Volume 1, No. 6, August 2000


Birsa Munda Centenary

Carry Forward the Heroic Traditions of the
Ulgulan Movement

— Hameed


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 struggle.

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 5, 1990.

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.




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