(Birsa Munda - 15-11-1875 - 09-6-1900)

SPEECH BY SHRI K. R. NARAYANAN , PRESIDENT OF INDIA, ON THE OCCASION OF UNVEILING OF THE STATUE OF SHRI BIRSA MUNDA, NEW DELHI ON AUGUST 28, 1998

I am happy to associate myself with the unveiling of the statue of Shri Birsa Munda, a legendary figure in the history of our struggle for freedom. He is well known as an early advocate and exponent of tribal rights and as an indomitable fighter against foreign rule and oppression. One of the lesser known aspects of our fight against British rule is that tribal uprisings constituted an important part of the defiance of the colonial regime. Birsa Munda is an outstanding representative of one such movement in late 19th century in Chotanagpur region, who initiated a unique phase of our freedom struggle which decisively influenced its course and subsequently made us deeply conscious of tribal issues vis-a-vis nation building.

Birsa Munda rose from the lowest rank of peasants to mobilise people against the appropriation of tribal land and disintegration of their way of life, economy, and culture by the colonial system. He fought against the predatory tendencies in the name of modernisation and the oppressive Zamindari system, invoking the spirit of tribal order characterised by simplicity, absence of tyranny, and living in harmony with nature.

He used the myths and symbols of his society and culture and became a rallying point for people to rise against foreign rule, oppression and injustice. His movement was also infused with the spirit of religious reform, social justice and cultural regeneration. He fought against British rule, suffered imprisonment and subsequently became a martyr. Through his struggle he became a cult figure, a part of the folklore and was even deified by the people as 'Dharti Abba' or 'Birsa Bhagwan'. The Bihar Regiment of the Indian Army invokes his name in one of their battle cries.

Birsa Munda's struggle was suppressed by the British authorities. But it did not go in vain. His fight for the rights of the people for forest resources, land and preservation of their distinct identity was subsequently recognised when the then British Government, through a series of measures, guaranteed tribals' rights to reclaim their land and empowered officials to forcefully evict the occupation of tribal land by others. The Chotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 which partially protected the rights of tribals is considered as an important outcome of Birsa Munda's fight.

The arduous fight of Birsa Munda against British rule and its ramifications found articulation in the larger context of our struggle for independence when Surendranath Banerjea took up the issue in the Legislative Council and many other leading newspapers of the period editorially supported its cause. The impact of this movement was significant enough that even the British Government that supported it, recognised its gravity. This was reflected in the secret report of the then Lt. Governor who wrote, "the disturbance may have quieted down but Simla requires to be constantly reminded that it is sitting on a power magazine."

The popularity, intensity and relevance of the movement launched by Birsa Munda was so widespread that all the mainstream political groups supported it and eulogised its contributions to arouse the common people to stand against the mighty British empire. Acknowledging his crucial role in awakening the masses of Chotanagpur against British rule, the Indian National Congress and the Forward Block observed Birsa Day in 1940 with great enthusiasm. Paying tribute to Birsa Munda, the India National Congress named the main gate of its Ramgarh Session in 1940 as Birsa Gate and published stories of his eventful life which was circulated among the delegates.

The awakening triggered by Birsa Munda found its manifestation in the formation of Kisan Sabha by many tribal groups, which later joined the struggle for freedom. Many followers of Birsa Munda who took pride in calling themselves 'Birsaites' joined the nationalist movement for independence and were greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. Historians have asserted that the campaign of Indian National Congress in Chotanagpur would not have been successful without Birsa Munda's agitation.

As we survey the remarkable life and deeds of Birsa Munda, we are struck by the spontaneity of people's action. One important feature is that Birsa Munda's movement attracted a large number of women who suffered imprisonment, faced police bullets and embraced death. The then British Government was perplexed by the willing and large-scale participation of women in the agitation launched by Birsa.

Birsa Munda stood out as an early protagonist of tribal rights, a pioneer in mobilising women for the cause of freedom and as an irrepressible fighter for justice and human dignity. His movement launched in late 19th century has significance for our own times. To-day our tribals, in all parts of our country, are fighting for their inalienable rights to land, forest resources and cultural identity. In all such fights we find an echo of Birsa Munda's strivings. Today our tribal brothers and sisters are heroically standing against the forces of so-called modernisation which run antithetical to their life-style, and understanding of nature and culture. They resist the alarming deterioration of environment as they are the protectors and preservers of "Jal, Jungle and Jantu" and draw our attention to the need for re-examining our concepts of development and progress. They underline the need for truly sustainable development projects.

