The Bheels (Bhils) were the first to raise a movement against princely feudalism and British imperialism in Rajasthan. Majority of Bheels inhabited the princely states of Mewar (Udaipur), Banswara, Dungarpur, and Sirohi of Rajputana. Before the British rule, Bheels were enjoying undisturbed forest rights. In 1818, the States of Mewar, Dungarpur, Banswara concluded treaties with the British power and new order was established. The Bheels revolted in 1818 against this new order.
Causes of Bheel Movement of 1818
- The Bheels had been employed in the regular and irregular forces of the State and Jagirdars since ages. As a result of treaty of 1818, the native forces of mewar were dissolved and the Bheels became unemployed.
Immediately after the treaty, the internal administration of the Mewar State was taken over by the British Resident Col. James Tod and he tried to bring Bheels under his control. The Gametis (Bhil Chief) used to collect watch-tax from the neighbouring villages of their settlements and a tax called Bolai (Safety tax) on the passage of goods and travellers. In order to establish strong authority upon Bheels, Col. Tod decided to take over the right of the above taxes from the Bheels. This became the immediate cause of the Bhil revolts.
To counter, the British troops were sent against the Bheels and they compelled them to surrender. However, this violent action created widespread bitterness and though, the Bheel revolt was crushed, the British could not achieve permanent peace.
To sustain long-term peaceful rule, the British made some new arrangements. The general administration of the Bhil tracts was taken over by the British and an Assistant Political Agent was appointed to look after the administration. In 1841 under his command Mewar Bheel Corps (MBC) was raised. These Corps were used by British & rajas to maintain the law & order situation in the areas.
After the revolt of 1857, the British Government took over the Empire from the East India Company and a number of administrative changes were introduced in the Indian States. These new changes further took away rights enjoyed by Bheels. Now, they were not allowed to take any advantage of cultivation and natural products without paying taxes. Money-lender introduced through new system took advantage of uneducated and ignorant Bhils and exploited them using the English legal system. New custom check posts were placed, new taxes were imposed on tobacco, salt and opium were introduced and liquor distilling by the Bhils was prohibited.
The British efforts to introduce social reforms among the Bhils also agitated them. The witchcraft (Dakan) practice was prevailing among the Bhils. Any woman suspect of being a Dakan ws tortured and killed. The British authorities pressed the State to stop this practice. The Bhils considered it an attack on their beliefs.
The census operations that started in 1881 in the Mewar State also agitated the Bhils. The Bhils believed that the census was conducted to recruit them in the British army or to wipe out the Bheel race.
All these social & economic factors created a fertile ground for a second revolt.
Immediate cause of Revolt
In the first week of March 1881, the gameti (Bheel Chief) of Padona village on the Udaipur-Kherwara Road was summoned by the thanedar of Barapal village to appear as witness in some land dispute. The thanedar of Barapal sent Sawar (Police Constable) to summon the gameti, who refused to go. When the sawar tried to use force, he was killed by the Bheels The thanedar reached the village with force and arrested the gameti. The gameti was tortured by police cruelly and put to death.
Consequently, The Bhils of Padona and Barapal attacked the police station and the thanedar was killed. The Bhils became violent and burnt down bania shops and police stations in the nearby areas. The Bhils of Tidi and Kotra also joined the revolting Bhils. In no time the revolt spread over other hilly areas of Mewar State.
Consequence of Bheel Revolt
The state and British forces were sent to crush the revolt. The forces could not succeed in defeating the Bhils due to ope- rational difficulties in the dense forest. The Maharaja’s personal Secretary Shyamaldas, who was accompanying the troops, entered into negotiations with the Bhil leaders but eventually failed.
Finally, British representative Col Walter made settlement of peace with the gametis of Bhils at Rishabhdev. The Bhils were sanctioned concessions in respect of their forest rights and taxes.
Later Bheel Movements
- Eki Movement or Bhmath Bheel Movement