A slender young man with a bow and arrow in his hand and a flame of rebellion in his eyes was off to challenge the atrocities of the most powerful empire in the world, the British Empire. His tenacity and valor shook the foundations of British rule.
On November 15, 1875, an ordinary boy was born to an ordinary family of the Munda community of Bihar somewhere in the forests of Ranchi (nnow in Jharkhand). However, this boy didn't choose to live an ordinary life and started an extraordinary rebellion against the British, which not only revolutionized the area but also added a glorious chapter to the history of the Munda community. He was none other than Bisra Munda, who is often referred to as an incarnation of God by the community.
Like every other kid in his community, little Birsa grew up playing in the forest and attending his classes in elementary schools. Realizing the fact that he was a brilliant student, Birsa was admitted to a missionary school.
"My son! Jesus is the supreme god of this universe. If you want to realize the true meaning of your existence, then accept Him as your God. "Or else you will remain uncivilized and uncultured just like your fellow Adivasi community members," said the Father of the Church to Birsa on his first day at school. The tender mind of Birsa couldn't figure out what exactly was going on. Taking advantage of his ignorance, Birsa was converted to Christianity. In the late 1870s, religious conversion of the indigenous communities was a common phenomenon.
However, as Birsa grew up, he began to realize the cruelty and atrocities committed by the British against the adivasi communities. The aim of the British government was to capture their habitat, their forestlands, and convert them to crop fields, while the missionaries aimed at converting the Adivasis into Christians. With the realization of such harsh facts, Birsa Munda decided to give up Christianity forever. This marked the birth of a new rebel in the history of the Indian freedom struggle.
"We have been dwelling in these forests since time immemorial. These so-called foreigners can not snatch away our forests in the name of religious conversions. My Brothers! We all belong to the Munda Community. The forest is our mother, and it's time to unite and protect our mother from the hands of the British. "We shall never bow our heads before the Englishmen."
Such inspirational words from Birsa Munda ignited the flame of rebellion among the people of the community, and many young men supported him. Birsa's messages spread far and wide. As per his instruction, all the members of the Munda community stopped paying their taxes to the British. The British government was so disturbed by such rebellious activities that they summoned Birsa to the court of law, and he was held guilty of planning conspiracies against the government. Birsa Munda was imprisoned for 2.5 years.
Although the British put a rebel behind bars, they could never extinguish the flame of rebellion ignited by him outside. The Mundas continued to oppose the British atrocities by not paying any tax.
When Birsa was released from jail, the forests of Ranchi glowed with the Mashals of the Adivasis.
"Dear Brothers, here comes the time when we will fight for our forests and mark the beginning of a new era. "We are the sons of this land, and we will rule here," addressed Birsa to the mob.
Birsa, accompanied by several young rebels, traveled from village to village raising awareness about the British atrocities against indigenous communities.
The army of Birsa, who fought with traditional bow and arrows, created a sense of stark terror among the British, who fought with modern arms and ammunition. They concealed themselves in the forest and came out in the night to kill British officers. After creating such scenes of terror and bloodshed, they went back to the forests.
Following a series of such attacks, the British government devised yet another piece of political propaganda that revealed their true colors to the rest of the world.A notice was put up in all the villages that whoever catches Birsa alive or dead will be rewarded with a heavy amount. The sole purpose of doing this was to remove Birsa from their path. However, to the great surprise of the British, none of his followers betrayed Birsa; rather, they supported him unconditionally.
A few British soldiers noticed smoke coming from a part of the forest one night.When they came forward to investigate, they saw some Adivasis with their transient camps. It was Birsa and his comrades, and the smoke had evolved due to the cooking of rice.
The rebels were put behind bars and kept under strict supervision.
Birsa Munda was locked in a special cell with extra security. Thick iron chains were fastened around his hands, legs, waist, and neck to make him immobile. The cruel Britishers had made up their mind to remove Birsa from their path forever.
Small traces of a poison named arsenic were added to his food, which severely affected the physiological functioning of his body. After a few weeks, Birsa Munda took his last breath.
Sacrificing one's life at the tender age of 25 for the cause of conservation of one's indigenous identity and religion, showing the courage of raising a voice against injustice, and creating history, Birsa Munda has set an example for us as well as for generations to come.
Apart from Birsa Munda, there are many such unsung heroes from various indigenous communities who contributed to the Indian struggle for independence. Although their tales have not been recorded or highlighted well yet, there remains the fact that without their contributions, the dream of an independent India would have remained a dream forever.
We are sharing our rich heritage through this platform, starting with the cultural preservation efforts by voices of indigenous communities themselves.