The Sonthal Problem in Nineteenth-century Bengal
BASED ON contemporary official and non-official sources this article is addressed to an analysis of the measures adopted by Sir George Campbell, Bengalis lieutenant-governor between 1871 and 1874, to tackle ihe explosive situation in the Sonthal Parganas in the second half of the nineteenth century. Campbell's approach, marked by a compassion for the Sonthals, victims of landlord-moneylender exploitation, strikes a refreshing contrast with that of his predecessors in office. The sympathy for the Sonthals provoked the wrath of the propertied classes of Bengal who ranged themselves against the lieutenant-governor. In the collision that followed, the landed gentry received tacit support from Lord North-brook, the viceroy and Duke of Argyll, the secretary of state. Consequently, pragmatic approach notwithstanding, Gampbell failed to bring about a lasting solution to the problems of the Sonthals.
The region called the Sonthal Parganas had been administered under what was known as the Regulation System for a period of more than fifty years. The government resolved to constitute it as a Non-regulation district1 following the Sonthal insurrection in 1855. The insurrection which posed an ominous threat to British imperialism is sometimes compared to the Mutiny of 1857 two years later and the forty-year-long Wahabi rebellion.2