Simko Genocide A Testimony of Tribal Protest

Kailash Chandra Das

The terrible bloodbath in the Simko Firing of 25th April 1939 will always be remembered as a significant event in the history of Modern India. The event was associated with the revolt of the tribal peasants of the old Gangapur State (now part of Sundergarh district of Orissa). The tragic event of the sacrifice of the innocent tribals on that day for an important agrarian issue is taken as an inseparable aspect of the nations strive for independence against British Colonialism as well as against feudalism in India. It was an unmistakable symbol of popular protest against century-long oppression. Surprisingly such an event of national importance has not been given proper focus in the historical studies in modern India. Analysis of the then situation in the tribal belt of Gangapur state will help in understanding of the ghastly firing and its consequences. The official reports of the British period, preserved in the Orissa State Archives of Bhubaneswar as well as the periodical statements and non-official accounts, are source materials.

The erstwhile State of Gangapur had high majority of Munda tribal population in the central and the eastern part. They had migrated from Chhotanagpur area and settled in the eastern and the central part of Gangapur. Among the other tribes in that area, the Oraons were prominent. All these settlements were under the Nagra Zamindary of the Gangapur State. The Mundas and the Oraons rose in revolt in the mid thirties of the 20th century in Gangapur. The main cause of the discontent of these tribals was faulty land revenue settlement of that zone.

C.W.E Connolly did the first land revenue settlement in Gangapur in 1911. According to that settlement the land revenue was Rs. 84,257. The tribals were not satisfied with the settlement. As per settlement, the ryot had to render free and forced labour ‘Bethy’ and ‘Begar’ to the state. The lands lay invariably on slopes or a rocky soil. Such land was largely unproductive and known as "Goda" land.

Besides the Goda lands the tribals had also accepted Khunt Katti tenancy rights, which were in practice in Chhotanagpur. According to the Khunt Katti system the tribals made forest hilly area cultivable. It means joint holdings by Kunth or tribal lineages. These were the most valuable lands, in ravines and hollows. Such type of lands under the possession of the Mundas of the Gangapur state attracted the attention of the rent authority. The settlement of Connolly was in operation for a term of ten years only which expired in 1920-21. In the year 1923-24 a Nuabadi settlement was taken up. During this period Goda lands had increased very greatly in value with the demands for the crops grown on them. The tribals confined most of their attention to its cultivation since with comparison with paddy little labour was involved, the profit was great and no rent was payable. Therefore, it was decided that Goda lands must ultimately be assessed for rent.

The rent settlement operation commenced in October 1929. Upendranath Ghosh was the settlement officer up to the 14th November 1931 when he died. Indrabilas Mukherjee came as next settlement officer who took over the charge of his duty from the 4th February 1932. The settlement operation, which ended in 1935, began the worst phase of discontent for the tribals in the central and the eastern part of Gangapur state. As a result of this settlement the revenue of the state went up to Rs 149861 (the revenue in 1923 amounted to Rs 110257). In this settlement the unit rate of rent was introduced for the different classes of land like Pani Bahal, Bahal, Pani Berna, Berna, Pani Mal, Mal, Barchha, Bari, Bagnit, Kudar, Goda Aul and Goda Doem. Before that the land was classified into Bahal,Berna,Mal, and Barchha. But in the settlement operations of the years from 1929-35, it was settled to survey both wetland and upland. The state authority adopted 112 types of land for the purpose of assessment to rent.

The land was classified according to irrigation received, with a view to take away the pressure of rent from inferior land under the same class. Indrabilas Mukherjee pointed out to the state authority in 1932 the danger of taking of themselves the burden of having to explain a new system of classification to the tenants. But he accepted the force of argument advanced by the state authority in support of such classification. The increased rent, which needed a new classification of lands, was due to increase rice cultivation in five years (since Nuabadi settlement from 257562.99 to 286607.91 acres, i.e. 11.28 percent).

