In Jharkhand, Bihar and other states, there are many prominent structures and organisations named after Birsa Munda, such as Birsa Munda Airport, Ranchi; Birsa Munda Institute of Technology, Sindri; Birsa Munda Vanvasi Chattravas, Kanpur; Sidho Kanho Birsa University, Purulia; and Birsa Agricultural University. The war cry of the Bihar regiment is ‘Birsa Munda Ki Jai’.
Who was Birsa Munda? Many may not have even heard his name. Born on 15th November, 1875 in the Ulihatu village of Khunti district in Jharkhand, he lived for only 25 years. It is amazing that a tribal peasant in undeveloped forests of Jharkhand, under British tyranny, could achieve so much in a short life span! People idolised him by calling him ‘Bhagwan Birsa Munda’. In recognition of his yeomen work, in 2021, the Union Cabinet voted to observe 15th November (Birsa’s birth anniversary) as Janjatiya Gaurav Divas – honour of the tribals. Naturally, he deserves our Namaskaars too.
Birsa Munda’s father was Sugana Munda, and his mother, Karmi Hatu. The family, with Birsa’s brothers and sisters kept migrating in the forest region for employment, being essentially agricultural labourers. Birsa grew up as a strong and handsome man and grazed sheep in the forests. He could play the flute with expertise and went around with the ‘tulla’ (one-stringed instrument made from pumpkin). He enjoyed being on the ‘akhara’ (village wrestling ground).
His poverty-stricken family kept Birsa at Ayubhatu, his maternal uncle’s village. He joined a school at Salga, run by one Jaipal Nag. Later, he shifted to Khatanga with his mother’s younger sister. On the recommendation of Jaipal Nag, this intelligent boy joined the German Mission School and converted to Christianity. He was renamed Birsa David, later ‘Birsa Daud’. He left the school in a few years. In 1890, Birsa and his family reverted to their original traditional tribal religious system.
As a strong, shrewd, intelligent young man, he took up repairing the Dombari tank at Gerbera, damaged by rains. It was obvious that the tribals were suppressed and deprived of all their rights and privileges. They were mere ‘ryots’ (peasants), no better than ‘crop-sharers’. Birsa developed an insight into agrarian problems, and actively participated in the movement to protect their rights. He was a thinker and criticised the Church for levying taxes and religious conversions. He became a preacher in the traditional tribal religion and soon got a reputation as a healer, a miracle worker and a preacher. He cured many patients. He became a saintly figure, with tribals seeking his blessings.
He gave a slogan, ‘Let the kingdom of the queen end and our kingdom be established’. He fought against the British colonial system. Britishers invited non-tribal labourers and deprived the tribals of their rights in the land.
Birsa declared himself a ‘prophet’. He declared th