Jana Nayak Birsa Munda
The life history of Birsa Munda will go down in the history of the tribals as a story of emancipation of his people, who were subjected to prolonged suppression. He was a visionary. He realized that the Britishers have come to this land to torture the masses and carry wealth abroad. He is reckoned as a freedom fighter who led the tribals essentially to prevent land grabbing by the non-tribals ending them up as bonded labourers in their own land. He had organized his first protest march for remission of forest dues. It was at this time the great famine of 1895 broke out. Birsa Munda presently is being worshipped as 'Bhagaban' in the newly created State of Jharkhand.
Birsa Munda (also known to his followers as Birsa Bhagwan) was born at Ulihatu in Ranchi on 15 November 1874. Birsa had his lower primary schooling at a German Mission School at Burjee. No sooner had he completed the upper primary stage than he got associated with the Sardar Movement. Till 1895 Birsa was a religious reformer and an agitator for the raiyat's forest and other rights, but eventually he aimed at the political emancipation of the Munda area as well. Though lived a very short span of 25 years, he aroused the tribal mind-set and mobilized them in a little town of Chhotanagpur and was a terror for the British Rulers. True to his greatness and achievements to free the tribals, he was called 'Dharti Abba'. A visitor is overwhelmed to see his statue erected in the steel city of Rourkela as a befitting tribute to this great tribal leader who had fulfilled his mission by compelling the Britishers for the promulgation of the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908.
This legislation being an offshoot of his struggle prohibited alienation of tribal land and also provision for restoration of the alienated land. He invoked the tribals to take pride of their ancestor's patriotism and to maintain their cultural ethos.
The tribals were suppressed for long by the Dikus (nontribals) and the intermediaries like Thikadars and money lenders including Zamindars tried to exploit the tribals constantly. The tribals who were for centuries the owners of the land and engaged in cultivation could not stand the trials before the British Court and the primitive practice of verbal agreement on land ownership could not be recognized by law. Finally the tribals ended themselves up as bonded labourers in their own land of origin.
The level of discontentment which grew out of sustained discontentment struck at the very root of their age-old customs and practices and against this background Birsa organized his struggle to free the tribal folk from the brink of survival and he commenced his protest march on 1st October 1894 for remission of forest dues. He gave his clarion call to the tribals in his own language "Maharani raj tundu jana oro abua raj ete Jana". In other words he wanted the tribals to end the rule of the queen and re-establish their own kingdom.
Birsa Munda accordingly spearheaded the tribal movement in the region of Chhotanagpur and brought the tribal community under a single umbrella. He activated the masses by putting examples of their ancestors and their burning patriotism which spread like wild fire. Birsa saw to it that a gallant struggle was to be fought reawakening patriotism among his masses, which was almost at the waning state. His organizational skill, motivating the masses to regain freedom from the power grabbers like the Thikadars, Zamindars and moneylenders and restoration of full ownership rights as tillers of the soil are exemplary in the history of the tribals.
Birsa was captured, released and finally recaptured after his forces suffered a crushing by the British army in 1900. He was lodged in Ranchi jail, for trial along with his 482 followers where he died on 9 June, 1900. It is said that he was poisoned to death in the jail row. He was not hanged because the British rulers had no guts to execute him publicly. With his death, the Birsa movement slipped into oblivion but he had succeeded in giving them a solidarity which was missing before.
Britishers left the country more than 63 years ago but still the same problems plague the tribals in the independent India. In place of Britishers, Brahmin ruling caste has come which is the only change that has happened. The situation of tribals has worsened in last 63 years after so called independence than it was during British times.
Birsa Munda's dream can be realized only if the tribals are restored with their dignity, identity, land and rights. In his short life span of 25 years, he became a role model for the entire tribals in specific and all mulnivasis in general. Birsa Munda's revolt to save the tribals from the age-long repression by awakening them from the deep slumber both as a prophet and savior is unparallel in history.