Birsa Munda Jayanti: How a local folk hero brought in a tribal revolution in British era

The struggle of tribal communities against forestland acquisition by the government is not new. However, there was one leader in pre-Independence India who influenced his people to stand against the British raj and fight for the rights to their land, Birsa Munda.

On his birth anniversary, celebrated across India as Birsa Munda Jayanti, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind and Jharkhand chief minister Raghubar Das paid tributes to the tribal leader.

"Inspired by the life of Bhagwan Birsa Munda, we are working towards empowerment of our tribal communities, who are India’s pride," the prime minister said. Kovind is on a one-day visit to Jharkhand, which is also celebrating its foundation day, where he will pay tribute to freedom fighter Birsa Munda at his memorial in Ranchi's Birsa Chowk. Here is a look at the state of Jharkhand today:

Popularly known as 'Dharti Abba' or the Earth Father, Birsa went on to become a folk hero inspiring other Adivasis in their struggle for forest rights in modern times, according to The Hindu.

 Birsa Munda Jayanti: How a local folk hero brought in a tribal revolution in British era

File image of Birsa Munda. Wikipedia Commons

He converted to Christianity in order to join school but opted out of it later. He also created the faith of 'Birsait', which soon became a threat to Christian missionaries, according to The Indian Express.

At that time, the British would put pressure on the zamindars and the ijaridars (landowners) to collect tax, and they in turn would try to take over Adivasi land, according to Scroll.

Bisra in his early twenties, started a movement called 'Ulgulan', or 'The Great Tumult', reported India Today.

He travelled from village to village in the entire Chotanagpur region (present day Jharkhand and parts of Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and Chhattisgarh) organising the Adivasis against the land settlement system imposed by the British, the Scroll report states.

Birsa also worked for upliftment of his community. According to The News Minute, he helped the community uproot superstition, stop animal sacrifice and avoid alcoholism He demanded tribal farmers to boycott ‘beth begari system’ (forced labour).

The British jailed Munda, who died in Ranchi jail at the age of 25 on 9 June, 1900, The News Minute reports adds.

His struggle against the exploitation of and discrimination against tribals led to a big movement against the British government in the form of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act being passed in 1908, eight years after his death. The act restricted the passing on of land from the tribal people to non-tribals, according to India Today.

Birsa had in his short life raised a tribal guerrilla army to fight the British, achieving cult status in India. The country, after Independence, honoured him by hanging his portrait in Parliament's central hall. He is the only tribal leader to have been so honoured, according to Hindustan Times.

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Updated Date: Nov 15, 2017 13:16:15 IST