Till the operation of Mukherjee settlement of uplands (Goda) were left unassessed. The tribal tenants were allowed to enjoy uplands of their holdings, free of rent in exchange of the rendition of ‘Bethi’ and ‘Begar’. But during this period it was realised that the state exacted ‘Bethi’ and ‘Begar’ only for the repairs of the roads and for other minor works. Most of the ‘Bethi’ and ‘Begar’ were misused which were oppressive to the people and loss to the state. It was a great loss to the tenant, which he could not make up through out the year when he was forced to leave his own cultivation in busy time. Considering all these points, the settlement officer and the superintendent of the state were anxious to abolish ‘Bethi’ and ‘Begar’. At the same time they were anxious to see that the state does not suffer any loss. In the interest of the revenue of the state the superintendent proposed in his preliminary report of proposals for the revision of the existing rate of rents for the abolition of ‘Bethi’ and ‘Begar’ except for specific purposes. The agent of the Governor-General approved it; Eastern State dated the 11th January 1936. It was declared that uplands, which were free from assessment in exchange for the rendition of ‘Bethi’ and ‘Begar’, would be assessed to rent. The only forms in which the ‘Bethi’ and ‘Begar’ would continue to exist were for the erecting and maintenance of village primary schools and Dera-gharas (village rest house), beating for ‘Shikar’ (hunting) purposes and three days customary assistance during the cultivation season rendered to the Gauntia or other who held the village. In case of emergency also the ryot s would be called for help such as in fighting forest fires or in important ceremonies in the chief’s household. Thus Goda lands were assessed to rent, which became the main cause of tribal discontent.

The Munda ryot s of Dahijira, did not pay the rents and others backed them. In September 1935 the Mundas petitioned the agent to the Governor-general protesting the exorbitant rates of rent suggested by the Darbar to be adopted. The refractory ryot s field several petitions before His Excellency the Viceroy. The new rents as fixed in the settlement report became payable from 1937. At this time the tribals also claimed for the Khunt Katti tenancy rights, apart from claiming a reduction in the rate of rents, which had already been fixed. During that period the tribals of Chhotnagpur under the leadership of Jaypal Singh were planning for a movement for a separate state called Jharkhand. Jaipal Singh inspired Nirmal Munda of the village Bartoli, P/s – Raiboga and Bahadur Bhagat of Andali Jambahal in the Gangapur state during this period and they started the no-rent campaign in Gangapur to highlight tribal discontent. They organized many meetings in which they demanded the reduction of the rent as well as the resumption of the Khunt Kutti tenancy rights. Dahijira became the most important seat of this agitation. Everywhere the tribal people in Gangapur protested against exorbitant rents. The Darbar requested to the Mission people of the GEL Church to help them in collecting rent from the Munda. But it could not be successful.

In 1938 the tribal agitation spread through out the Gangapur State. The rebel Mundas started non-rent campaign. It was strengthened with the inclusion of the Munda Christians of the Lutheran Mission, the Oraons and the Hindus and with the support of the pleaders of Ranchi in Bihar. As the agitation spread far and wide, the Tahasildar of Gangapur was sent round to persuade the ryot s to accept the new order. The Darbar also appealed to the GEL Church Council, Ranchi to exert its influence to refrain the Mundas from agitation. The council sent a delegation to the Darbar, which after a long discussion accept the views of the State. The party of delegation visited Dahijira and other affected villages and explained to the people the reasonableness and necessity of making payment of rents to the Darbar. The Regent Rani Saheb, Janaki Rathnaya Maharajee made extensive tours in the affected areas, addressed several meetings where the policy of Darbar was explained to the tribal people and appealed was made to them to pay the rent. But the rebel Mundas boycotted all the meetings of the Regent Rani Saheb. All persuasive measures taken by the Darbar to calm down the rebels failed. Therefore the Darbar took recourse to coercive measures for the recovery of arrears and the current rents. Criminal cases were started against the leaders of the agitation. Warrants of arrest against some agitators involved in other serious cases were renewed. Their lands were ordered to be confiscated. But all these coercive measures could not disrupt the movement. They made secret meetings in different areas and Nirmal Munda became the prominent figure of the agitation. In order to control the worsening situation in the tribal belt, the Secretary of the Lutheran Council, Ranchi advised the Darbar to take every possible measure against the agitators and their leader Nirmal Munda.

