Birsa Munda is one of the most celebrated Tribal leader of India. He became famous for his revolt against the British rule, referred to as Ulgulan (Great Tumult). The revolt took place in a region south of Ranchi in 1899-1900.
The Mundas in course of the nineteenth century had seen their traditional khuntkatti land system (joint holdings by khunts or tribal lineages) being eroded by Jagirdars and Thekedars coming from the northern plains as merchants and moneylenders. The area had also become a happy hunting grounds for contractors recruiting indentured labor. A succession of Catholic missions appeared to promise some help, but eventually did nothing about the basic land problems. In the early 1890s, the tribal chiefs attempted to fight the alien landlords and the imposition of Beth Begari (Forced labor) in the courts, but were cheated by a Calcutta based Anglo Indian lawyer. Now there was nothing left for them but to look for one among them as their savior.
The Munda savior came in the shape of Birsa (c. 1874-1900), son of sharecropper who had received some education from the missionaries and had then come under Vaishnav influence, and who in 1893-94 had participated in a movement to prevent village wastelands from being taken over by the forest department. In 1895, young Birsa is said to have seen a vision of a supreme God, after which he claimed to be a prophet with miraculous healing powers. Thousands began flocking to Chalked to hear Birsa, while the chiefs started introducing an agrarian and political note into the initially religious movement. Birsa was jailed for twpo years in 1895 by the British who feared a conspiracy, but he returned much more of a fire brand. A series of night meetings were held in the forest during 1898-99, where Birsa allegedly urged the 'killing of Thekedars and Jagirdars and Rajahs and Hakims and Christians' and promised 'that the guns and bullets would turn to water'. Effigies of the British Raj were solemnly burned.
On Christmas eve, 1899, the Birsids shot arrows and burned down Churches over the area covering six police stations in the districts of Ranchi and Singhbhum. The police themselves became targets. On 9th January, 1900, however the rebels were defeated at Sail Rakab Hill , and Birsa was captured three weeks later and died in jail. Nearly 350 Mundas were put on trial, 3 were hanged and forty-four transported for life. The survey and settlements operation of 1902-10 and the Chota Nagpur tenancy act of 1908, however, did provide some belated relief.
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