A century back, the Munda tribes of Bihar’s Chota
Nagpur region — Ranchi, Singhbum, Chakradharpur — had spread their armed
struggle to an area covering roughly 550 sq. miles. The Ulgulan movement created
panic in the hearts of the moneylenders, landlords, dacoits, contractors,
missionaries and the British imperialists, as never before. It gave the adivasis
a self-respect, taught them to fight fearlessly, and gave them a new meaning to
their lives. This great movement, which inspired lakhs of adivasis, was led by
the youthful Birsa Munda.
Birsa Munda was born into a share-croppers family
in 1874. In order to gain education Birsa, like many other tribal youth, became
a Christian. But, in order to gain self-respect, he soon left that education.
Faced with daily hunger, Birsa fled to the forests.
Before the British came to India, the forests were
like mother to the tribals. The British came with their forest, land and other
laws and stripped the tribals of their natural rights. They introduced
moneylenders, landlords, traders, mahajans, into the region, through which to
loot the adivasis. They usurped the tribal lands, and reduced them to a
slave-like existence. Against this oppression the Munda tribes fought
continuously, for over three decades. And it was to this on-going struggle that
Birsa Munda gave a new turn and a new meaning.
In 1894 Birsa declared himself a god, and began to
awaken the masses and arouse them against the landlord-British combine.
Combining religion and politics he went from village to village giving
discourses and building a politico-military organisation. He declared an end to
Victorian rule and the establishment of Munda Rule. He organised the people to
stop paying debts/interest to moneylenders and taxes to the British. He broke
all links with the missionaries and took the path of revolt. The British
retaliated and brought in the armed police. One night, while in his sleep, Birsa
was arrested. He spent two years in jail.
When he left jail in November 1897, he once again
began organising the tribals. He now went underground. He sowed the seeds of
revolt against the landlords and British. He raised the self-confidence of the
tribals, who increased their attacks on the landlords. He formed two military
units — one for military training and armed struggle, the other for propaganda.
He declared December 24, 1899, as the day for the launching of the armed
On Christmas eve the attacks began. In the first
phase police stations were attacked at Khunti, Jamar, Basia, Ranchi, etc. Eight
policemen were killed, while 32 fled; 89 houses of landlords were burnt down;
churches and British property were reduced to ashes. The flames of the struggle
spread to 550 sq. miles in the Chota Nagpur region. The struggle was so intense
that on the fourth day itself, Ranchi’s deputy commissioner called in the Army.
Many British fled the region. The first phase of the struggle ended on January
On January 6, 1900, the second phase of the Ulgulan
movement began. Not only were attacks launched on the moneylender-landlord-mahajan-contractor
combine, but directly against the British. Using poisoned arrows many police and
Britishers were killed; many traders’ houses were burnt; the flames of armed
struggle spread far and wide. But, the British army entered with their guns,
brutally massacring the tribals. The bow and arrow were no match to British
fire-power. Entire Ranchi and Singhbum town were handed over to the army.
Finally, on February 3, 1900 Birsa was caught. Severe cases were put on him, and
482 others. While the cases were on, he began vomiting blood in jail. On June 9,
1900, Birsa Munda became a martyr. Though he had no symptoms of cholera, the
British declared he died of cholera. Cowardly murdered in British jails, Birsa
Munda became a legend to the tribals of Chota Nagpur, and a symbol of the
anti-feudal, anti-colonial struggle of that time.
Today, in this centenary year of Birsa Munda, the
people of India hail the great revolutionary traditions, of this heroic martyr,
and pledge to continue that anti-feudal, anti-imperialist struggle, for the
cause that was left incomplete. Today, it is the armed struggle of Bihar, AP and
Dandakaranya, led by the CPI(ML)[People’s War] which continues the revolutionary
traditions set by Birsa Munda. Lacking a clear-cut anti-feudal, anti-imperialist
ideology, and an inadequate military strategy, that struggle failed; but today,
fired with Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought and a definite military line,
the armed struggle advances. This, is the best tribute one can pay to Birsa
Munda on the centenary year of his martyrdom.