31 May 2021

ON 9 JUNE 1900, the Adivasi revolutionary Birsa Munda died in Ranchi Central Jail. He had been arrested three months earlier, in the Jamkopai forest near Chakradharpur, as colonial authorities moved to crush his Ulgulan, or Great Tumult.

The Ulgulan was the third major Adivasi uprising in the Chhotanagpur region during the nineteenth century, following the Kol Rebellion of 1831 and the Santal Hul of 1855. All three agitations resisted the imposition of the zamindari system, which had caused dispossession, indebtedness and bonded labour. Colonial legislation on forests further alienated Adivasis from their lands and traditional means of livelihood.

Since 1858, Munda leaders had been petitioning government authorities to recognise their land rights and act against the depredations of surveyors, landlords and moneylenders. The Sardari Ladai, as this constitutional struggle was called, had little success. By 1895, Mundas had grown disillusioned with peaceful resistance, as well as with the Lutheran and Jesuit missionaries who had supported their movement but were now making onerous demands.

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