Birsa Munda, a tribal freedom fighter whose legacy lives on

A recounting of Indian freedom fighters instantly strikes with prominent names such as Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru among others. Though all of them played significant roles in Indian independence movement, we often fail to recognize those who led several successful movements at the grassroot level against the British. Their stories are not often talked about.

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June 9 marks the death anniversary of one such tribal freedom fighter, who pioneered the “Hul” rebellion against the British Raj. Known as “Dharti Aba”, Birsa Munda had led the movement that forced the colonial Raj to move out of the indigenous land of the tribals in what is now Jharkhand.

Birsa Munda was born on November 15,1875 in Ulihatu, Jharkhand. As the name suggests, he belonged to the ‘Munda’ tribe of Chota Nagpur region. Little did he know about the Christian missionaries; like many other tribes, he too was too forced to become a Christian in order to enroll and study further in the German Mission School.

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Birsa later discovered the motive and missions of the missionaries and the discrepancy in ruling the indigenous land and hefty taxation, which was the source of revenue of the British raj. Soon he came back to his tribe out of the fallacy, formed a new religion called “Birsait” that used to worship only one god. He was given the name “Dharti Aba”, which was rapidly accepted by many due to his growing influence and understanding.

The ignorance by the British Raj and the significant rise of caste Hindu zamindars (land owners), mahajans (moneylenders), darogas (police officers) and their unlawful activities led to the surge of discontent among the tribals.This discontent sparked the agitation against the fallacy and oppression of the Raj. 

Birsa believed in the Abua Disom (self-rule) which is the only way to protect the rights of the tribes. He raised “Abua raj seter jana, maharani raj tundu jana” which means ‘End the kingdom of the queen, create our kingdom’, which became one of the famous slogans which helped to organise his guerrilla army and attack the British army in different parts of the plateau.

Birsa died on June 9, 1990 while being in Ranchi jail due to his bad health of cholera but his followers refrain from the official statement. After his death the Hul faded, but forced the authority to enact the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act which entitled the freedom of millions of tribes. 

His legacy strives till date and the State of Jharkhand was made out of Bihar on his birth anniversary in 2000.

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