Since the days of our struggle for independence, we have taken steps to guarantee the rights of our tribal brothers and sisters. Our Constitution, the fundamental law of the land, stipulates the provisions for their upliftment. The unveiling of the statue of Birsa Munda is national recognition of the role of tribals in the freedom struggle and of the importance of preserving their identity and their rich traditional culture while improving their living conditions and integrating them emotionally into the mainstream on national life.

JAI HIND.


ADDRESS BY SHRI G.M.C. BALAYOGI, HON'BLE SPEAKER, LOK SABHA ON THE OCCASION OF UNVEILING OF STATUE OF SHRI BIRSA MUNDA IN PARLIAMENT HOUSE

Respected Rashtrapati Ji, Respected Up-Rashtrapati Ji, Respected Pradhan Mantri Ji, Hon'ble Leader of Opposition Lok Sabha Shri Pawar Ji, Hon'ble Members of the Council of Ministers, Hon'ble Frida Topno, Secretary Birsa Munda Statue Committee, Hon'ble Members of Parliament, Distinguished Friends and Ladies and Gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome your here today on the occasion of the unveiling of the statue of Birsa Munda, a great patriot and a renowned tribal leader.

May I take this opportunity to thank heartily the Respected Rashtrapati Ji for having graced the occasion and unveiled the statue of Birsa Munda.

I would also like to express our thanks to Respected Rashtrapati Ji, Respected Up-Rashtrapati Ji, Pradhan Mantri Ji and other distinguished guests for being with us today.

The renowned sculptor Shri B.C. Mohanty who has sculpted this piece of art and the Steel Authority of India which has donated the statue of Birsa Munda also deserve our thanks.

It may not perhaps be out of place to mention here that a portrait of Birsa Munda was unveiled in the Central Hall in October, 1989. The portrait now adorns the Parliamentary Museum and Archives.

Birsa Munda occupies an important position as a champion of the long-suffering tribals and a martyr in the long succession of heroes of the Chota Nagpur Plateau. His heroism, sacrifice and sensitivity from the theme of many inspiring folklores. His short but eventful life of 25 years is an example of a valiant struggle of his people against socio-economic injustice and political subjugation.

During the course of his gallant struggle against the British rule, Birsa Munda suffered rigorous imprisonment which led to his untimely death in the prison itself. The movement he launched was aimed at reviving the existing society and reconstructing it on the lofty principles that were destroyed by the alien rule. The underlying object of the Birsa movement was internal purification. Along with it was associated the desire to remove the colonial Government and put an end to an oppressive agrarian system and other feudal practices.

The anti-British credo of Munda's movement led to the mobilization of both tribals and non-tribals which can be linked o our freedom struggle and the national awakening. As in other socio-religious movements of the 19th century, Birsa Munda laid emphasis on religious reforms, social uplift and cultural regeneration. As a matter of fact, several subsequent socio-religious movements in the region bore a close resemblance to his movements.

Birsa Munda played a notable role in uniting the Munda people for their political emancipation and infused in them the spirit of nationalism. By starting the 'Birsait' cult, he gave them a leadership and a code of life. He organised volunteers to fight the British Government and gave the slogan of the 'Abua Raj' to his people to 'End the Kingdom of Queen'. During the revolt of 1899-1900 against the British Raj, the charismatic Birsa emerged as the supreme leader of the Mundas and the tribal movement in the region.

Birsa and his followers, imbued with a lofty mission of service to the suffering humanity, rekindled the dying members of people's enthusiasm. When Chota Nagpur was hit by a ravaging epidemic, it was Birsa, the savior of his people, who served the deprived and the distressed with tireless zeal. "Dharti Abba" (Father of the Earth) as he was called affectionately was so committed to the welfare of his people, that the distressed believed in his healing touch for relief.

