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Remembering Dharti Aba’s Thundering Challenge to the Raj

~ Shreya Rawat

The struggle of freedom has seen endless sacrifices of freedom fighters who have shed their blood for the sake of the nation and the independence of its people. Some of these names are imprinted in our minds and hearts and will never be forgotten, some made it to the books, getting their share of the credits while some failed to make a cut to the knowledge of the people despite their selfless contributions during the freedom struggle. Hamstrung by the lack of knowledge, people have overlooked the sacrifices made by these unsung heroes, who thrive till date to be recognized.

Birsa Munda and his struggle in colonial India - Talking Humanities
The Great Tribal Hero: Dharti Aba

Freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh , Netaji Subash Chandra , are remembered and embellished with garlands on graves with museums, statues and memories built, written and preserved in their honour. Amidst this endless list that follows, Birsa
Munda, a valiant freedom fighter, a name worthy to be paid due obeisance to and to be remembered for eternity like others seems to have lost in the dark dense woods of Ulihatu , Jharkhand, the birthplace of Dharti Aba or the Earth Father as people called him in his days as a leader of the freedom struggle.

Born on 15th November 1875, Munda family was blessed with the messenger of God, a title he gave himself. The folklores describes his journey and his transformation from a child, who like any other child spent his childhood in the akhara (village wrestling ground) rolling and playing in
sand and dust with friends to a strong and handsome man, grazing the forest of bohonda and playing flute, giving description of his charismatic demeanor, while reciting his acts of bravery which continues to inspire listeners .

In order to receive education he converted to Christianity and became Birds David/Daud. Later Birsa had to drop out of the school due to the national movement which strongly influenced him and developed a strong anti-govt. and anti-missionary stamp on his mind. During the 1890s, Birsa started speaking to his people about the exploitation done by the British. The British agrarian policies were stifling the tribal people and disrupting their way of life which was hither to peaceful and intune with nature. Cultural belittlement of the tribal people by the Christian missionaries was another issue voiced by Birsa.

Birsa Munda: The Revolutionary Tribal Leader - YouTube
A Mass Tribal Leader

The Mundas had followed the Khunkhatti system of joint land holding. The British replaced this system with the Zamindari system where zamindars appointed by the British collected taxes from the tenants, sharecropper regularly, despite of the hapless plight of the farmers. In a way outsiders entered the tribal lands cape and started exploiting them. In their own turf, they became forced labourers.Poverty descended on them like a strangling chain.

In 1894, Birsa marked the begininning of the Munda Ulgulan by announcing his declaration against the British and the outsiders, with the motive of tail spinning the British of their territory.
This was a very important rebellion of the tribal people among the various uprisings of the tribals and peasants in India in the 19th century.

Birsa also started his own religion and called himself the messenger of god. Many Mundas, Kharias Oraons as well as Hindi and Muslims too accepted him as their leader. Birsa further advocated the tribal people to shun the missionaries and revert to their tradition always. He also asked people not to pay taxes.
He was arrested in 1895 and released after two years, but this didn’t dampen the fire in his belly to achieve freedom from British. In 1899, he resumed his armed struggle along with the people.

His journey speaks volumes about his contribution to the freedom struggle in stilling a sense of pride amongst all. It is thereby indispensable to learn about a personality like him, inculcate his traits while passing down this knowledge to generations ahead before it reduces into tattered pieces of information.

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