“His significant legacy lives on”: Remembering Birsa Munda, the charismatic tribal leader who shook the British Empire – Jharkhand

Photo Birsa Munda © Wikipedia >> photograph in Roy (1912-72)

“Munda’s rebellion had shaken the foundations of the British empire, fighting the British army’s advanced weapons with bow and arrows. He died under mysterious circumstances in the Ranchi jail, and has, since then, been remembered as a martyr.” – Sushmita in The Wire >>

Usage in legal and historical records

“Despite the many honours bestowed on Birsa Munda at high places, there has not been much change in the situation of tribal people at the grassroots level. The basic motivations behind tribal rebellions, i.e., Jal, Jangal aur Zameen (water, forest and land) remain the same. Hence, the fight by the tribal people of India will probably continue until a radical change is made in the government’s policy towards them.” – Ivy Imogene Hansdak in The Indian Express >>

“Who owns India? Who owns the forests and rivers, the farmlands eyed by industry, the slums coveted by real estate developers and airport authorities, the hills and plateaus desired by mining barons? In roughly a third of the country, this is no idle question.” – Sunil Khilnani in Outlook Magazine >>

“Many people – though not all – have been able to secure freedom from torture, unjustified imprisonment, summary execution, enforced disappearance, persecution and unjust discrimination, as well as fair access to education, economic opportunities, and adequate resources and health-care.” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights | United Nations >>

Now fondly known as Mr Jharkhand, Munda died at the age of 25 more than a century ago, but his significant legacy lives on. […] A century after his death, Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar on his birth anniversary on November 15, 2000, and he is today fondly referred to as “Mr Jharkhand.” […]

The young tribal revolutionary’s life and legacy continue to be celebrated even today, particularly in the tribal regions of Bihar, Jharkhand and even parts of Karnataka and Odisha. His birth anniversary is celebrated by tribals in Mysore and Kodagu districts of Karnataka, and an official function is held annually at his Samadhi Sthal at Kokar, Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. […]

Two Hindi movies — Ulgulan – Ek Kranti (2004) and Gandhi Se Pehle Gandhi (2008) –were based on his life. The latter was directed by Iqbal Durrani, based on his novel with the same name.

Ramon Magsaysay Award Winner and Activist Mahasweta Devi’s historical novel, Aranyer Adhikar ( Right to the Forest, 1977) for which she won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Bengali in 1979, is based on Munda’s life and his rebellion against the British Raj in the late 19th century. The war cry of the Indian Army’s Bihar Regiment is Birsa Munda Ki Jai or Victory to Birsa Munda.

Birsa’s life was driven by poverty, but he still set a powerful example for the youth to emulate by giving more to society than what is taken. His contribution to modern India is significant, but unfortunately, he has been relegated to the background in today’s times.

Source: Ramya in “Remembering Birsa Munda: A Tribal Folk Hero And Freedom Fighter” (Outlook, 14 November 2020)
URL: https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/opinion-remembering-birsa-munda-a-tribal-folk-hero-and-freedom-fighter/364269
Date visited: 15 November 2020

Birsa Munda – The Tribal Hero

Imagine a 25-year-old who took on an empire, left an indelible mark on tribal rights across the country and was seen as a mystic and folk hero for hundreds of thousands. Few would have achieved so much in so short a time and it’s not surprising then that Birsa Munda’s portrait hangs proudly in India’s parliament.

From the Munda tribe that still dominates the Chotanagpur Plateau region in present-day Jharkhand was Birsa. He successfully rallied people across this region to take on the British attempts to grab land in the late 19th century. […]
By holding him in captivity, the British sought to ‘explode the myth of Birsa’s divinity and to kill …

Source: “Birsa Munda – The Tribal Hero” by Aditi Shah, livehistoryindia.com, 26 July 2018
URL: https://www.livehistoryindia.com/history-daily/2018/07/26/birsa-munda
Date accessed: 9 September 2020

Birsa Munda, the Tribal Folk Hero Who Gave the British Sleepless Nights! | Read the full article by Rinchen Norbu Wangchuk in The Better India >>

“In August 1897 Birsa Munda along with 400 of his men armed with bows and arrows, attacked the Khunti Police Station. In 1898, on the banks of the river Tanaga, the Mundas faced a British force which they initially defeated. Further action of the British, however, resulted in the arrest of many men and women,” says this Indian Post tribute.

However, his struggle was not just against the British, but also the ignorance in his community. He sought to rid the Munda community of superstition, animal sacrifice and alcoholism. […] 

The history of tribal communities in India post-Independence is replete with stories of exploitation and denial of access to basic amenities. So yes, Birsa Munda was an exceptional freedom fighter who took on the British. However, he entered this protracted battle so that the Mundas and other Adivasi communities could reclaim ownership of not just their resources but their way of life.

Source: Birsa Munda, the Tribal Folk Hero Who Gave the British Sleepless Nights!
URL: https://www.thebetterindia.com/146164/birsa-munda-tribal-hero-british-freedom-struggle-parliament/
Date visited: 9 September 2020

India got Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule and BR Ambedkar, the first Shudra and Dalit intellectuals, only after their communities could access English medium schools. […]

The Shudras, the most significant human mass of India that is Bharat, as the Preamble of the Constitution calls it, are the lifeblood of this nation. Only if the body and brain of an entire people function on a philosophical foundation that is humanitarian can it secure the release of the landmass from foreign bondage, then seek sustenance as a nation. After all, a land would need to design modes and methods that can release the energies required to take back their land from an occupying force. The Shudra, Dalit and Adivasis played that crucial role even though they were prevented from educating themselves.