Today, as we remember Birsa Munda, we have to think of the problems facing the tribals. It is a stark reality that the tribals form some of the most disadvantaged sections of the Indian society. We cannot build a progressive and just society unless we succeed in our endeavour to improve the quality of their life and give them a better tomorrow.

It is befitting that the statue of a great revolutionary and a vocal champion of tribals rights should be installed in the Parliament House. By installing the statue of Birsa Munda, we are honouring the memory of a great social reformer, a constructive genius and above all, an ardent nationalist.

I am confident that the statue of Birsa Munda in the Parliament House Complex will be a source of inspiration and encouragement to all of us. A strong, united, progressive and compassionate India is the most enduring memorial for Birsa Munda. Let us rededicate ourselves to the noble ideals cherished and nurtured by Birsa Munda.

Thank you,


MISS FRIDA TOPNO, M.P., CHAIRPERSON, BIRSA MUNDA STATUE COMMITTEE, ROURKELA, ORISSA

Respected Sri K. R. Narayanan, Hon'ble President of India, Sri Krishna Kant, Hon'ble Vice-President , Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Hon'ble Prime Minister, Sri G.M.C. Balayogi, Hon'ble Speaker Lok Sabha, Donor Sri Arvind Pande, Chairman SAIL, distinguished guests, Members of the Council of Ministers, Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen.

We express our profound gratitude to Sri K. R. Narayanan, Hon'ble President of India for unveiling the statue of Birsa Munda. Our gratitude to Sri Krishna Kant, Hon'ble Vice-president , Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Hon'ble Prime Minister, Sri G.M.C. Balayogi, Hon'ble Speaker Lok Sabha for joining us to pay tribute to the legendary tribal son of India. We are over whelmed by the presence of the galaxies of dignitaries.

Birsa Munda Statue Committee Rourkela, constituted in 1982 installed a bronze statue of Birsa Munda on 15th Nov. 84. On its initiative postal stamp on Birsa Munda was released on 15th Nov. 88 and his portrait was unveiled in the Central Hall of the Parliament on 16th Oct., 89.

Committee instituted Birsa Munda Award in 1994. The Award comprises one lakh rupees a Citation and a bronze statue of Birsa Munda. The Award has been taken up by HRD Ministry. The Award is presented to a person of eminence dedicated to the cause of Tribals, down troddens and destitutes. The first Award was presented to late Sri Rajiv Gandhi in 1995, second to Rani Guidenliu in 1996 and third to late Mother Teressa in 1998. We appeal to the HRD Ministry to raise the amount to five lakhs to make it an International Award.

We visited Central Jail Ranchi, Room No. 5 on 16th June, 97, where Birsa Munda breathed his last on 9th June, 1900. The room is still used to lodge criminals. We appeal the Govt. to convert it into a memorial in memory of Birsa Munda. Our Committee has decided to instal a bronze statue of Birsa Munda on 9th June 2000 when we shall observe the centenary celebration of his martyrdom.

Birsa Munda's body was consigned to flame at Jamnia Dhoda Nala close to now Saheed Birsa Munda Kendriya Karagar Ranchi. The land is under the possession of the owner of Ranchi distilery. We appeal the Govt. to take possession on the land and construct a befitting memorial. We also appeal the Govt. to change the name of Ranchi Airport to "Birsa Munda Airport".

Birsa Munda Statue Committee has been trying to set up "Birsa Munda Tribal Cultural Research Centre" on popularly known Birsa Maidan at Rourkela. We appeal Govt. to advise SAIL and the Govt. of Orissa to hand over Birsa Maidan to the committee for the noble cause. We request the Hon'ble Prime Minister to lay the foundation stone on 15th Nov. 98 on the occasion of 123rd birth day of Birsa Munda.

Birsa Munda is called "Dharti Abba" and worshipped by us as "Birsa Bhagwan". He represents our cultural identity. The installation of his statue in the premises of Parliament House will continue to remind us his heroic heroic struggle against British Raj and his clarion call "Maharani Raj tundu jana odo: Abua Raj ete: jana". We thank SAIL for donating the statue for installation.

May I take this opportunity to request our Hon'ble Speaker Lok Sabha to take necessary steps so that Nation continues to pay tribute to this great son of India in the Parliament House every year on 15th November on the occasion of his birth day.

 


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