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Remembering Freedom Fighter, Tribal Warrior from Jharkhand - Birsa Munda

Posted on the 15 November 2020 by Sampathkumar Sampath

There was a time when famous Airports were Meenambakkam, Palam, Dum Dum, Santacruz and the like .. .. later they have been named after famous Indian personalities – do you know the name of the airport at Ranchi. .. Tributes to a man born this day – 145 years ago !!

Cheteswar Pujara for sure will have sweet memories of this stadium at Ranchi - Jharkhand States Cricket Association International Cricket Stadium, that   is the home ground of the Jharkhand cricket team and for two games of  Chennai Super Kings.  In the 3rd test at Ranchi in Mar 2017  - visiting Australia scored 451 & 204/6.  With Pujara’s double ton India made 603/9d.  Thirty minutes before lunch, Peter Handscomb joined Shaun Marsh amid a Ranchi tumult. Their captain Steven Smith had just shouldered arms to let Ravindra Jadeja bowl him, symptomatic of a tired mind, the over after Matt Renshaw had also fallen. Australia were still 89 runs short of making India bat again; the hosts were circling hungrily. Five hours later, Handscomb was still there and Marsh not long departed. The Test match was drawn, and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy bout remained locked at 1-1.

No post on Cricket but on a legend, who  not only fought the British, but also championed the rights of tribal people and helped abolish the feudal system that plagued the Adivasi lands in Jharkhand and Bihar.

remembering freedom fighter, tribal warrior from Jharkhand - Birsa Munda

On March 3, 1900, Birsa Munda was arrested by the British police while he was sleeping with his tribal guerilla army at Jamkopai forest in Chakradharpur. He died in Ranchi jail on June 9, 1900 at a young age of 25. Though he lived a short span of life and the fact that the movement died out soon after his death, Birsa Munda is known to have mobilised the tribal community against the British and had also forced the colonial officials to introduce laws protecting the land rights of the tribals. Birsa’s achievements as a young tribal revolutionary has continued to be celebrated over decades now and he has successfully carved out a space for himself in popular and folk literature, academia, and mass media.

remembering freedom fighter, tribal warrior from Jharkhand - Birsa Munda

Searched about Birsa Munda, when Amit Shah posted on twitter photos of him paying floral tributes to legendary tribal leader Bhagwan Birsa Munda ji in Bankura, West Bengal.   Birsa’s courage, struggles and sacrifices continue to inspire all of us.

Birsa Munda  [15 November 1875 – 9 June 1900]  was a great freedom fighter from tribal Jharkhand,  religious leader, and folk hero who belonged to the Munda tribe. He spearheaded a tribal religious millenarian movement that arose in the Bengal Presidency (now Jharkhand) in the late 19th century, during the British Raj, thereby making him an important figure in the history of the Indian independence movement.  The revolt mainly concentrated in the Munda belt of Khunti, Tamar, Sarwada and Bandgaon. His portrait hangs in the Indian Parliament Museum;  he is the only tribal leader to have been so honored.

Birsa Munda was born  at Ulihatu in Bengal Presidency, Ranchi District, Bihar—now in Khunti district of Jharkhand—on a Monday, and hence named after that day, according to the then prevalent Munda custom. The folk songs reflect popular confusion and refer to both Ulihatu and Chalkad as his birthplace. Ulihatu was the birthplace of Sugana Munda, father of Birsa. The claim of Ulihatu rests on Birsa's elder brother Komta Munda living in the village, where his house still exists albeit in a dilapidated condition.  Birsa's early years were spent with his parents at Chalakkad. His early life could not have been very different from that of an average Munda child. Folklore refers to his rolling and playing in sand and dust with his friends, and his growing up strong and handsome in looks; he grazed sheep in the forest of Bohonda. When he grew up, he shared an interest in playing the flute, in which he became expert. He went round with the tuila, the one-stringed instrument made from the pumpkin, in the hand and the flute strung to his waist. Exciting moments of his childhood were spent on the akhara (the village wrestling ground).  

Driven by poverty Birsa was taken to Ayubhatu, his maternal uncle's village.   He went to school at Salga, run by one Jaipal Nag. He accompanied his mother's younger sister, Joni, who was fond of him, when she was married, to Khatanga, her new home. He came in contact with a Christian missionary who visited a few families in the village which had been converted to Christianity and attacked the old Munda order. As he was sharp in studies, Jaipal Nag recommended him to join German Mission School but, converting to Christianity was compulsory to join the school and Birsa thus converted to Christianity and was renamed as Birsa David, which later became as Birsa Daud.  Birsa's long stay at Chaibasa from 1886 to 1890 constituted a formative period of his life. This period was marked by the German and Roman Catholic Christian agitation. In light of freedom struggle, Sugana Munda withdrew his son from the school. Soon after leaving Chaibasa in 1890 Birsa and his family gave up their membership of the German mission and ceased to be Christian and reverted to his original traditional tribal religious system.

