Dharti Aaba Birsa Munda died on June 9, 1990 in a jail, for his defiance against atrocities meted out to the Adivasis of India by greedy officials and moneylenders. 120 years after his sacrifice, the week of his death anniversary witnessed the institutional murders of three Dalits:
These three deaths were system funded murders —a system which was built to oppress the marginalized. There was no sustained media coverage for any of the above mentioned murders. We talk about #blacklivesmatter, we glorify them for taking a knee in support of the marginalized in the US, meanwhile in our country we are so ignorant towards the Bahujans, we are not even aware of crimes happening against them in the name of caste. Same is the case with Adivasis who are routinely arrested for simply exercising their right to protest.
This brings us to the fact that on June 9, in the year 1900, we lost one the greatest and most fearless freedom fighter India would ever see — Birsa Munda. He sacrificed his life to ensure that the oppressed Adivasis of India can lay claim to their rights over land and freedom. But, even today we see that members of the oppressed classes, such as Adivasis and Dalits are unable to find social justice.
Birsa Munda's life: Born in 1875 in the Bengal Presidency (the region now lies in Jharkhand), Birsa Munda had a childhood just like any other tribal kid. Around the age of 10, Birsa converted to Christianity in order to join a German missionary school. In 1890, his father, in light of the freedom struggle, would ask him to drop out and return to his original traditional tribal system.
Birsa Munda is known to have built the foundation for Adivasi resurgence and lead the fight of the indigenous masses for their Jal, Jangal and Jameen against the tyranny of the zamindars who took the tribal lands for some amount of loan, and the very unfair revenue system of the British.
In 1895, Birsa started a rebellion along with his people known to be 'Ulgulan'. It was a movement to fight the atrocity against the Adivasis and moreover to save their autonomy, identity, and their culture. Birsa Munda is also known to travel to various places and help in treating people suffering from epidemics such as cholera and smallpox. Birsa, by then was given the title 'Dharti Aaba' which translates to 'Father of the Land'.
Munda had followers of his own along with whom he used to wage wars with the British. He
became the "most wanted" man of his time with a price of Rs. 500 on his capture. His final physical battle with the British took place near the Dumbari hills in Ranchi, where nearly 400 people were killed. Even though this was a victory for the British, they still could not capture Birsa Munda. It is said he was cheated by his own people and handed over to the British for the above said amount in the year 1900. At merely 24 years of age, Birsa Munda died in a jail in Ranchi.
A great rebel that he was, till date we have not seen his sacrifice being rewarded. Birsa Munda was a freedom fighter who stood for Adivasi and Tribal rights but we still witness atrocities against them every day.
Here is an excerpt from a poem by Bhujang Meshram:
‘बि रसा तुम्हें कहीं से भी आना होगा
घास काटती दराती हो या लकड़ी काटती कुल्हाड़ी
यहां-वहां से, पूरब-पश्चि म, उत्तर दक्षि ण से
कहीं से भी आ मेरे बि रसा
खेतों की बयार बनकर
लोग तेरी बाट जोहते.’
which translates to
'Birsa you have to come from anywhere
Mowing grass or axe cutting wood
From here to there, east-west, north-south
Come from anywhere my Birsa
As a breeze
People are waiting for you.'
About the Author: Ayush Kumar is from Ranchi, Jharkhand. He is currently pursuing B.Tech at Assam University, Silchar.
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