Birsa Munda was born on 15th November 1875 in the Lohardaga district of Bengal Presidency (Now Khunti in Jharkhand) to tribal labourers. In his childhood, he showed early signs of a rebel when he protested against the attempts of Britishers to convert tribals to Christianity.
Munda’s Emergence as The Leader of Tribals
In the 19th century, an unbridled British government was riding the gravy train by plundering the resources of the country with the connivance of local zamindars and thekedars. In 1894 Chota Nagpur region witnessed drought it was then that Birsa Munda galvanized masses for exempting the Lagaan. The movement catapulted Birsa Munda to the stature of DhartiAba amongst the tribals.
In 1895 he was arrested and served 2 years in the Central Jail of Hazaribagh The tribals were stirred by the call of Ulugan by Dharti Aba Birsa Munda for a decisive war against the British. Munda resumed his struggle against the Britishers and their indiscriminate plundering of resources.
Devoid of advanced weapons to combat the heavily-armed British government, the tribals resorted to Guerrilla warfare and attacked the places loyal to the British. Over 100 buildings associated with the Britishers were torched and several British policemen were also killed.
In 1898 near the Tanga river 400 tribals armed with bows and arrows chased away British policemen. In retaliation, Lord Curzon sent Indian jawans armed with advanced weapons but they drew a blank.
In January 1900, Police raided Dumbarihills, where Munda was addressing a public meeting, and a brutal massacre followed. The people taken into custody were beaten and tortured. On 3 February 1900, Munda was arrested and after the trial was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In the prison, he was subjected to torture due to which he died in jail on June 9th, 1900.
Birsa’s struggle was against both: British colonialism and Hindu feudalism, but the narrative set forth by RSS tries to appropriate him as a “Hindu tribal” leader who fought against the “conversions” by the Christians. Hence focusing only on just one facet of his struggle.
However, the rise of the Adivasi movement has managed to salvage Birsa Munda from the Hindu fold to a large extent. Adivasis are gradually gravitating towards autonomous existence.
Birsa Munda too has been retrieved from oblivion. The Union Government decided in 2021 to celebrate the birth anniversary as Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas. The Ranchi Airport has been named after him. He also has an Agricultural University named after him in Ranchi.
Even after Independence, the tribals continue to struggle against their oppressors and exploiters. The Britishers have been replaced by Politicians and the feudals by large corporates. In such a scenario Birsa Munda presents himself as an inspiration even 120 years after his death.