He left Corbera in the wake of the mounting Sardar agitation. He participated in the agitation stemming from popular disaffection at the restrictions imposed upon the traditional rights of the Mundas in the protected forest, under the leadership of Gidiun of Piring in the Porhat area. During 1893–94 all waste lands in villages, the ownership of which was vested in the Government, were constituted into protected forests under the Indian Forest Act VII of 1882. In Singhbhum as in Palamau and Manbhum the forest settlement operations were launched and measures were taken to determine the rights of the forest-dwelling communities. Villages in forests were marked off in blocks of convenient size consisting not only of village sites but also cultivable and wastelands sufficient of the needs of villages. In 1894, Birsa had grown up into a strong young man, shrewd and intelligent and undertook the work of repairing the Dombari tank at Gorbera damaged by rains.

Birsa stressed monogamy at a later stage in his life. Birsa rose from the lowest ranks of the peasants, the ryots, who unlike their namesakes elsewhere enjoyed far fewer rights in the Mundari khuntkatti system; while all privileges were monopolized by the members of the founding lineage, the ryots were no better than crop-sharers.  Birsa's claim to be a messenger of God and the founder of a new religion sounded preposterous to the missionaries. There were also within his sect converts from Christianity, mostly Sardars. His simple system of offering was directed against the church which levied a tax. The concept of one God appealed to his people who found his religion and economical religion healer, a miracle-worker, and a preacher spread. The Mundas, Oraons, and Kharias flocked to Chalkad to see the new prophet and to be cured of their ills. Both the Oraon and Munda population up to Barwari and Chechari in Palamau became convinced Birsaities. Contemporary and later folk songs commemorate the tremendous impact of Birsa on his people, their joy and expectations at his advent. The name of Dharti Aba was on everybody's lips. A folk song in Sadani showed that the first impact cut across the lines of caste Hindus and Muslims also flocked to the new Sun of religion.

Birsa Munda started to advise tribal people to pursue their original traditional tribal religious system.  Impressed by his teachings, he became a prophet figure to the tribal people and they sought his blessings.  To the twin challenges of agrarian breakdown and culture change, Birsa along with the Munda responded through a series of revolts and uprisings under his leadership. In 1895, in Chalakkad village of Tamar, Birsa Munda renounced Christianity, asked his fellow tribesmen to worship only one God and give up worship of bongas. He declared himself a prophet who had come to recover the lost kingdom of his people. He said that the reign of the Queen Victoria was over and the Munda Raj had begun. He gave orders to the raiyats (tenant farmers) to pay no rents. The Mundas called him Dharati Aba, the father of earth.

Due to a rumor that those who didn't follow Birsa would be massacred, Birsa was arrested and sentenced to two-year imprisonment. On 28 January 1898, after being released from jail he went with his followers to Chutia to collect the record and to re-establish racial links with the temple. He said that the temple belonged to the Kols. The Christian missionaries wanted to arrest Birsa and his followers, who were threatening their ability to make converts. Birsa went underground for two years but attending a series of secret meetings. During this period he visited the Jagannath temple. It is said that around 7000 men and women assembled around Christmas of 1899, to herald the ulgulaan (revolution) which soon spread to Khunti, Tamar, Basia, and Ranchi. The Anglican Mission at Murhu and the Roman Catholic Mission at Sarwada were the main targets. The Birsaits openly declared that the real enemies were the British and not Christian Mundas and called for a decisive war against the British. For two years, they attacked places loyal to the British.

On 5 January 1900, Birsa's followers killed two constables at Etkedih. On 7 January, they attacked Khunti Police station, killed a constable, and razed the houses of local shopkeepers. The commissioner, A. Fobes, and deputy commissioner, H.C. Streattfield, rushed to Khunti with an army of 150 to crush the rebellion. The British administration set a reward of Rs 500 for Birsa. The British forces attacked Munda guerillas at Dumbari Hill, indiscriminately firing on and killing hundreds of people. Birsa escaped to the hills of Singhbhum. He was arrested at Jamkopai forest in Chakradharpur on 3 March 1900. According to Deputy commissioner Ranchi, 460 tribals were made accused in 15 different criminal cases, out of which 63 were convicted. One was sentenced to death, 39 to transportation for life and 23 to imprisoned for terms up to fourteen years.

There were six death, including that of Birsa Munda in the prison during trials. Birsa Munda died in the jail on 9 June 1900. His birth anniversary, which falls on 15 November, is still celebrated by tribal people in as far as Mysore and Kodagu districts in Karnataka, and official function takes place at his Samadhi Sthal, at Kokar Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand.  Today, there are a number of organizations, bodies and structures named after him, notably Birsa Munda Airport Ranchi, Birsa Institute of Technology Sindri, Birsa Munda Vanvasi Chattravas, Kanpur, Sidho Kanho Birsha University, Purulia, and Birsa Agricultural University. The war cry of Bihar Regiment is Birsa Munda Ki Jai (Victory to Birsa Munda).

In 2004, a Hindi film, Ulgulan-Ek Kranti (The Revolution) was made by Ashok Saran. Deepraj Rana played Birsa Munda in the film, and 500 Birsaits (followers of Birsa) appeared as extras. In 2008, a Hindi film based on the life of Birsa, Gandhi Se Pehle Gandhi (Gandhi Before Gandhi), was directed by Iqbal Durran, based on his own novel of the same name.   Birsa Munda Airport (IATA: IXR, ICAO: VERC), is the primary airport serving the city of Ranchi, the capital city of the Indian state of Jharkhand.  

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
15.11.2020
 

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