punjab; they advocated wearing hand-woven clothes and boycott of English laws and education and products.
  • So, the concepts of Swadeshi and non-cooperation were propagated by the Kukas.
  • Peasant Movements with Religious OvertonesThe peasant movements in India till the outbreak of the Revolt of 1857(and in its immediate aftermath) are given below.

Narkelberia Uprising-

  • Mir Nithar Ali (1782-1831) or Titu Mir inspired the Muslim tenants in West Bengal to rise against landlords, mainly Hindu, who imposed a beard-tax on the Faraizis, and British indigo planters.
  • Often considered the first armed peasant uprising against the British later merged into the Wahabi movement.

The Pagal Panthis

  • The Pagal Panthi, a semi-religious group mainly constituting the Hajong and Garo tribes of Mymensingh district (earlier in Bengal), was founded by Karam Shah.
  • The tribal peasants organised themselvesto fight the oppression of the zamindars. From 1825 to 1835, the Pagal Panthis refused to pay rent above a certain limit

Faraizi Revolt

  • The Faraizis were the followers of a Muslim sect founded by Haji Shariat-Allah of Faridpur in Eastern Bengal. They advocated radical religious, social and political changes.
  • Shariat-Allah son of Dadu Mian (1819-60) organised his followers with an aim to expel the English intruders from Bengal.
  • The sect also supported the cause of the tenants against the zamindars.

Moplah Uprisings

  • Hike in revenue demand and reduction of field size, coupled with the oppression of officials, resulted in widespread peasant unrest among the Moplahs of Malabar. Twenty-two rebellions took place between 1836 and 1854.

Peasants’ Role in the 1857 Revolt

  • The peasants united with the local feudal leaders in many places to fight against foreign rule. After the revolt, the plight of the peasants worsened with the British Government’s decision to gain the support of the landed classes while ignoring the peasants.
  • Tribal RevoltsTribal movements under British rule were the most frequent, militant and violent of all movements.

Different Causes for Mainland and North-Eastern Tribal Revolts-

  1. The mainland tribal rebellions were sparked off by athe tribal lands or forests.
  2. The land settlements of the British affected the joint ownership tradition
  • As agriculture was extended in a settled form by the Company government, the tribals lost their land, Shifting cultivation in forests was curbed and this added to the tribals’ problems.
  1. Exploitation by the police, traders and money-lenders.
  2. Some general laws were also abhorred for their intrusive nature
  3. The British entered the north-eastern areas much later than the non-frontier tribal areas.
  • The frontier tribal revolts under the British continued for a longer time than the non-frontier tribal movements.

Characteristics of Tribal Revolts-

  1. Tribal identity or ethnic ties lay behind the solidarity shown by these groups.
  2. The resentment against the imposition of laws by the ‘foreign government’ that was seen as an effort at destroying the tribals’ traditional socioeconomic framework.
  • Many uprisings were led by messiah-like figures who encouraged their people to revolt
  • The tribal uprisings were doomed from the beginning, given the outdated arms
  • Important Tribal Movements of MainlandThe frontier tribal areas, were concentrated in central India, the west-central region and the south.

Pahariyas’ Rebellion

  • The British expansion on their territory led to an uprising by the martial Pahariyas of the Raj Mahal Hills in 1778.
  • The British were forced to usher in peace by declaring their territory as damni-kol area.

Chuar Uprising

  • Famine, enhanced land revenue demands and economic distress goaded the Chuar aboriginal tribesmen of the Jungle Mahal of Midnapore district and also of the Bankura district (in Bengal) to take up arms.
  • The uprising lasted from 1766 to 1772 and then, again surfaced between 1795 and 1816.
  • The Chuars were prominent in Manbhum and Barabhum, especially in the hills between Barabhum and Ghatsila.

Kol Mutiny (1831)

  • The Kols, alongwith other tribes, are inhabitants of Chhotanagpur. This covered Ranchi, Singhbhum, Hazaribagh, Palamau and the western parts of Manbhum.
  • The trouble in 1831 started with large-scale transfers of land from Kol headmen to outsiders. The British judicial and revenue policies badly affected the traditional social conditions of the Kols. The Kols resented this and in 1831, under the leadership of Buddho Bhagat,

Ho and Munda Uprisings (1820-1837)

  • The Raja of Parahat organised his Ho tribals to revolt against the occupation of Singhbhum (now in Jharkhand).
  • The revolt continued till 1827 when the Ho tribals were forced to submit. in 1831organised a rebellion, joined by the Mundas of Chotanagpur, to protest against the newly introduced farming revenue policy and the entry of Bengalis into their region.

