It is important to note that most of the tribal revolutions that emerged during the British Raj were related to the agenda of exploitation and displacement. In fact, we find women leaders outnumbered their male counterparts in some of the most crucial movements during that time.
By Bijayani Mishra
“Revolt, O Santals, Mahlis and Mundas
We are all tigers here
Let’s not abandon our lands
And be forced to enter the forest
Let us stand together, O Adivasi forester
We will not be driven out
We will not be afraid
We will gather courage in our soul
Till blood runs in our veins
Let us stand together, O Adivasi forester”
(Hul Song titled ‘Debon tingun Adivasi bir’ by Ramchandra Murmu)
New Delhi: What comes to our mind when we think of Adivasi Women? For most of us they are dark-skinned, dangerous, decrepit and exotic; live in the jungles and work relentlessly in the fields. The very renowned German Historian cum Philosopher Oswald Spengler once said, ‘the linear view of history is intellectually dead’. There are barely a handful of texts describing tribal women’s participation in the freedom struggle. To analyze the role and participation of women from its onset till recently through a gendered prism is something that is yet to manifest in the paradigm of literary research. The acknowledgement of the struggles and visibility of lives of adivasi women in mainstream discourse is the need of the hour. It is important that their struggles and their moments of unconditional bravery should be made a part of our collective memories.
The Santhal Hool (revolt) which started in the year 1855 began as a form of protest against the draconian revenue system of the East India Company. There is a lot of literature about both Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu who spearheaded the movement but we would hardly find any history of Tilka Murmu who got killed during this rebellion. It is surprising to observe that barely there has been anything which narrates the numerous participation of tribal women during Santhal rebellion.
It is important to note that most of the tribal revolutions that emerged during the British Raj were related to the agenda of exploitation and displacement. In fact, we find women leaders outnumbered their male counterparts in some of the most crucial movements during that time. Birsha Munda, during 1895 gave a clarion call for revolution and a large number of women participated in the movement. And one of the most significant contributions of that time was made by Sali, another adivasi woman. Sali was the most trusted fighter who led the movement with Birsa Munda and fought valiantly against the Britishers. The women fighters used to attach archer tabs around their stomach to disguise themselves as pregnant to smuggle the weapons.
It seems history has been too unkind to record evenly the legacy of the undying spirit of the true patriot, Gurubari Jani. She and her associates came to Puri District of Odisha with a mission to get trained in the art of delivering speeches, organizing constructive programmes and martial arts to fight against the atrocities of the Bristihers. Her husband Raidhar Jani accompanied her during her one year and two months training. Once Gurubari Jani’s house was gheraoed by the police as Raidhar remained absconded; busy in organizing freedom fighters in different regions of Odisha. Having known that police were marching towards his house he climbed upon a massively branched tree standing on the courtyard of his house. Police failed to trace him and subsequently got vindictive and started intimidating Gurubari Jani. She was mercilessly dragged by the police and made half-naked. And that’s not the end she then was forced and threatened to share about her husband’s whereabouts otherwise she would be put to death and her breasts would be mutilated.
Mungari Oraon, from Oraon tribe is the first adivasi martyr of Assam. During the 1930s she used to work as a domestic help in the house of a British official. Subsequently, she acted as a spy and started passing confidential information to the Indian National Congress. Mungari got caught amid her secret operation and was killed by her owner. As the Congress party was predominantly run by the upper-caste Hindu hence there were allegations that the tea tribe community was not encouraged enough to participate in the freedom movement but in spite of all these constraints they participated massively.
There were then Pahariya Mutiny in Chota Nagpur region in 1778, Tanti Mutiny in 1786, Tamar mutiny in 1789, Sardar Mutiny in 1830 which witnessed how the adivasi women in the frontline fought against colonial rule. The true meaning of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahostav can only be able to justify its true meaning when our nation will acknowledge their legacy and pay homage to these indigenous heroines who sacrificed their lives to free the country from the yoke of the Britishers.
(Dr Bijayani Mishra is assistant professor at Maitreyi College, University of Delhi)