Birsa Munda, spearhead of tribal fight against British

Jharkhand's ‘Dharti Abba’ or 'Father of the Earth', Birsa Munda. (Photo/Facebook)

Jharkhand's ‘Dharti Abba’ or 'Father of the Earth' - Birsa Munda - is a name synonymous with India's struggle for freedom against the British. Holding the fort against the Britishers in the Chhotanagpur Plateau area, Munda, mobilised tribals against them. He even forced them to enact a law on protecting the land rights of the tribals.

Munda, born on November 15, 1875 in Ulihatu village of Kunti district in Jharkhand, fought for the rights of tribal people, and to protect water, land and forest, the elements that are deep rooted and hold significance in tribal traditions. 

The tribal leader, who was also a key force behind Jharkhand's struggle for a separate statehood, spearheaded the movement to abolish the feudal system that plagued the Adivasi lands in Jharkhand and Bihar. 

In October 1894, he gathered tribal people and marched for the remission of tax collected by the Zamindars from the tribes. To suppress this movement, the British started firing on the local tribal community and hundreds of tribals lost their lives.

A few months after the movement, Birsa was imprisoned by the British. He took his last breath in Ranhi 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. However, eight years after his demise, the British enacted the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, which restricted the sale of Adivasi land to non-Adivasis.

The young revolutionist continues to be celebrated through literature and mass media for his remarkable and brave movement against the British to ensure the land rights of tribals.

As a child, Munda was surrounded by Christian missionaries. He attended a missionary school, where his teacher Jaipal Nag encouraged him to enrol in the German Mission School. He converted to Christianity to get an admission. However, soon after he realised that the Britishers were there to colonise them and the missionaries were trying to convert tribals to Christianity, he dropped out of the German Mission School, gave up the religion and returned to his traditional faith.

Munda always stressed upon the need for tribals to know their rights, culture and fight against the injustice done to them. He also worked towards rationalising his community and getting rid of their superstitious beliefs, animal sacrifice and alcoholism.

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