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Did St John’s Gospel cause the SanthalHul, 1855-56?

Ranchi: On June 30, the state will commemorate the historic SanthalHul of 1855-56, which heralded the 1857 Mutiny many like to call First War of Independence. But how exactly it begun is still shrouded in mystery, except that the uprising itself was the culmination of reactions of the Santhal tribe against oppression and suppression by the middlemen and the British.

A few historians, however, have tried to unearth, from letters of the British officials as to exactly what took place just before the Hul kicked off. According to K.K. Dutta’s ‘The Santhal Insurrection’ published in 1940 (Calcutta), one night two Santhal brothers Sidhu and Kanhu were sitting in their houses, their minds revolving around the acute situations that were prevalent in the region.

‘A bit of paper fell on Seedo’s hand and suddenly the Thakur (God) appeared before the astonished gaze of Seedo and Kanhu. He was like a white man though dressed in a native style, on each hand had ten fingers: he held a white book and wrote therein; the book and with it 20 pieces of papers, in 5 batches, four in each batch he presented to the brothers, ascended upward and disappeared. Another bit of paper fell on Seedo’s head, and then came two men, each having six fingers on each hand, hinted to the purport of the Thakoor’s order and they likewise vanished. These were later found to be the pages of an English version of St John’s Gospel,’ writes Datta.

F.B. Bradley-Brit, who probably may have been a civil official of the Raj during those days, in his book ‘The story of Indian Upland’, published in London (1905) refers to a similar vision as to have visited the two Santhal brothers. ‘Bradley-Brit noted that the Marang Buru had appeared not once but seven times…,’ writes S.P. Sinha, a writer in his book SantalHul, Published by Tribal Research Institute, Ranchi, (1991). Among many visions, the two brothers also saw a white man attired in Santhal dress visiting them and giving them orders to rise.

Another writer H.H. Hunter, Annals of Rural Bengal’, published in London in 1868, refers to a similar incident. ‘The divinity delivered the two brothers a sacred book, and the sky showered down slips of papers, which were secretly spread throughout the Santal country….’

Whether the two brothers had seen some dream or some spirit had actually given them a visit, is a matter beyond scientific establishment. Whatever may have the case, the two brothers clearly had some pieces of papers falling on their hands from somewhere. As the papers were in English, it is safe to assume that neither the Santhal brothers nor the others in the community could have managed to read it, for English then was still a very elite language, only that of the rulers and a few Indians who had the luck to visit schools.

‘Each village received a scrap without a word of explanation, but with an impression that it would avoid the wrath of the national God, to forward it without a moment’s pause to the nearest hamlet,’ Hunter further writes. Thus, if the papers were pages from St John’s Gospel, the same was circulated among villagers, and in all probabilitythe Santhals thought that it was the order of the Marang Buru.

The exercise stirred the Santhal mind and ignited them into action. The result: SanthalHul of 1855-56. – Santosh Kiro

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