December 30: Well-known author Tuhin A. Sinha has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting for the Bharat Ratna to be conferred upon tribal revolutionary icon Birsa Munda, besides the creation of India’s biggest war memorial at Dombari Hills in Jharkhand, where Birsa’s resolute warriors had put up an incredible fight against the British soldiers in January 1900. The war eventually led to mass casualties but also acquainted the British with the sheer might and conviction of Birsa Munda.
Tuhin, who is all set to release his book The Legend of Birsa Munda, co-authored with Ankita Verma, has researched extensively on Birsa Munda’s life. In his letter to the PM, Tuhin roots for the need to weave in a strong cultural narrative around Birsa Munda in Jharkhand’s development plans, “As we get ready to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Birsa Munda in 2024, there is a growing sentiment among the people of Jharkhand that a lot more needs to be done to ensure justice to the magnificent yet largely unexplored legacy of Birsa Munda. The state of Jharkhand, which came into existence on 15 November 2000, is yet to realize its true potential. The state with its rich reservoir of mineral resources, vast forest cover and concentrated industrialist belts deserves more. Weaving a strong cultural narrative into the state’s developments plans could help in ushering this transformation.”
In the letter, Tuhin has also appealed for the creation of a Birsa tourism corridor that would generate immense local employment opportunities, besides an extension of the term ‘Scheduled Tribes’ to mean Vanvasi, instead of Adivasi in Hindi.
“The thing about subaltern historical heroes is that during their lifetime, there was hardly any documentation of their life or their movements. We took cognizance of their greatness only in hindsight, long after they were gone. But when I look at the extraordinary life of Birsa Munda and his efforts in raising a private army to take on the Britishers, it is quite likely that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose too may have drawn inspiration from him. Netaji raised a private army on a much grander, international scale in the early 1940s… something that Birsa too did, but on a much smaller scale four decades before Netaji,” says the author.
But what drew Tuhin to Birsa Munda’s character in particular when there are multiple other subaltern icons in India’s freedom struggle? In his letter, Tuhin writes, “Like Kashi is the confluence of Hindu culture, let Birsa Munda form the confluence of all tribal cultures and tribal freedom movements across the country. Our subaltern freedom movements date back to the 1770s—Tilka Majhi, a Santhal from the Bhagalpur region being one of the oldest and well-known names. From the nineteenth century, these subaltern movements were active right from the North East of India to the South and formed important precursors to the 1857 war for Independence. While it may not be possible to give each of these subaltern tribal warriors their due, honouring Birsa Munda with the nation’s highest civilian award will be an honour to the entire community.”
Tuhin’s book The Legend of Birsa Munda has been published by Amaryllis: An Imprint of Manjul Publishing House and will soon be available in multiple Indian languages. Among other initiatives, the author, in collaboration will Indic Academy, plans to travel to Birsa Munda’s village Ulihatu, near Ranchi, and distribute 50 free copies to the descendants of Birsa Munda and the clan.
“It is tragic that the descendants of Birsa Munda are living a life of abject penury and have very little idea of the greatness of their ancestry. I want the demand for the Bharat Ratna for Birsa Munda to emanate from his village and ricochet across the country,” says the author.