Over 90% of Adivasis have lost their land to ‘development’ in Jharkhand, especially in Ranchi and Jamshedpur. Adivasis continue to be exploited and are facing injustice and discrimination
After Baba Tilka Majhi’s uprising against the British rule, there were three major revolts that are deeply embedded in the tribal history of resistance. These revolts are marked by spells of tribal awakening for freedom and independence. They are the Kol Revolt in 1829-1839, the Santhal Revolt in 1855-1856, and the Munda Revolt in 1899-1900, which is also known as the Ulgulan revolution.
The great Bhagwan Birsa Munda led the Ulgulan revolution. All three revolutions were a victory — the tribals sang the first songs of victory and freedom long before the Independence of 1947.
A leader is not born; circumstances, the environment, necessities, education, and self-realisation to take the lead make a person a leader.
Birsa Munda was born on November 15, 1875. In the late 19th century, the British were forcefully grabbing lands from tribals, who became bonded labourers from free men and resulted in poverty and death.
The exploitation of tribals and discrimination had become a daily occurrence during this period and there was no sign of help or solace. The British, while coming to India, brought education with them. Birsa Munda, too, attended one of the missionary schools in Ranchi. He was very sharp in studies, was a fast learner, and had an insight and vision for the future of his people. All these things combined made him a rebel at an early stage of his life.
Birsa Munda started a movement called ‘Ulgulan’, which means ‘revolution’ in the Mundari language spoken by the Munda tribe. The fight was for the right to their lands. His leadership was phenomenal, and thousands of tribals stood with him. The uprising posed a threat to the British government. For a long time, they couldn’t capture this god-like man. He was, however, arrested by the British police on March 3, 1900, in the Jamkopai forest in Chakradharpur and was put in jail in Ranchi.
He died of Cholera on June 9, 1900, at a young age of 25, at least that is what was declared by the British government. The tribals, however, believed that the officials in jail killed him. Even after his death, the impact of the movement remained very strong, forcing the British government to pass the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act in 1908.
The Act restricts the passing on of land from tribal people to non-tribals. It acts as a protecting shield for tribal land, but does it serve the purpose? No, because there is another law called the Land Acquisition Act 1894, which undermines the CNT Act, 1908, and facilitates easy loot of tribal land.
In the name of development and public service, dams, factories, roads and railways, and canals have been built in Jharkhand, taking away the land of over 90% of the tribals. Cities like Jamshedpur and Ranchi have come up on grabbed tribal land that was grabbed. If the CNT Act has been protecting tribal land since 1908, how come non-tribals have successfully built their homes in the region? How come so many mines and industries have come into operation on indigenous land? It isn’t my job to answer these questions; it is the government’s.
Land grabbers and invaders will stop at nothing to do what they came for. In 1907, the year before the CNT Act was passed, the Tata Group had already acquired the land of tribals for mining iron ore in Noamundi and Jamshedpur for establishment of its industrial empire. Jamshedpur at one time was known as ‘Kalimati’ (the land of black soil) and was home to the Munda, Santhal and Ho tribes, who were forcefully displaced by the dikus (non-tribals) to acquire the land. The non-tribal government tried many times to amend the Act, and, eventually, the Raghubar Das government weakened the Act. The government, through the amendment to Section 49, will now be able to acquire land in the Chota Nagpur region without any difficulty.
India belongs to the tribals. The UNO admits it as well. The first invaders were the Aryans; the second were the Mughals, and the last were the British. Tribals never welcomed invaders nor accepted slavery. The Mughals and the Brahmans welcomed East India Company, and that is how the door was opened to British rule in India for over 200 years. The scenario changed when the uprising of the tribals began.
The continuous victories and achievements of the tribal revolution were so impactful that each revolution successfully resulted in Acts like the Wilkinson’s Rule 1837 (after the Kol Revolt), Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1876 (after the Santhal Revolt) and Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 (after the Munda Revolt). These achievements demoralised not only the British but also non-tribals because even they couldn’t breach tribal land. The insecurity grew further as the British were on the path to hand over the documents of independence to tribal hands. What happened in 1947 signifies that the country got independence only to be ruled over again. The first Prime Minister was supposed to be a tribal, not a Brahman or anyone else. Unfortunately, injustice and discrimination against tribals have continued and so has been their exploitation, as the Brahmans occupied all the important posts. Not a single tribal was given his or her rights in the region.
These are not false allegations; it’s the real face of the Indian government. If the government is made for the Indian people, then why do laws made by the British, like the Land Acquisition Act, Income Tax Act, Police Act still exist, even after decades of Independence? The British couldn’t harm the tribals as much as the Indian government has. The hatred of the Indian government towards tribals was witnessed on January 1, 1948. The tribals protesting for a separate state in Saraikela Kharsawan in Jharkhand were brutally killed in police fire. It was a massacre, and till date, the tribals of Kharsawan do not celebrate the New Year to mourn the martyrs; the day is known as a Black Day for tribals.
People and the government in power should understand that great power should be handled with great responsibility and humility. But what we are seeing is that with more power, there is more cruelty — a destructive superiority complex, arrogance and dictatorship. If this is how the government continues to treat the tribals and the speed at which the natural wealth and social culture are being exploited, the tribals will not be saved, and India will never progress to its full potential.
Therefore, Bhagwan Birsa Munda is needed again to save the tribals. However, in the world, as we know it now, just one Birsa Munda will not be enough to carry the weight of this responsibility. It’s not just Bhagwan Birsa Munda we need; we need Baba Tilka Majhi, Sidhu Kanhu, Chand Bhairav and Phulo Jhano as well.
Once again, let’s look through the history pages of tribal revolts and learn about something which isn’t mentioned — that all the revolts were fought separately, and all of them resulted in big success.
Imagine what would have happened if they had fought united.
(Views are personal)