Audio | Birsa Munda (1875-1900), the young, charismatic healer: “The only Adivasi whose portrait hangs in the Indian Parliament”

Prof. Sunil Khilnani profiles Birsa Munda, the young, charismatic healer who led his tribal community in revolt against the British and whose life, more than a century after his death, poses the question: ‘Who owns India?’ | Listen to the programme on the BBC Radio 4 website >>

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 >>

“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 >>

Scattered across the subcontinent, India’s tribal peoples or Adivasis, match in size the populations of Germany or Vietnam. Yet the land rights of India’s original inhabitants are regularly overridden in the name of development. One of history’s great defenders of Adivasi rights was Birsa Munda, born in the late 19th century in what is now the north-eastern state of Jharkhand. At a time of famine and disease across northern India his community looked to the Birsa for healing and leadership. The young man who claimed he could turn bullets to water led a rebellion against the British, their Indian middlemen and Christian missionaries.

The question ‘Who owns India’ takes Sunil Khilnani to a tribal community who are losing their land and access to food, fuel and water with the growing encroachment of luxury housing complexes – second homes for city dwellers. We also hear from author and political activist Arundhati Roy. “The fact that Adivasis still exist,” she says, “is because people like Birsa Munda staged the beginnings of the battle against the takeover of their homeland.

Though he died at the age of just 25, Birsa Munda has become a lasting symbol of tribal resistance. He’s the only Adivasi whose portrait hangs in the Indian Parliament. “His was a firework of a life,” says Sunil Khilnani, “but a life whose embers still burn”.

Producer: Jeremy Grange
Executive Producer: Martin Smith
Original Music composed by Talvin Singh.

Source: BBC Radio 4 – Incarnations: India in 50 Lives, Birsa Munda: Have You Been to Chalkad?
Date Visited: Fri Apr 22 2016 14:41:20 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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