The political Agent at Sambalpur and the Darbar made a plot to arrest the leaders. It was given out that the Viceroy had accepted the grievances of the Mundas and that the Rani would come to Amko-Simko (the place where Nirmal had a residence) on 25th April 1939 to declare their good news to the people. The Garayats of the village requested the tribal people to come to Amko-Simko on the specific date due to get this message from the Rani. It was infect able propaganda and the innocent tribals accepted it. Even without considering anything Nirmala on his behalf intimated the people to come to the spot to get the happy message from the Rani. All came on that date to the field of Amko-Simko. Unexpectedly Assistant Political Agent and Captain Bisco came to the spot with a force. They wanted to talk with Nirmal Munda. The non-violent people present there became suspicious and wanted to know why they were eager to meet Nirmal. But the Agent wanted only to talk to Nirmal. With increasing suspicion every Munda present there identified himself as Nirmal. Bisco became angry and ran towards the house where Nirmal Munda had a meeting with it other leaders. As Bisco entered into the room and the Munda followed him Bisco’s hat was dropped because the roof was quite low. He apprehended attack and immediately ordered his troops to fire.

According to one non-official report as many as 3000 people were present at Amko-Simko. The firing continued for two to three minutes according to the Oriya periodical ‘Nabeen’ of 2nd May 1939. The official report states that 30 people were killed and 50 were wounded and Nirmal Munda was arrested. But the non-official report claims that 300 people died there. Some of the dead bodies were kept in the military vans under the cover of tarpaulins and they were thrown into the limekiln of Bisra Stone lime factory at Biramitrapur. (‘Dagar’ Oriya Magazine, vol. – XI, 10th May 1948). The official report could not highlight such a ghastly picture.

The sufferings of the tribal people of Gangapur in the wake of the Simko firing on 25th April 1939 evoked sympathy from the people of Sambalpur. Dayananda Satpathy, a leading Congress Worker proceeded to Gangapur to enquire into the state of affairs. But he was refused entry into the state. Jawaharlal Nehru came to Jharsuguda and wanted to visit the place of firing with Pandit Laxmi Narayan Mishra and other local Congress workers; but the State authority did not permit him. He decided a Styagraha on this issue and consulted Gandhi. But Gandhi told him that it was not wise to start Styagraha in a Garjata State. Nehru, therefore, did not proceed further. Pandit Mishra and his associates advanced seven miles from Jharsuguda on way to Gangapur, but the Police prevented him. The Oriya Newspapers like ‘Samaj’, ‘Deshakata’ and ‘Nabeen’ condemned the inhuman firing. The government did not do anything for the dead persons. On the other hand the agitators were arrested and imprisoned for years. The murderers of a British officer in Runpur Garjata (Orissa) in January 1939 became the crucial issue and for that many people suffered imprisonment and two were hanged. The carnage in the Simko Firing was not given proper notice by any authority. The Simko firing was doubtless a symbol of popular resistance to the unmitigated tyranny of Garjata State in collaboration with the British Raj. Forty tribals who were fired on the spot were cremated at Brahmanamara village. The mute graves still give the witness of horrible genocide by the colonial power.


  • Final Report on the Land Revenue Settlement of the Gangapur State (1929-36) by Indrabilas Mukherji;
  • Mahatab, H.K., "Sadhnara Pathe" - Autobiography of Mahatab, 1972, Cuttack;
  • Pati, Satyabhama, Democratic movement in India, Delhi, 1987;
  • Pradhan Sadasiva, Agrarian and Political Movement in the Princely States of Orissa, 1986, New Delhi;
  • Orissa Records, Gangapur Papers, Acc No. 11005, File No. 130. Orissa State Archives, Bhubaneswar;
  • ‘Dagara’, 10th May 1948 (in Oriya language)
  • Samaja, 1st may 1939 (in Oriya language)
  • Nabeen, 1939 (in Oriya language)
  • Deshakatha, 1939 (in Oriya language)
  • Souvenirs, 50th Amko-Simko Shahid Dibas Palana Samiti, 1989;
  • Dash Kailash Chandra, ‘Nirmala Munda and Adivashi Movement’ (in Oriya), "Abhijatri’, literary Magazine, June, 1991, Balasore, p. 1-10;