How did the colonial rule affect the tribals in India and what was the tribal response to the colonial oppression?

Model Answer


Tribals occupied the forest areas and the resource richness of these areas attracted the British to these areas for their commercial potential. The British policies thus led to unwanted interference in tribal societies.


Impact of colonial policies on Tribals

  • Land revenue policies such as zamindari system led to forced commercialisation in tribal regions. Regions under Chaur and Munda tribe.
  • Policy of interference in social and religious practice enabled the British to stop such tribal acts, for example Mariah sacrifice among tribal Khond. Many Christian missionaries tried to convert tribals to Christianity affecting their cultural rights. Britishers banned local liquor and mandated leases to outsiders to brew palm liquor. 
  • Expansionist policy where tribal communities faced land dispossession and encroachments by colonial powers and landlords, for example in Santhal tribal areas.
  • Protection of Forest rights through Forests Act such as Forests Act (1865), and Indian Forests Act (1878) restricted tribal access to forests and natural resources, further affecting their traditional hunting, gathering, and agricultural practices like jhum cultivation.(Chenchu).
  • Commercialisation of forests:
    • Opening of forests encouraged penetration of moneylenders and outsiders who exploited tribals.
    • Need for Oak and Timber for Railways and Navy made Britishers control forests and change their character. 
  • Criminalisation of tribes: Britishers criminalised many tribals who were engaged in long distance trade as criminal tribes and ostracised them.

Response of Tribals towards Colonial rule

  • Resistance and Rebellion: Some tribal communities actively resisted colonial rule through armed uprisings and rebellions. Ex. Santhal Rebellion of 1855-1856 in Bengal and Bastar Rebellion of 1910 in Central India.
  • Isolation and Avoidance: some tribes (in Himalayan regions) chose to isolate themselves from colonial authorities and maintain their traditional ways of life in remote areas. They avoided contact with outsiders to protect their culture, land, and autonomy.
  • Cultural Preservation: Some tribes responded to colonialism by making efforts to preserve their cultural heritage and traditions. Ex. Birsa Munda urged Mundas to give up drinking liquor, clean their village, and stop believing in witchcraft.
  • Non-violent means: In certain cases, tribal leaders and communities opted for violating the laws and rules of the British such as in Bhagat movement tribal members refused to pay the land rent. Chenchu tribe launched Forest Satyagraha during the non-cooperation movement.


Rise of colonial interference in the tribal regions across India gave rise to the anti-British sentiments during the 19th and early 20th century. This helped the nationalist leaders to unite these tribal regions after Independence following the policy of non-interference and inclusive development.

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