Chuar rebellion, also known as the ‘Revolt of the Jungle Mahal‘, was a series of movements between 1766 and 1809. In this uprising, the Chuar tribal inhabitants of Jungle Mahal of Midnapore, Manbhum, and Bankura (in Bengal) revolted against the rule of the British East India Company. The enhanced land revenue demands, famine and economic distress initiated these tribesmen to rose in response to the oppressive land revenue policy of the British.
The Chuars were tribal people who lived in the Bengal districts of Midnapore, Bankura, Dalbhum, and Manbhum regions. These regions came under the control of the British East India Company in the 1760s.
The Chuars were prominent in Manbhum and Barabhum, especially in the hills between Barabhum and Ghatsila. These tribal people were primarily farmers and hunters. They held their lands under a form of Feudal tenure but were not deeply attached to the soil. These tribesmen always being ready to change from farming to hunting at the whim of their jungle chiefs or zamindars.
The Forest zamindars were used to recruit Chuars as ‘Paiks‘ (soldiers who policed the community). Instead of salaries, they were given rent-free land, known as “Paikan land”.
As soon as the British took possession, they snatched the ancestral lands of Chuars and sold them to new landlords. Due to this, thousands of Paika lose their lands and means of livelihood. The oppressive land revenue policy of the British endangered the economic survival of these tribesmen. Apart from this, the British seized the lands from the zamindars, who were unable to pay the increased land taxes. These displaced zamindars also joined the Chuar uprising against the enhanced taxes.
The Chuar uprisings took place in different phases, each having its own set of traits, leaders and epicentre.
In 1768, Jagannath Singh of Dhalbhum (the zamindar of Ghatsila), along with thousands of Chuars, led a rebellion in Midnapore and forced the British authorities to surrender.
In 1771, Subla Singh of Kaliapal, Shyam Ganjam of Dhadka, and Dubraj Singh of Birbhum rose in rebellion against the East India Company (EIC). They led the Bhumij tribes of Jungle Mahal against the British due to the exploitative land revenue policies of the EIC. However, British forces suppressed them this time.
The Chuar people intensified this insurgency in the surrounding areas of Raipur, Manbhum, and Panchet. Later, Baidyanath Singh of Dhalbhum (son of Jagannath Singh) and Raghunath Singh (grandson of Jagannath) led this uprising. In 1782-84, Mangal Singh of Panchet, along with his allies, also led the rebellion.
The most significant Chuarr uprising was under Durjan Singh in 1798-99. Durjan Singh was the zamindar of Raipur, from which he was dispossessed due to operations of Bengal Regulations. In May 1798, his followers, around 1500 Chuars, indulged in violent activities in Raipur to halt the auction of the estate of Raipur. He established his rule over 30 villages and attacked the East India Company establishments. However, the British brutally suppressed the revolt in 1799.
Leaders of the Chuar Rebellion
Some of the prominent leaders of the Chuar uprisings were:
- Raja Jagannath Singh of Dhalbhum,
- Rani Shiromani of Karnagarh,
- Baidyanath Singh of Dhalbhum,
- Raghunath Singh of Dhalbhum,
- Subal Singh of Kuilapal,
- Shyam Ganjam Singh of Dhadka,
- Dubraj Singh of Birbhum,
- Raja Madhu Singh of Manbhum,
- Raja Mohan Singh of Juriah,
- Mangal Singh of Panchet,
- Lakshman Singh of Dulma,
- Durjan Singh of Raipur.
Some historians oppose using the term ‘Chuar‘ for this rebellion because it was a derogatory term used by the ruling class. They call this uprising the “Freedom Struggle of Jangal Mahal“.