This story begins in Ulihatu village in 1875, which was part of Ranchi (Bihar) at that time. In present day it is in Jharkhand State. Born on 15th of November 1875, the boy did something so remarkable that within his short life span of about 25 years, he became known as ``The Father of the Land” by his tribe.
Challenge for the Rulers
During that time, the British were ruling India. With their various strategies, regulations and laws, they were able to easily exploit labor, resources and money from Indians, leaving them in poor state financially and physically. India covers a huge land mass of 3,287,263 sq km (1,269,219 sq mi) at present, which is after partition. Before partition, Pakistan and Bangladesh were also part of India, making it even greater than today. Also, India has a diversity of natural resources and elements. For example, while the northern half doesn’t have any oceans, the southern half has 2 seas - Arabian Sea(West), Bay of Bengal (East) and 1 ocean - Indian ocean (South). Furthermore, while some part of the country is a desert, many have hills and rivers running across. I believe you got the gist of what I’m trying to convey.
Due to such enormous and diverse land mass, it was nearly impossible for the British to gain the most using the same strategy. Hence, they implemented different strategies for different terrains based on the type of exploitation and gains they were targeting.
Policy for the Region
One such policy was implemented in Ulihatu and surrounding areas. They delegated their work to local zamindars (an individual who autonomously or semi-autonomously rules over a region or province.) and forced locals to pay rent and taxes of various kinds while their remunerations from the labor work was bare minimum. To add to the injury, Christian Missionaries, taking advantage of such crippled conditions, swooped in like vultures to convert local tribal people into christians.
BIRSA MUNDA - Birth and Beginnings
During such destitute conditions, in 1894 due to lack of rain, famine struck. This was the rock-bottom. That boy, now around 19 years old, couldn’t stand the sight of such extreme conditions of his fellow tribesmen. So he decided to take action to make things better, no matter what it takes.
As mentioned earlier, this boy was born in a small village of Ulihatu in 1875, to father Sugana Munda and mother Karmi. He was shifted to Chaibasa, around >135kms from his birthplace, for study, where he was admitted to English Medium school from 1886 to 1890. During that time, the boy grew up to be a strong and intelligent human being. Also, he had recognized the potential in him to challenge the authorities who were oppressing the fellow tribesmen. His name was BIRSA MUNDA who belonged to the Munda tribe. Initially, his family converted into chritianity and were member of German Mission, which they gave up around the same time as his admission was withdrawn from the school, and reverted to their tribal religious practices. Sardar agitation was gaining grounds during that time, and following the strong discontent towards restrictions imposed upon the Mundas to practice their traditional rights in the protected forest area by the British, Birsa joined a protest. This was the beginning of his next 6 years long journey to become the one who, even to this day, is revered as God in that part of India.
Becoming a Leader
In 1894, when the drought struck, Birsa helped the people of his community, dedicatedly. People were already overburdened by various kinds of taxes imposed upon them. Hence, Birsa took it upon himself to get rid of at least some, one of which was Forest-Tax. On 1st of October 1894, Birsa gathered the fellow tribesmen and took them to Chaibasa to request authorities to revoke Forest Tax. This was the incident when he was acknowledged as the leader of his community by the people. Remember, Birsa was just 19 at the time. Following this, he also organized his community and started to openly oppose the British and the Christian Missionaries, because of which he was prisoned for 2 years in Hazaribagh Central Jail. After being released from the prison, he got back to his community and started helping people who were affected by drought or were ill, while also restoring their tribal religious practices. Due to such actions people started to address him as “The Father of the Land”, and started to revere him as God. Thereafter, he again engaged in strong agitations against the British which often turned violent and confrontational. In one such incident, in 1897, he led a crowd of 400 people, all equipped with bows and arrows, and attacked Khunti Police Station. In another incident, in 1898, the Mundas confronted the British troops on the banks of river Tanaga, and successfully defeated them.
The battle at the Dombari Hill
In January 1900, Birsa led his tribesmen to Dombari Hill where they engaged in battle with the troops. Many men, women and children of the Munda community were martyred. Also, many followers of Birsa were apprehended, but Birsa escaped. It wasn’t for long though. On 3rd February 1900, Birsa was captured from Chakradhar forest and imprisoned. The conditions, for Birsa, were made worse, as he was constantly tortured for months. Succumbing to such callous conditions, he took his last breath on 9th June 1900 at the age of 24.
But the story doesn’t end there. Due to the actions Birsa Munda took for the betterment of his people, land and forest, statues are erected in his memory. And, even to this day, tribal people from Jharkhand to West Bengal revere him as God.
Ours is the rule, and we are the kings. (translated)
— Birsa Munda
Audio version of this story
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