Birsa Munda, 115 years on.

9th June, 1900:
Birsa Munda dies after a brief and explosive life of twenty five years. An authentic indigenous uprising against the British and their puppet missionaries comes to an end in a cell of Ranchi Jail.

Birsa_Munda,_photograph_in_Roy_(1912-72)

‘Birsa fainted after vomiting blood at about eight in the morning. Birsa Munda, son of Sugana Munda. age twenty five, under trial prisoner. He was caught on the third of February but no case was drawn up against him and the other Mundas until the last week of May. The Mundas were being defended by Barrister Jacob and Birsa knew that he would fight for them but that he would not have to plead for Birsa. Birsa had been charged with a number of offences under the Criminal Police Code but he knew that he would not be punished.

Birsa could see everything as plainly as moving pictures although he was unconscious. Rice is something the Mundas dream about. This is because ‘ghato’ is what they usually get to eat. Birsa’s life had been guided by rice in some way or another. Most of the time he questioned boldly, “Why will Mundas only eat Ghato? Why won’t they ever eat rice like the Dikus?” Yet on the third of February, he was caught because they were cooking rice. He was sleeping, the woman was cooking rice, the smoke was rising into the blue sky and the men who came for him saw that smoke.

Then Bandhgaon to Khunti to Ranchi; he was handcuffed and there was a policeman on either side of him. He was wearing a turban on his head and a dhoti but his torso was bare. The sun and the wind stung his skin. There were Mundas lining the road on both sides. They were all crying. The women beat their breasts and shook their fists at the sky. The men swore, “Those that betrayed you will not see the end of the month of Magh. If they have hunting nets, the boar and the rabbit they trap will never be taken home.”

But Birsa was not angry with them. Why wouldn’t they betray him? Didn’t the Deputy Commissioner give them five hundred rupees? Five hundred rupees was a lot of money. No Munda had five hundred rupees. Even when they dream at night, they can only manage to dream of a ten rupee note with the Queen’s head on it. For five hundred rupees why wouldn’t they give up Birsa to the police?

Actually he was annoyed, with himself. Why did sleep come? If he hadn’t slept he would have been awake. He would not have let them light a fire to cook rice. Without a fire there would have been no smoke and no one would have seen it. As he walked he had thought of something; now as he drifted between consciousness and sleep, he thought of it again, had the flames been put out? The Munda is very unmindful. Flickering embers can set the whole forest on fire and it had been so dry for many years; that was why he had wanted to alight a great Ulgulan. Ulgulan did not burn the forests but it set the hearts of the Mundas aflame and set their blood boiling.’

~ Aranyer Adhikar, Mahasweta Devi
(Translation, mine)

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