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 >>

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 >>

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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