The history of Sahibganj district is rich and interesting. It centers mainly around the history of Rajmahal,Teliagarhi Fort and Sahibganj Town itself. The history of Sahibganj district is inseparable from the history of its parent district of Santhal Pargana with its headquarters at Dumka and is inter-related with the histories of Godda, Dumka, Deoghar and Pakur districts.
As a direct consequence of the Santhal Hul or Rebellion of 1854-55 led by Sido and Kanu brothers Santhal Pargana has been created as a separate district in 1855 by ceding portions of Bhagalpur (which is presently in Bihar) and Birbhum (which is presently in West Bengal) district. The entire Santhal Pargana along with portions of the present Hazaribagh, Munger,Jamui, Lakhisarai, Begusarai, Saharsa, a part of Purnia and Bhagalpur, districts was termed as “Jungle Terai” by the English on assumption of Diwani in Sept. 1763 from Shah Alam II at Allahabad after the Allahabad Treaty.
There is evidence in the pages of history that the area is inhabited since time immemorial only by Malers (Mal Paharia). They were the early settlers of the territory of Rajmahal hills, who still reside in some areas of the same hills. They are considered to be the “Malli” mentioned in the notes of Megasthenese, Greek Ambassador of Selukus Nikater, who happened to be in the vicinity of Rajmahal hills in 302 BC. Till the visit of Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang in 645 AD, the history of this area was wrapped in obscurity. In his travelogue the Chinese pilgrim mentions about the Fort of Teliagarhi, when he saw the lofty bricks and stone tower not far from the Ganges. We gathered information through the pages of history that it was certainly a Buddhist Vihar.
A continuous history of the district is available from the 13th Century when Teliagarhi became the main gateway of Muslim armies marching to and from Bengal. During the Turkish dynasty rule in Delhi, Malik Ikhtiaruddin-bin-Bakhtiar Khilji marched towards Bengal and Assam trough Teliagrahi pass. He captured Bengal and its king Lakshaman Sena fled away to Cooch Behar. In 1538, Sher Shah Suri and Humayun came face to face for a decisive battle near Teliagarhi. On 12th July 1576, the battle of Rajmahal was fought and the foundation of the Mughal rule in Bengal was laid. It was Man Singh, the most trusted general of Akbar, who in the capacity of Viceroy of Bengal and Bihar made Rajmahal the capital of Bengal in 1592. But this honour of Rajmahal was short-lived, for the capital was shifted to Dacca in 1608. Shortly after this, Teliagarhi and Rajmahal became the seat of a fierce battle between the rebellious Prince Shahjahan and Ibrahim Khan. Shahjahan emerged victorious and became the master of Bengal for the time being, losing finally in 1624 at Allahabad.
In 1639, Rajmahal regained its glory and was once more made the capital of Bengal by Shah Shuja, the second son of Emperor Shahjahan, on his appointment as the Viceroy of Bengal. It continued as the seat of the Mughal Viceroy up to 1660 and a mint town till 1661. It was at Rajmahal that Dr. Gabriel Boughten cured the daughter of Shah Shuja. By this means Dr. Boughten succeeded in securing an order (farman) from Shah Shuja giving the English the liberty to trade in Bengal. Thus the minutest foundation of the British rule was laid here. The fugitive Nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-Daula was captured at Rajmahal during his flight after the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
The victory at Plassey made British master of the then Bengal which contained the present Sahibganj District. In Santhal Pargana, they were up against a band of simple but determined opponents, the Paharias. Paharias were great lovers of freedom and could not tolerate any intruder in their homeland. The English were very much concerned and Warren Hastings the Governor General of India organized a special corps of 800 men in 1772 to curb the Paharias. The corps was put under the command of Captain Brooke, who was appointed the Military Governor of the Jungle terai. He partly succeeded in his mission. Captain James Browne, who succeeded Brooke in 1774, found himself busy mostly in suppressing the rebellion of the Bhuniyas. He however, prepared a scheme to win over the Paharias, which was left to be elaborated and put into action actually by Augustus Cleveland the first British Collector of Rajmahal . He introduced the system of trial of cases by an assembly of chiefs. This system received further sanction by Regulation I of 1796, which made it obligatory on the Magistrate to commit all-important cases for trial by the assembly of Chiefs. The Magistrate was, of course, to attend the trial as a superintending officer and had the power to confirm or modify the punishment. This show of self-rule continued till 1827 when Paharias were declared amenable to ordinary courts of law, though they even then enjoyed the privilege to settle pretty disputes
One of the successors of Augustus Cleveland, Mr. J. Sutherland, who in the capacity of Joint Magistrate of Bhagalpur toured the old district of Santhal Pargana in 1818 to enquire into the causes of local unrest and in 1819 suggested to the Fort William, Calcutta, that the hill tracts inhabited by the tribals should be declared the direct property of Government so that they could be looked after better. As a follow up action of the above suggestion, in 1824. John Perty Ward was deputed to demarcate the Government Estate. He was assisted by Captain Tanner, a Survey Officer. This Estate was named as “Damin-i-koh”, a Persian term meaning, ‘skirts of the hills’. The work was over in 1837 and Mr. Pontet, Deputy Collector was made in-charge of the revenue administration of the Damin area in the same year. The pouring in of Santhals was encouraged for clearing the jungle for the purpose of cultivation. One got the impression that all was well with the administration and that the Santhals were happy. But it was illusive. The internal set-up of the administrative system could not ensure proper justice to the common man and there was a deep underlying discontent among the simple minded but excitable Santhals.
