Birsa Munda – The tribal revolutionary

– Shri Ravi Singh Choudhury

Source: Wikipedia

Bhagwan Birsa Munda; The great freedom fighter was born on 15 November 1875, in Ulihatu in district Khunti, Jharkhand. He is revered as “Dharti Aaba” literally means father of the land. So when he died in jail on June 9, 1900, he was just 25. Now you can imagine that how much dangerous he was against the British Raj that mysteriously he died in the jail itself. In history books it is mentioned as he died of Cholera.

The word ‘Ulgulan’ means Aandolan(Revolt). The Munda Ulgulan of 1894 was led by Bhagwan Birsa Munda. Although the point of outburst of the revolt was against zamindari system introduced by the British Raj. The Mundas traditionally had a system known as Khunkhatti which was a system of joint land-holding. It was replaced with exploitative system involving Zamindars and other farmers and middlemen. Mundas became forced farm labourers. But what was the reason for this prolonged rage that became revolt?

Quoting from the book “CASTE, CONVERSION, A COLONIAL CONSPIRACY’ by Sri Satish K Sharma.
“When India gained freedom from the British in 1947, when Lord Harries was 11 years old, thirteen million people in 127 “criminal by birth” communities faced search and arrest if any member of the group was found outside the area prescribed to them, by Anglicans.”

Now it is the “Criminal Tribes Act” of 1871 which labelled whole communities of Hindus as being Guilty at BIRTH. That’s how police can have arrest warrant without any valid reasons and similarly they can stop even Janjatis roaming in forest and force them as Agricultural settlers. While talking about problems before independence, We generally see the word Britishers, Colonial masters, east India company and so on. We never pay attention to Christian missionaries. Even the famous book on Art & Culture by Nitin Singhania quotes that religious conversions brought better health and education in the society. This book is recommended for IAS Aspirants. Throughout the history when Kings conquer, they also bring their gurus/masters. Britishers came so the Church. Soft power follows the Hard power.

As Birsa Munda was seen as bright student by their parents so he was admitted in German missionary school by his father on one condition that Birsa Munda must become Birsa David. So he converted into Christianity.
He was renamed as Birsa David and later to Birsa Daud. That was also the period of German and Roman Catholic Christian agitation. Birsa stayed at Chaibasa, but seeing the exploitative activities of the Church and the British Raj, Munda’s father withdrew him from school and left the place. The family also renounced Christianity and reverted to their original tribal religious customs.

In August 1897, Birsa and 400 of his tribal guerrilla soldiers armed with arrowheads attacked the Khunti police station. When we here the word guerrilla, we immediately recall the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. But who taught maharaj this warfare techniques. Again we can recall the emblem of Mahrana Pratap having person of Bhil Janjati figure in it. So technically those who are Forest dwellers have much more understanding of topography and local geographical conditions, it is always a leverage for them. Warfare is even unfair for one group if topography doesn’t suit to the group. In 1898, the Mundas clashed with the British forces on the banks of the Tanga river, in which the British army was defeated at first but later got the arrest.
When Birsa Munda was caught by the troops, he was sleeping.

He was remembered as the one to have mobilized the tribal community against the British. Even the Jharkhand state when it was separated from Bihar, the foundation day was decided as 15th November; the birth anniversary of Dharati Aaba Birsa Munda.

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