Birsa Munda led a movement of tribals against the British, as the aliens not only disrupted their traditional agrarian economy but tried to trample upon their culture, belief systems. In garb of education, Missionaries introduced a faith system that struck at the core of tribal lifestyle and self-esteem. It was a fight for Swabhiman
-Sri Kedar Kulkarni
The Birth Anniversary of Bhagwan Birsa Munda is celebrated as a day of pride by every nation loving person particularly janjatis for the special significance of his life mission that has brought seminal changes in their lives. The entire nation reveres him and looks up in admiration to his 14 feet tall statue in Parliament and a portrait in Parliament Museum that herald loudly and the resolve for the development of janjatis by enlivening their values and ethos. The formation of Jharkhand State on his birth anniversary emphasises the commitment of the country to the spirit and values he fought for. The War Cry “Birsa Mundaki Jay” of the Bihar Regiment of the Army encourages everyone to fight for the security and protection of the great nation.
Bhagwan Birsa Munda was a visionary person. Rajya Sabha picture gallery pays tribute to this great leader as a peerless protagonist of tribal rights. He was a constructive genius, who made pioneering efforts to unite janjati (tribal) people for their political and cultural emancipation from the British and Christian missionary supremacy. He inspired simple and honest janjatis with the supreme spirit of nationalism. He was a great patriot and ultimately sacrificed his life infusing hope and aspirations in millions of people and became a martyr. His struggle was a role model for the development of janjatis.
The janjatis have a valorous history of continuous armed struggle to overthrow the British colonial administration since the 18th century. In 1784-85 Mahadev Koli tribe in Maharashtra and Tilka Manjhi of Santhal tribe raised the sword; Kurchiyas under the leadership of Talakkal Chandu attacked British in 1802 and then led organised struggle against the British invasion in Wayanad in 1812; in the North East Singphos attacked British forces in Sadiya in 1830s; Kol tribe in Chotanagpur area raised the armed struggle in 1832; the Khonds in Orissa fought in 1850; the Great Freedom Struggle by Sidho-Kanho in Santhal region was in 1855; Nilambar-Pitambar of Kharwar tribe have immense contribution in the freedom struggle of 1857 in Jharkhand, BhagojiNaik led the struggle of Bhils in 1857-58; Raghunath Shah and Shankar Shah’s sang revolutionary songs before being torn asunder into tiny pieces by cannon balls for leading Gondwana’s battle against the British; the Lushaijanjati people of Mizoram attacked British forces in 1860; the Sentinelesejanjati people of Andaman and Nicobar island attacked British in 1883; ShambudhanPhonglo from Dimasajanjati fought in 1883 against the British in Dimasa areas of Assam; the Angami Nagas revolted against British around 1880s; the British government was afraid of Tantya Bhil’s revolutionary activities in late 1890s, Bhagwan Birsa Munda embodied this energy in his armed struggle in 1895.
Bhagwan Birsa Munda was born on November 15, 1875, in Ulihatu village of Kunti district in Jharkhand in Chotanagpur plateau. He experienced, as he grew up that the British were attracted to that region for its vast natural resources, forest wealth and minerals. He realised that this led to the rise of various ugly and terrible changes not only in the traditional janjati agrarian system but also in janjati ancient faith and culture. These ugly changes such as the first Forest Policy of 1894 was conclusively introduced for reinforcing and sustaining an exploitative British colonial system making the life of janjatis inhabiting this region extremely difficult. He also realised that the Christian missionary activities in the garb of school education were annihilating the vigour and vitality of janjatis by tearing apart their beliefs and customs for proselytisation. He was intimidated and bullied to eat cow meat which was sacred to him in the mission school. He realised their deception and deceit for altering their ancient janjati faith into Christianity, thereby making the future of tribes very bleak.
During his lifetime of 25 years, the flame of social and Cultural Revolution ignited by him brought seminal changes in the life of the tribes of the country. He energised youths to fight an armed struggle against the oppressive British colonial system, which he believed was the mother of all evils. The youths with tremendous trust and confidence formed a strong organization to bring in social reforms as well. These social reforms were meant to make the life of common janjatis more and healthier as well as cheerful. The reforms that Bhagwan Birsa urged for were encompassing every aspect of janjati life such as to live human life free from any addiction to keep the precious soul and body healthier for dedication to the almighty God; every house should be kept neat and clean and should have a Tulsi plant in its courtyard; every household should diligently care for the cow; the mother earth should not be tilled on Thursday, and many such simple and universal principles.
Bhagwan Birsa Minda inspired simple and honest janjatis with the supreme spirit of nationalism. He was a great patriot and ultimately sacrificed his life infusing hope and aspirations in millions of people and became a martyr. His struggle was a role model for the development of janjatis
He proclaimed the slogan “Maharani rajtundujanaoroabua raj seterjana”. (Let the kingdom of the British queen be ended and our kingdom be established) During his intense armed struggle, he realised that the missionary network informs about their activities to the British authorities to annul the janjati spirit of freedom. The people understood that the missionaries were in collaboration with the British and even spying for them. Bhagwan Birsa raised the alert in a simple slogan “Sahab, Sahab, Ek Topi.” Gradually everyone realised that church activities were never striving for justice to the janjatis as they always claimed to be so. It ultimately resulted in an incident on Dombari Hill which was a precursor to JallianwalaBagh massacre of 1919 in Punjab in cruelty and savagery of the British when they opened fire on the janjatis gathered under the leadership of BhagwanBirsa.
Bhagwan Birsa was imprisoned by the British on February 3, 1900. He took his last breath in Ranchi Jail on June 9, 1900, at the age of 25. Even though he had no symptoms of the disease, the British authorities claimed that he died of cholera. Several tribal leaders speculated that jail authorities might have poisoned him. Even his death highlighted British cruelty and crookedness.
(The writer the article is a social worker and Organising Secretary of Kalyan Ashram, Manipur)