Birsa Munda: Hero of the Pre-Independent India

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Birsa Munda

It is difficult to gauge the intensity of the struggle, our Freedom Fighters had put in, to rid our country from the shackles of the British Raj, so that we and our coming generations could breathe free air. By going through the timeline of events, one can understand that the struggle started much before Independence was actually achieved. Before 1947, Independent India was only a dream for our freedom fighters. One such great persona who fought for freedom at the cost of his life, was Birsa Munda. His efforts were so profound that he is remembered with boundless gratitude by celebrating the creation of the state of Jharkhand on his Birth Anniversary in 2000. He is the only tribal leader whose portrait decorates the Central Hall of the Parliament, with other Freedom Fighters.

What we will discuss:

  • Who was Birsa Munda?
  • Foundation of the Faith ‘Birsait’
  • The Period of Activism
  • Achievements of the Revolutionary ‘Birsa Munda’
  • Tribute to the Hero

Who was Birsa Munda?

According to Jharkhand.org, the legend was born on 15 November, 1875 in an ethnic tribal community ‘Munda’, to Sugana Munda an agricultural labourer and his wife Karmi Hatu. The folk songs popular among his tribe indicates that he was born in Uluhati and spent his childhood in Chalkad, Jharkhand.

This revolutionary of the tribals, was fond of studies and attended a missionary school at Salga, run by Jaipal Nag. Seeing his dedication, Jaipal Nag advised him to convert into Christianity and get enrolled in a German Missionary School. This is how Birsa Munda became Birsa David, to seek education from a German Missionary School for some years until he realised that he needed to take a stand for his community.

The rebellion in him woke, probably when he was studying in Chaibasa at Gossner Evangelical Lutheran, run by German Missionaries. As per a narrative, when in school the students were told about the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, he questioned the Father that where was this Kingdom of Heaven when there was so much exploitation of tribals by zamindars and landlords. This narrative itself reflected his curious and fierce character.

While in Chaibasa, he was very much influenced by the Sardar’s Movement and decided to support the anti-missionary and anti-government activities, even after leaving Chaibasa in 1890.

Foundation of the Faith ‘Birsait’

While studying in a missionary school under the name ‘Birsa David’, he came to realise the evil intentions of the British Colonial Rule and the efforts of the missionaries to convert the tribals to Christianity, he initiated a sect under his leadership, known as the ‘Birsait’. Soon members of the Munda, the Oraon and the Kharia community became followers of this newly found sect, offering a significant resistance to the British Conversion Activities.

The new prophet, Birsa Munda was considered as God by his followers and was addressed as Dharti Aba. They strongly believed Birsa to be a healer, a miracle worker and a messenger of God. Other reasons why ‘Birsait’ gained popularity are as follows:

  • He encouraged his followers to make simple offerings which made people take it up as an economical religion.
  • The concept of one God, appealed many. 
  • The code of conduct laid by him also encouraged people to follow him. He was strictly against theft, lying an murder.
  • He asked his followers to give up drinking,emphasized on cleanliness in villages, and to stop believing in witchcraft.
  • Begging was prohibited according to his code of conduct.

The Period of Activism

With the imprint of the atrocities by the Britishers on his mind, he saw agrarian breakdown and culture change as a challenge. Adopting the Guerilla Warfare technique, Munda responded the Britishers through a series of revolts and uprisings under his leadership.

In 1894, when the failed monsoon caused starvation and diseases, Birsa being the representative of the Munda community, asked the British government to cancel the Forest Taxes. He was arrested in 1895 by the British authorities for spreading riots, and was kept in custody for two years.

After his release in 1897, he was determined to rid his community from the atrocities of the money lenders, landlords, missionaries, and the British Government to win back their proprietary rights. The movement started by him was famously called, ‘Munda Movement’.

On 3 March, 2000, he was treacherously arrested by the British Government while he  was resting with his Guerilla Army, at Jamkopai forest in Chakradharpur. He died while in custody on 9th June, 2000 in Ranchi jail under mysterious circumstances, as stated in a post by The Indian Express.

Achievements of the Revolutionary ‘Birsa Munda’

Birsa Munda’s journey to bring a revolution is inspiring in spite of the fact that the movement initiated by him died out soon, because he was able to achieve milestones to protect his community at a very young age of 25. His accomplishments are as follows:

  • He was successful in mobilizing his community against the British Raj. Even other tribal communities were influenced by the movement initiated by him. The tribals gained courage to revolt against the injustice one by the colonial officials.
  • He succeeded in forcing the British officials to introduce laws to safeguard the land rights of the tribal communities.

Tribute to the Hero

To honour his struggle, his birth anniversary which coincides with the birth of the Jharkhand State on 15th November, is celebrated every year by Jharkhand people. An official function is also organised at Samadhi Sthal, at Kokar Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. 

Popular institutes, organizations, bodies and structures are named after him. The list is as follows: 

  • Birsa Munda Airport, Ranchi
  • Birsa Institute of Technology, Sidri
  • Birsa Munda Vanvasi Chattravas
  • Kanpur and Birsa Agricultural University

To propagate the achievements of this remarkable leader and revolutionist, two movies were produced based on his life and struggles which were ‘Gandhi se Pehle Gandhi’ in 2008 and Ulgulan- Ek Kranti in 2004.

The impact of the Munda movement earned him the respect which he truly deserved. Even the war cry of the Bihar regiment is on his name, Birsa Munda ki Jai (Victory to Birsa Munda). The love in the hearts of the people especially the tribals would never fade. The folk songs with the mention of his name and his achievements are sung till date.

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