“It is no good saying that we are going to give them better houses. What is really important is: are you going to give back their self-respect? Are you going to give them a modus vivendi whereby they will be able to contribute as men of honour, compatriots as having a place of honour in the national life of India?”
― Santosh Kiro, The Life and Times of Jaipal Singh Munda
The dusk was falling and the heaven was indicating the coming of the Stygian. It was that hour of the season when the wind generally loitered in the evenings. The trees complained as the leaves brushed against each other. The earth felt puny as the zephyr carried some of it. I was sipping my red tea blissfully on the porch when my seven-year-old niece, Moirai came running towards me. She flopped on the ground and parked herself next to my feet. After rummaging a little inside her bag, she took out a picture and asked, “Mami (father’s sister- Lang. Kharia) who is this man? My Piano teacher told me that we’ll perform on his death anniversary.” I smiled, “A sportsman, writer and Adivasi leader, Jaipal Singh Munda.” I couldn’t just end Jaipal Singh Munda’s spiel in a sentence, therefore this article is an effort among the many on the same lines. In this article, I have tried to present a brief history of Singh’s life. I have also tried to present my own insight as to how and what we can learn from such a great life. I must confess that the insights and pieces of information provided are not solely my own. But just like every other piece of art or an idea, is somewhere inspired by the greater ones, this too is not an exception. This effort is for all the Moirai’s out there, for the future. This is the journey of a little boy, whose vision and ambition changed the circumstances of his time towards the better.
Jaipal Singh Munda was born on 3 January 1903 as Pramod Pahan in Khunti, the then subdivision of Ranchi. His family had converted to Christianity and Pramod grew up Christian. He acquired his new name when he was enrolled in St. Paul’s school, run by the SPG Mission of the Church of England. After completing his school, Pramod accompanied his Principal to England to prepare for the priesthood at St. Augustine’s College at Canterbury. However, in 1922, after the initial period of training, he was sent to Oxford for higher studies. There in the year 1926, he graduated with an honours course in economics, philosophy and politics from St. John’s College, Oxford University. While in Oxford, he was also the President of the Oxford Indian Majlis, a debating society founded by Indian students. It was here in Oxford, he discovered his passion for hockey and he established himself as an irreplaceable member of the University hockey team. He was the first Indian student to be awarded an Oxford Blue in hockey. He began a sports society exclusively for Asians in Oxford called Oxford Hermits.
Singh qualified for the prestigious Indian Civil Services, topping the interview. In 1928, while receiving training in England as a probationary ICS officer, he was called to captain the Indian hockey team for the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. He captained the Indian Hockey Team at the Amsterdam Olympics and won the country’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in 1928.
Later, on his return to England, he joined the Burma -Shell company, a multinational oil company, serving as its senior executive between 1928-32. This made him the first Indian to hold the position of contented mercantile assistant in a Royal Dutch Shell Group. This work brought him to Calcutta. After a few years in Calcutta, he turned towards teaching. Initially, he took up teaching at Achimoto College in Britain’s Gold Coast Colony in West Africa (1932-36). Then, for a year, he worked as the Vice-Principal of Rajkumar College in Raipur. But the discrimination he faced here as a Tribal person forced him to look for opportunities elsewhere. From 1937 to 1939, he was part of the Bikaner Princely State’s administration, working as its Revenue Commissioner, Colonization Minister and eventually its Foreign Secretary. Singh’s political life was heavily influenced by the discrimination and exploitation he witnessed of the tribal communities, particularly in Bihar’s Chotanagpur region. In 1938, the Adivasi Mahasabha was formed with the aim of carving out a separate province for the Santhal Parganas and Chotanagpur region from the existing province of Bihar. Singh was elected the President of the Mahasabha in 1939.
His leadership turned out to be crucial to this cause. He went on to hold numerous meetings and gave spirited speeches that mobilized Adivasis against the existing Congress ministry for being anti-Adivasi. He was also behind the Adivasi Labour Union that was formed to safeguard the interests of Adivasis working in industrial regions of Jamshedpur. Soon, Singh was acknowledged as the leader and representative of the Adivasi struggles, earning himself the moniker of Marang Gomke or Supreme Leader among the Adivasis.
In 1946, Singh was elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bihar. He was one of the few independent candidates to have been elected to the Constituent Assembly, a platform that he would use to voice his concerns and promote the interests of tribal people across India. His interventions in the Assembly were mostly restricted to the interests of tribal persons.
Singh continued to work for tribal rights post-independence. The Adivasi Mahasabha returned as the Jharkhand Party and stood for the 1952 elections, winning 33 seats in the Bihar Legislative Assembly. Owing to the decline in the Party’s popularity, he merged it with Congress in 1963. After retirement from active hockey, he served as Secretary of the Bengal Hockey Association and as a member of the Indian Sports Council. Singh died on 20 March 1970 in Delhi. The Government of Jharkhand named the grand games complex and games village built in Ranchi the Jaipal Singh Munda Games Complex. The Adivasi Mahasabha, of which he was previously President, attained its objective of carving out a separate state, Jharkhand, from Bihar in 2000, thirty years after his death.
Today, fifty-three years after Jaipal Singh Munda's death how should we remember him? What should we tell our children about him? We should remember him not only because he brought our country its first gold or voiced for the voiceless. But we must remember him for he was an ordinary individual, just like you and me, but with some extraordinary dreams and visions which make him exceptional. So if he can, so can we. We must remember him for his sacrifices. He could’ve lived the way he wanted but he chose to use his power, and position for the people, for you and me. Today, when we leave our homeland, our parents, and our family, to spread our wings and fly high, we must remember that all of these were possible because there was someone in the 1940s and 50s who had foreseen it for us. And the least we can do is remember and pay him our reverence. It doesn’t matter on what scale someone works for the benefit of others but it is the individual's effort that matters. We can see Jaipal Singh Munda and others like him, before him and after him as a key which opened new doors for us. They did what they had to and now, we must take the baton. We must tell our children, that few in a generation are born who pave the way for everyone. Therefore, we the ones who’ll be walking must have reverence for them. It also becomes our responsibility that takes that road to its full potential. In other words, as the majority of the readers here I am assuming are students just like me. Therefore, the best we can do is give our mammoth best that there is to our academics. In doing so we must keep in mind that we are not just securing our lives but those of the generations to come. And why academics and education specifically? Because remember our aim should not only be our families but the whole world. And only an educated individual can lead to an educated family which ignites educated settlement. Educated settlements leads to an educated State, educated State leads to an educated Nation and an educated Nation will make a better World. If we have been given the gift of life, why should we limit ourselves to our families and friends? So let us have India and the world such a great fate. And I would very selfishly say, let us begin from us, from Jharkhand, Odisha, North-Eastern States and the like. To be successful or to make a difference, we don’t necessarily have to become a leader or a politician. Just by being better individuals, we ease the works of our leaders and politicians.
Let’s aim high, let’s aim for a better world! And when John F. Kennedy said, “Never ask what your Nation can do for you. But always think about what you can do for your Nation.” And maybe this is what we can think of.
Saumia Shalini Bilung is a final-year graduation student of History at Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University. She hails from Ranchi, Jharkhand. Her fields of interest lie in history, political discourses and Adivasi rights.