The Santhal Rebellion (1855-56)

  • Continued oppression of the Santhals, an agricultural people, who had fled to settle in the plains of the Rajmahal hills (Bihar) led to the Santhal rebellion against the zamindars.
  • The rebellion turned into an anti-British movement. Under Sidhu and Kanhu, two brothers, the Santhals proclaimed an end to Company rule, and declared the area between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal as autonomous.

Khond Uprisings (1837-1856)

  • From 1837 to 1856, the Khonds of the hilly tracts extending from Odisha to the Srikakulam and Visakhapatnam districts of Andhra Pradesh revolted against Company rule.

Koya Revolts

  • The Koyas of the eastern Godavari track (modern Andhra), joined by Khonda Sara chiefs, rebelled in 1803, 1840, 1845, 1858, 1861 and 1862.
  • Their complaints were oppression by police and moneylenders, new regulations and denial of their customary rights over forest areas.

Bhil Revolts

  • The Bhils who lived in the Western Ghats controlled the mountain passes between the north and the Deccan.
  • They revolted against Company rule in 1817-19, as they had to face famine, economic distress and misgovernment.

Koli Risings

  • The Kolis living in the neighbourhood of Bhils rose up in rebellion against the Company’s rule in 1829, 1839 and again during 1844-48.

Ramosi Risings

  • The Ramosis, the hill tribes of the Western Ghats, had not reconciled to British rule and the British pattern of administration.
  • They rose under Chittur Singh in 1822 and plundered the country around Satara.
  • Tribal Movements of the North-EastSome famous tribal movements of the north-east frontier region have been given below.

Khasi Uprising-

  • The Khasis, Garos, Khamptis and the Singphos organized themselves under Tirath Singh to drive away the strangers from the Brahmaputra Valley.
  • The uprising developed into a popular revolt against British rule in the area.

Singphos Rebellion

  • The rebellion of the Singphos in Assam in early 1830 was immediately quelled.
  • Chief Nirang Phidu led an uprising in 1843, which involved an attack on the British garrison and the death of many soldiers.
  • Some of the smaller movements were those of the Mishmis (in 1836); the Khampti rebellion in Assam between 1839 and 1842; the Lushais’ revolt in 1842 and 1844.

Sepoy Mutinies


  1. discrimination in payment and promotions;
  2. mistreatment of the sepoys by the British officials;
  • refusal of the government to pay foreign service allowance while fighting in remote regions;
  1. religious objections of the high caste Hindu sepoys to Lord Canning’s General Service Enlistment Act (1856)


  • In 1806, the replacement of the turban by a leather cockade caused a mutiny at Vellore.
  • In 1844, there was a mutinous outbreak of the Bengal army sepoys for being sent to far away Sind and
  • In 1824 the sepoys at Barrackpore rose in revolt when they were asked to go to Burma because crossing the sea would mean loss of caste.
  • Important MutiniesThe most important mutinies which broke out during the pre- 1857 period are the following:
  1. The mutiny of the sepoys in Bengal in 1764.
  2. The Vellore mutiny of 1806 when the sepoys protested against interference in their social and religious practices and raised a banner of revolt unfurling the flag of the ruler of Mysore.
  • The mutiny of the sepoys of the 47th Native Infantry Unit in 1824.
  1. The revolt of the Grenadier Company in Assam in 1825.
  2. The mutiny of an Indian regiment at Sholapur in 1838.
  3. The mutinies of the 34th Native Infantry (N.I.), the 22nd N.I., the 66th N.I. and the 37th N.I. in 1844, 1849, 1850 and 1852 respectively.

Weaknesses of People’s Uprisings-

  1. These uprisings drew a large number of participants, localised and occurred at different times in different regions.
  2. They mostly arose out of local grievances.
  • The leadership was semi-feudal in character, backward looking, traditional in outlook and their resistance did not offer alternatives to the existing social set-up.
  1. If many of these revolts seemed similar to one another in wanting to oust the alien rule, it was because they were protesting against conditions that were common to them.
  2. These rebellions were centuries-old in form and ideological / cultural content.
  3. Those who were not so uncooperative or obstinate were pacified through concessions by the authorities.
  • The methods and arms used by the fighters in these uprisings were practically obsolete compared to the weapons and strategy—as well as deception and chicanery—employed by their opponents

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