Kherwar Movement, also known as Safa Hor Movement, was one of the non-violent tribal struggles against British rule.
It was initiated by the Santhal tribal community in 1868 in Bihar (Chota Nagpur region) under the leadership of Bhagirath Manjhi.
This Safa Hor (or Sapha Har) Movement popularised the concept of one God (i.e., Monotheism) and aimed at social reform.
Bhagirath Manjhi proclaimed himself as the king of Santhal and the representative of God. He demanded to introduce a Santhal Raj. He wanted the Santhal tribes to stop the sacrifices to the “evil bongas”.
The religious mood of the Kherwars was a kind of fervour that was similar to that observed earlier among the Christian converts. Quite a number of the Santhals in Santal Parganas tried to interpret what they understood as the social breakdown of Santal society.
He was arrested in 1868 as an instigator of disturbances. The Movement initially taught Monotheism and social reform, but just before its suppression, it took the form of a struggle against revenue settlement activities.
During the 1870s, the Kherwar (or Kharwar) Movement spread among the Santhals of Santhal Paraganas. With the incredible support of the Santhal tribe, the Movement gained Movement after excessive rents were imposed on them.
Bhagirath adopted a non-cooperative policy toward the British. By declaring himself the king of the village of Bounsi, he started the system of collecting rent himself by not paying rent to the landlords and the Government.
The Government had to take decisive measures to crush the Movement. Bhagirath was active till 1871 and continued his activities during the great famine of 1874. He was also sentenced to two-year imprisonment. The Movement continued till 1874.
This Movement was too suppressed by the British, but not before its suppression convicted the people that their upliftment lay in purifying themselves and regenerating themselves as Sapha Hor or pure man.
Kherwars assimilated into Hinduismas Hindu cult elements and the concept of “cleanness” were introduced by the leadership. This development was checked as a result of new and different kinds of tribal mobilization that took place in the 1930s. Kherwars are considered as having the same kind of religious fervour among the Santhals.