British power was established in India after prolonged conquests and consolidation. These were met by minor resistances by routed Nawabs, zamindars, landowners and supported by tribals and peasants. The main cause of localized rebellions by civilians was the changes British brought into agrarian society ruining it by imposing high land revenues. Not even a part of the revenue was spent on improving agriculture or welfare of cultivators.

The zamindars and poligars were discontent since their lands were confiscated and they were replaced by government officials and moneylenders in the societal order.

The courts, police and the officials were further increasing resentment of the people.

The artisans and craftsmen were ruined due to the free trade with Britain that flooded India with machine made goods. They lost their markets abroad due to high tariff on exports.

They also lost their domestic market of princes, chieftains and zamindars.

British rule had affected scholarly and priestly classes as they lost their traditional patrons viz. princes, landowners and bureaucratic elite who were ruined by the British. Finally being under a foreigner rule humiliated all sections of the society.

The rebellions were scattered; their effects were local. They leaders were mostly interested in restoring the traditional order rather than freedom from foreign rule. They were not capable of fighting the organized British rulers. The repression to these was the main reasons why revolt of 1857 didn’t spread to south India or eastern and western India. Even though these rebels failed they had historical importance and inspired the future national movements.


Tribal’s rebelled as they were discontent due to British rule. The British had ended their isolation from the society and brought it in contact with colonialism. Tribal leaders became recognized as zamindars and were given responsibility to collect land revenue.

This also led to influx of missionaries increasing religious interference. The large number of moneylenders, traders and revenue farmers came to exploit tribals and made them into bankrupt, share croppers or landless people. They were evicted from lands that they had brought into cultivation.

They could no longer access forest lands for shifting cultivation nor take forest produce due to British policies. The officials used to harass them and outsiders forced them to do unpaid labor. All this uprooted their traditional lives and created conditions for revolts.

However the tribal’s resorted to armed rebellions but were no match for the organized British troops with the latest weapons. Lakhs of tribal’s died in these unequal wars.

Santhal and birsa uprisings were due to same reasons.


Indigo riots were due to the oppression of indigo planter, who were European, on the peasants. The planters forced the growers to produce indigo which would be processed in factories. The cultivators had to sow indigo on their best soil and put labor to sell the plant at a price below market.

He had to accept advance from the planter and since he couldn’t pay it back he had to keep planting indigo.  The forced and fraudulent contracts couldn’t be discarded by courts as process was time consuming and costly. The planters also had armed goons who would force the cultivator with violence. The Europeans judges that were in courts also sided with the planters.

The peasants had to rebel and they stopped growing indigo under duress. They were withstanding the assaults. The cultivators attacked planters, their factories and organized themselves into groups to fight the police and goons of the planters. The planters then tried to increase the rent of cultivators. But the peasants refused to pay it. They organized themselves into groups and pooled money to fight cases.

Ultimately the planters surrendered and closed the factories. The Indian society of intelligentsia was united behind them and so were the Christian missionaries. The government’s vary after the 1857 revolts pacified the rioters with a notification favoring their stand. The unity amongst rioters irrespective of caste, religion led to their victory.

The peasant riots during this period were based on legal tactics to solve cases and not armed rebellion. They were for immediate resolution of grievances. They were against the zamindar and not the British rule. Hence the tactics of government were also soft unlike on the 1857 rioters. The peasants revolted only when no other remedy was available and revolt was only alternative. The government to respond by pacifying rebels with legislations. Intelligentsia was in support of rioters here unlike in pre-1857.

Aftermath of the Revolts

Post 1857 most princes, landlords and zamindars were ruined and cultivators assumed important role in agrarian society. The feeling of humiliation of being under foreign rule wasn’t there. The peasant didn’t oppose imposition of land revenue or zamindar but only was against high land revenue and oppressive attitude of zamindars. The peasants didn’t understand the effect of colonialism at this stage.

However this was changed in 20th century when peasant discontent was merged with anti imperial discontent and they became part of the wider anti imperial struggle.

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