According to 2011 census, tribal communities constitute 8.6 percent of nation’s total population. For a country like India this is a large number. We have unlocked the new year 2018 and yet sources of livelihood for tribals are scant.
Today’s story is about a young, tribal leader with high-spirited activism to protest against the British rule in India, making him an important figure in the Indian independence movement. Birsa Munda lived to bring in equality for the tribal caste and make their place in the society. His slogan “Abua raj seter jana, maharani raj tundu jana” (May the queen’s kingdom end, and people’s rule emerge) is still remembered in areas of Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh even after nearly 100 years.
Birsa was born on November 15, 1875 at Ulihatuin, in Bengal presidency, in a poor household. From his childhood, he was very fond of studies. Driven by poverty, he was sent to his maternal uncle’s village where he started his schooling. A few years later, he was shifted with his aunt.
Observing his willingness to study, Birsa was admitted to the German Mission School, in Chaibasa, where it was compulsory to convert to Christianity. Birsa thus, was converted into a Christian and was renamed as Birsa David.
After studying for a few years, he left the school. Birsa’s stay at Chaibasa made him understand the idea behind the British trying to convert the tribes to Christianity. The influence of Christianity shaped his own religion. This later gave rise to him, holding on to his roots and starting the faith called ‘Birsait’.
He introduced the concept of one God and started advising the tribals to pursue their aboriginal religious system. The people of the Munda and Oraon tribes joined in and he became a prophet figure to the tribal people.
Birsa lived near the sikhs, which impacted him to be a part of the anti-missionary and anti-government program. He never left education and was inclined towards his roots. He understood that revolting against the British was going to be difficult without a stronger sense of self-knowledge and rights. His education not only enlightened him but the entire tribal community. He passed on his teachings to them.
He was against begging and believed in hard work. That was when the British colonial system intensified the transformation of the tribal agrarian state into a feudal state. In many villages, the farmers had completely lost their proprietary rights, and had been reduced to the position of farm labourers.
The authority of the old Munda or Oraon chiefs were entirely annulled. Birsa strongly opposed the British and made sure that the laws were strongly in order to protect the land of the tribes from getting illegally snatched away from them. Birsa, along with the Munda community responded to the British through a series of revolts and uprisings. The British was behind the tribal army and were ready to give an amount of Rs 500 to find Birsa.
They took help from the tribal people and manipulated them to find the army. Finally, on March 3, 1900, while Birsa was sleeping with his tribal army in Jamkopai forest, Birsa was arrested. Three months later, on June 9, he succumbed to his injuries in the Ranchi Jail at the tender age of 25. The cause of his death was stated as cholera. However, the exact reasons of his death are still unknown.
Birsa Munda is an inspiration for so many people. At a time where people were deprived of basic rights and education, he did something exceptional. Today, many organizations have been named after him notably, Birsa Munda Airport Ranchi, Birsa Institute of Technology Sindri, Birsa Munda Vanvasi Chattravas, Sidho Kanho Birsha University, Purulia, and Birsa Agricultural University to name a few.
He has carved his place so prominently that his portrait hangs in the Central Hall of Indian Parliament as a tribute to his contributions in the freedom fight against the British, making him the only tribal leader to be so honored. Birsa’s birth anniversary, November 15, is celebrated by the tribal people of Karnataka and the functions take place at his Samadhi place in the capital of Jharkhand wherein he has major followers even today. His contribution was so notable that the state of Jharkhand was created on his birth anniversary in 2000.