SANTHAL REBELLION (HUL), 1855:-
Santhals settled in the district migrating from Birbhum, Bankura, Hazaribag and Rohtas between 1790 to 1810. As per William W. Hunter “The Permanent Settlement for the land tax in 1790 resulted in general extension of tillage and the Santhals were hired to rid the lowlands of the wild beasts which, since the great famine of 1769, had everywhere encroached upon the margin of cultivation”.
The Santhals who were encouraged to settle in the district were simple and hardy. Their words were a knot of tie. Thus they fell an easy prey to the unscrupulous hillmen and non-Santhal traders. Chaudhary, P.C. Roy writer of the new Gazatteer of Santhal Praganas held the view that ” It was common practice for the hillmen to apply for grant of land on condition of cultivating it themselves but they frequently gave it to Santhals, in the hope of collecting rents from them. Baniyas and mahajans, made heavy exaction from the innocent Santhals and there was no check on them. The local administration was extremely corrupt. In the area where Santhals had settled in large numbers, the Naib Sazwals, assistants of the English superintendents, were greedy and oppressive”. The police were equally corrupt. The Santhals were used to ready justice at no cost. But to add to their hardship they had to trek a long way, either to Jangipur in Murshidabad district or to Bhagalpur for justice as the civil and criminal courts were located there. If at all they could get the justice there, it proved too costly for them. To add to their injury the court staff and lawyers all pounced on them and exploited them to the maximum.”
Besides, there was the ‘Kamauti’ system. The idea of it was repayment of a debt by physical labour. In practice, however the debtor worked in many cases for a generation or two and yet the loan, no matter how small, could not be repaid. The mahajans were crooked and took advantage of the meekness of Santhals. Disgruntled, thus the Santhals felt insecure and their discontent was sharpened as their co-tribesmen outside the clutches of mahajans and banias earned a handsome wages in the forests which were being cleared for the rail lines to be laid. These entire facts and circumstances led to the Santhal Hul or Rebellion of 1855.
The Santhals got leaders in Sido, Kanu, Chand and Bhairab all the four brothers of village Bhognadih near Barhait of Sahibganj district. Chandrai and Simgrai were also the main figures. Singrai was the son of Baijal Manjhi of Littipara. Kanu was killed in action and Sido was arrested and hanged at Barhait.
The object of the Santhal uprising was the economic emancipation of the Santhals. The first spark of the revolt was ignited at Littipara. Kena Ram Bhagat was a leading merchant and moneylender of Amrapara. The altercation, which took place, led to the arrest of Baijai Manjhi, who was sent to Bhagalpur jail where he died shortly after without any trial. His son Singrai raised the banner of revolt who was also hanged in Barhait bazaar after summary trial. The Santhals became infuriated and Hul ensured as precursor of so called first Indian Freedom Movement of 1857.
Without going in depth of the disturbance, the foreign rulers took this as a challenge to their authority and pounced upon the Santhals with mighty forces and engaged troops to quell the disturbances. As the English tried to arrest the Santhals and thereby protect the ‘dikus’ or the disturber whom the Santhals had branded as their enemy, the trouble spread over a large area covering present Santhal Pargana division, Birbhum, Bankura and Hazaribagh district. A large number of troops were forced into action and all sorts of atrocities were resorted to. But for a brief lull for about a month in September 1855, waves of rising continued upto December 1855. Martial law was proclaimed on the 10th November 1855 and with ruthless hands, the British Government succeeded in suppressing the rebellion by December 1855. On the 3rd January 1856, the operation of the Martial law was suspended.
Sahibganj was not immune from patriotic fervor, and played its role in the country’s struggle for freedom from 1921 onwards. Even in the hills and forests of Sahibganj, there was a patriot named Lambodar Mukherjee moving and rousing the people telling the simple folk who they really were and what they should be. He brought to them the outside world, so securely closed by the British, with the help of lantern slides.
The district played its role in the Salt Satyagrah Movement and the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930 and in the boycott of foreign liquors and cloths. The movement gathered momentum and Government had to send military forces and use violence to control the situation. Paharias reacted very favourably to the Civil Disobedience Movement, and some of them moved about appealing the Santhals and the Paharias to join hands with the freedom fighters.
The 1942 movement also spread to entire Santhal Pargana division, for that matter in sahibganj and on the 11th August 1942 a general strike was observed. On the 12th August 1942 a procession was taken out at Godda and soon the entire district was aflame. Thus the district of Santhal Pargana marched hand-in-hand with other parts of the State in the protracted struggle for country’s freedom which yielded the result on 15th August 1947 in the form of end of slavery.
Government considered the Paharias and other tribals of Rajmahal hills as demographically underdeveloped section of society and embarked on policies and plans for their emancipation. Government’s efforts in the past could not bring the desired results and the district continued to remain relatively backward.. The Jharkhand Movement for more empowerment spearheaded by tribals and demand for separate statehood thus gained momentum and finally on 15th November 2000, a separate state named as Jharkhand came into existence comprising the 18 districts of the Chota Nagpur and Santhal Pargana divisions.