Who was Birsa Munda?

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Birsa Munda was a young freedom fighter and a tribal leader, whose spirit of activism in the late nineteenth century, is remembered to be a strong mark of protest against British rule in India. Born and raised in the tribal belt around Bihar and Jharkhand, Birsa Munda’s achievements are known to be even more remarkable by virtue of the fact that he came to acquire them before he was 25. In recognition of his impact on the nationals movement, the state of Jharkhand was created on his birth anniversary in 2000.

Born on November 15, 1875, Birsa spent much of his childhood moving from one village to another with his parents. He belonged to the Munda tribe in the Chhotanagpur Plateau area. He received his early education at Salga under the guidance of his teacher Jaipal Nag. On the recommendation of Jaipal Nag, Birsa converted to Christianity in order to join the German Mission school. He, however, opted out of the school after a few years.

The impact of Christianity was felt in the way he came to relate to religion later. Having gained awareness of the British colonial ruler and the efforts of the missionaries to convert tribals to Christianity, Birsa started the faith of ‘Birsait’. Soon members of the Munda and Oraon community started joining the Birsait sect and it turned into a challenge to British conversion activities.

During the period, 1886 to 1890, Birsa Munda spent a large amount of time in Chaibasa which was close to the centre of the Sardars agitation. The activities of the Sardars had a strong impact on the mind of the young Birsa, who soon became a part of the anti-missionary and anti-government program. By the time he left Chaibasa in 1890, Birsa was strongly entrenched in the movement against the British oppression of the tribal communities.

On March 3, 1900, Birsa Munda was arrested by the British police while he was sleeping with his tribal guerilla army at Jamkopai forest in Chakradharpur. He died in Ranchi jail on June 9, 1900 at a young age of 25. Though he lived a short span of life and the fact that the movement died out soon after his death, Birsa Munda is known to have mobilised the tribal community against the British and had also forced the colonial officials to introduce laws protecting the land rights of the tribals. Birsa’s achievements as a young tribal revolutionary has continued to be celebrated over decades now and he has successfully carved out a space for himself in popular and folk literature, academia, and mass media.

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