A Tribal Hero of the Indian Freedom Movement

Generally the Tribals in India fought the most bravely against the British Colonialists. However, except for a few mostly these fighters have been ignored by mainstream historiography. One such major revolt against the British in Central India was that of Tantia Bhil . Tantia was born in Birda Village in East Nimar district, in 1842 . His father was named Bhavsingh . This region fell under the direct rule of the East India Company. After the reorganisation consequent to the War of 1857, it was made a part of the Central Provinces. Like elsewere, the British had introduced the Zamidari system for collection of land revenue in this region too, wherein agents were appointed to collect the enhanced land revenue from the peasants. Tantia’s father was a small tenant farmer working for a landlord. He passed away in 1860, leaving Tantia to fend for himself. In the decade of the 1860s there was continuous monsoon failure for three years. The British refused to forego the collection of land revenue, putting the tenant farmers in a dire situation. Most of the farmers had to take loons. Tantia refused to do so and instead of this he beat up the landlord and his men when they insisted that he pay the rent. This was deemed a serious act of indiscipline , and the police immediately arrested Tantia. He was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in Nagpur Jail in Maharashtra. Even after his release, he was constantly harassed by landlords , Sahukars or moneylenders and police and false criminal cases were lodged against him. He was also accused of having fallen in love with an upper caste girl Yashoda in Hirapur. At the end of the day , fed up with this endlees harassment in 1872-73, Tantia beat up the landlord’s men once again and fled to the jungles . He slowly built a team of armed men and began looting landlords and attacking police stations. He and his men were caught on many occasions but they maneged to escape from Jail in Khandwa district in Madhya Pradesh . For a decade and a half , Tantia and his men defied the might of the British and their vassal landlords and sahukars . Most of the kings at that time were collaborating with the British. That is why these revolts of Tantia are important historically in having kept the desire for freedom alive among the people of India. In fact, the tribal leader and his brigade came close to establishing a parallel government. Tantia became famous for his Robin Hood style of functioning – looting rich landlords and distributing a big chunk of the loot among poor people. Bhil women regarded him as their saviour and brother and would tell their children of the exploits of their Tantia Mama or uncle. However, he was once again apprehended in 1888 through subterfuge and sentenced to death by hanging in Jabalpur district in Madhya Pradesh.

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