In the last decades of its rule, the British administration opened up school education to these groups. This change is how Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule and BR Ambedkar could emerge as the first Shudra and Dalit intellectuals who challenged the millennia-old Varna-Dharma-Jaati exploitation and oppression. For the first time in these communities’ living history, they got educated intellectuals who could read and write in a globally understood—not just national—language, which is English. It is now that they took their first steps toward liberation. […]

The Brahmanical ideology of control through caste made myth and superstition a part of India’s historical heritage. Over millennia, they injected the fear of education within the Shudra, Dalits and Adivasis. They fostered the psychology of fearing education, which confined all—except them—to local languages or oral traditions and prevented them from reading and writing even in colonial times. […]

Source: “How English Language Initiated the Idea of Nationalism in India” by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd (political theorist, social activist and author who campaigns for English medium education), Newsclick.in, 1 Apr 2022
URL: https://www.newsclick.in/how-english-language-initiated-idea-nationalism-india
Date Visited: 25 April 2022

Birsa Munda (1875–1900) was an Indian tribal freedom fighter, religious leader, and folk hero who belonged to the Munda tribe. He spearheaded an Indian tribal religious Millenarian movement that arose in the tribal belt of modern-day Bihar and Jharkhand in the late 19th century, during the British Raj, thereby making him an important figure in the history of the Indian independence movement. His achievements are even more remarkable for having been accomplished before the age of 25.

His portrait hangs in the Central Hall of the Indian parliament, the only tribal leader to have been so honored. […]

Though he lived for a very short span of 25 years, he aroused the mind-set of the tribals and mobilized them in a small town of Chotanagpur and was a terror to the British rulers. After his death the movement faded out. However, the movement was significant in at least two ways. First it forced the colonial government to introduce laws so that the land of the tribals could not be easily taken away by the dikus (outsiders). Second it showed once again that the tribal people had the capacity to protest against injustice and express their anger against colonial rule. They did this in their own way, inventing their own rituals and symbols of struggle.

Source: wikipedia
URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birsa_Munda
Date accessed: 31 July 2018

In search of another saviour | To read the full article, click here >>

The main parties in Jharkhand are led by charismatic tribal leaders, but Adivasis are demanding more than what has been delivered to them so far

On four spools of muddied thread that hang from his neck, Sukhram Munda wears two keys. Neither opens the door of his house, made of straw. The first key opens a metal gate down the road from his house and the second, a room within the tiled compound. “This is where he lived. Not in a pakka room like it is now, but in a hut,” he gestures around the room, empty except for a plaque and ceramic bust commemorating the birthplace of Birsa Munda, Jharkhand’s greatest hero and Sukhram’s grand-uncle.

Birsa Munda, referred to often by Jharkhand’s tribal residents as “Birsa Bhagwan,” led what came to be known as “Ulgulan” (revolt) or the Munda rebellion against the British colonial government-imposed feudal state. Born in 1875 to a poor family of the Munda tribe, Birsa died, aged just 25, in Ranchi’s Central Jail. In his short life, he not only mobilised and led tribals to a revolt that shook the British Empire, but also became known and loved as a prophet. Mahasweta Devi’s 1979 Sahitya Akademi Award-winning book, Aranyer Adhikar, was based on his life. “Mahasweta Devi came to my house. I gave her dal bhat to eat. She liked it,” Sukhram says.

Today, virtually everything in Jharkhand is named after Birsa Munda — the airport, the athletics stadium where the National Games opened in 2011 and the Central Jail where former Chief Minister Madhu Koda was imprisoned.

Ulihatu, Birsa’s birthplace, becomes something of a site of pilgrimage on November 15, his birth anniversary and the day Jharkhand was founded in 2000. […]

On April 17, when Khunti goes to vote, Sukhram will be at the polling booth. The village is yet to decide who it will vote for, he says. “Someone who will help tribals. But I don’t know who that is.”

Source: “In search of another saviour” by Rukmini S., The Hindu, 16 April 2014
Address : https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/in-search-of-another-saviour/article5916044.ece?homepage=true
Date Visited: 7 July 2022

It’s a long road to freedom!” – Stan Swamy (the late sociologist and activist for Adivasi rights), quoted in “I am Not a Silent Spectator: Why Truth has become so bitter, Dissent so intolerable, Justice so out of reach” | Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, 2021 | Accountability >>
In pursuit of “equality for all the citizens”: National Legal Services Authority asked to provide free legal consultations to Scheduled Tribes (ST) – Supreme Court >>

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

“At present, India has 1,350 prisons with a rated full capacity of 4,03,739 prisoners. All jails are bursting with overcrowding and degrading inhuman conditions, so much for standards of human rights of prisoners in terms of the Constitution of India. The Constitution envisioned prisons as centres of reforms, which is not happening.” – Time to tame torturers (tehelka.com) >>

See also: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70 | Human Rights Commission (posts) | National Human Rights Commission: www.nhrc.nic.in (Government of India) >>

Overcrowding in India’s prisons (Screenshot, p. 6), accessed 7 January 2020
Download the full report titled “Prison Statistics India 2018” (36 MB) | Adverse inclusion >>

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