Who Is The Tribal Freedom Fighter Birsa Munda, Why Are We Celebrating Him?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to address a BJP tribal community event in Bhopal on November 15, which will mark Birsa Munda’s birth anniversary, celebrate tribal art and culture and is likely to include announcements of welfare measures for tribal communities, according to Madhya Pradesh BJP leaders.

Who is Birsa Munda and why are we celebrating him?

Birsa Munda was an Indian freedom fighter, religious leader and folk hero from the Munda Tribe of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau area. His spirit of activism is remembered as a strong mark of protest against British rule in India.

Early Life of Munda

Born on 15 November 1875 in Ulihatu in Bengal Presidency, now in the Khunti district of Jharkhand, he was named after that day according to the then prevalent Munda custom. He received his early education at Salga under the guidance of his teacher Jaipal Nag.

Munda spent his childhood surrounded by Christian missionaries, whose main mission was to convert as many tribal people as possible. He was advised by his teacher to enrol in the German Mission school, but to get admitted, Munda was forced to convert to Christianity. He was renamed Birsa David and later to Birsa Daud after the conversion. Birsa left the German Mission School after studying for a few years. Between 1886 to 1890, Birsa Munda spent a large amount of time in Chaibasa, in present-day Jharkhand, which was close to the centre of the Sardars. This had a strong impact on the mind of the young Birsa, who soon became a part of the anti-missionary and anti-government program.

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Finding The Religion Birsait

Birsa Munda founded a new religion called Birsait. The religion believed in One God and encouraged them to revert to their original religious beliefs. People started referring to him as an economic religion healer, a miracle –worker and a preacher. People belonging to Oraon and Munda became convinced Birsaites, and many started referring to him as ‘Dharti Abba or Father of Earth’.

Through his religion, Munda also preached a strong Anti – British sentiment and mobilised thousands of tribal folk to form guerrilla armies to attack the Raj. His slogan threatening the British Raj is still remembered today in the states of Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. The slogan was ‘ Raj setar Jana, Maharani raj tundu jana’ which means "Let the Kingdom of the Queen be ended and our kingdom will be established".

How did his demise take place?

As his awareness of British atrocities grew, Birsa Munda also participated in anti-missionary and anti-establishment activities between 1886 – 1890 in Chaibasa, and started a movement called ‘Ulgulan’, or ‘The Great Tumult’. He was arrested by the British police on March 3, 1900, and died in Ranchi on June 9 that year. He was only 25.

Tribute to Birsa Munda

Eight years after his death, the colonial government introduced the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act in 1908, which prohibits the transfer of tribal land to non-tribals.

A century after his death, Jharkhand was separated out of Bihar on his birth anniversary on November 15, 2000, and he is today fondly referred to as “Mr Jharkhand.”

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He is the only tribal leader whose portrait hangs in the Central Hall of Parliament. The portrait, was unveiled by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Dr Balram Jakhar on 16 October 1989, was commissioned by the Birsa Munda statue committee, Rourkela.

Birsa’s life was driven by poverty, but he still set a powerful example for the youth to follow by giving more to society than what is taken. His contribution to modern India is significant, but unfortunately, he has been relegated to the background in today’s times.