121th Death Anniversary; My Accolade to Birsa Munda

It would be my sincere accolade to Birsa Munda, a legend of all, (not alone for tribals) – who made long standing impact of India’s fight against the British rules. Not only that, even while demanding of the Jharkhand a full statehood before it came into existence in 2001.

It is demonstrated that even after more than 100 years of his death, people are still crying and remembering as Hero of what we called it – Birsa Munda is being remembered as the greatest tribals icon of the country, who, was, is the symbol of anti-colonial, feudal despite the fact leftist historians did not give him proper place in the history of India deliberately just because of his ideological aspirations.  

“In 1894, Birsa also commenced his own religion and proclaimed himself as God’s messenger. With the introduction of a new religious order Munda began to awake masses and also arose them against the British atrocities. Not only the tribals but also many other Hindus and Muslims also congregated to see the new leader of the hordes”.

He spearheaded a mass movement that surfaced in the tribal belt of contemporary Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh in the late 19th century during the British Raj. In late 1880s, Munda began to understand the nature of exploitation meted out by the British against the native tribals.

The huge disruption caused by British agrarian policies made an impact on the livelihood of these tribal people, disrupting their usual way of life which was hitherto peaceful and in tune with nature. Not only British economic and political policies but also aggressive religious and cultural policies of the Christian missionaries which belittled the tribal people and their culture acted as fuel for their fight against the British.

While Birsa Munda was himself converted to Christianity and became Birsa David to receive an education from missionary school, however, he spent his childhood in a typical tribal setup.

During the period 1886 to 1890, Birsa Munda spent a long period of time in Chaibasa which was close to the centre of the Sardars agitation. Then, he left Chaibasa in 1890, and was strongly ensconced in the movement against the British oppression of the tribal communities.

Further, the British farming policies provided for the spark for the Mundas to uprising. The Mundas had followed the Khunkhatti system of joint landholding. The British replaced this with the Zamindari System, which allowed outsiders to enter these tribal areas. The entry of outsiders aided by the British lead to exploitation of the native tribals.

In a reaction to the introduction of the Zamindari system or Permanent settlement in tribal areas,  Birsa Munda in 1894 declared “Ulgulan” or revolt against the British and the Dikus – the outsiders. He was soon known as Birsa Bhagwan in these areas and a huge number of tribals began to follow Munda.

He travelled to almost every village to boost the consciousness of the people by fusing his politics and religion. Munda forbade eating all forms of meat and advocated for wearing the sacred threads. With his politico-military organisation, Munda declared an end to Victorian rule and proclaimed the beginning of Munda rule. He organised an effective movement wherein people stopped paying debts to pawnbrokers and taxes to the British.

Then, he was arrested yet again in 1895 and released after two years. After his release in 1897, Munda picked up the movement by re-organising the tribals. Munda went underground and sowed the seeds of revolt against British and the landlords. By 1899, he had built a strong army with proper training to tribal soldiers.

In December 1899, Munda launched an attack on police stations and churches, killing few policemen. The energised tribal had spread to almost entire Chotanagpur region. Birsa Munda called for a decisive war against the British and attacked the places loyal to the British for the next two years.

The British forces put all their might to suppress the revolt and attacked heavily on Munda guerrillas. The Britishers with strong organisational skill, modern weapons and better skill made indiscriminate firing attack on the tribals and killed hundreds of people. Birsa had to escape to the hills of Singhbhum.

On February 3, 1900, Birsa Munda was finally caught by the British in 1900 from Jamkopai forest, Chakradharpur and put behind the bar, where he died on June 9, 1900 in mysterious circumstances which was then declared as died of Cholera at the age of just 25.