Munda Rebellion



  • The Munda Ulgulan (rebellion) is one of the most prominent tribal revolts in the history of Indian Independence.
  • Even though the end was not favourable, it sent a message across the borders that the tribal people know how to raise their voice and to what extent.



  • The Munda was a tribe based in Chhota Nagpur of Jharkhand whose means of living was agriculture.
  • The cause of this uprising was similar to that of other rebellions – the British Colonizers, Zamindars and Missionaries.
  • The Mundas practiced Khuntkatti System, where the whole clan jointly owned the land fit for cultivation.
    • However, over the course of 19th century, the non-tribal people started to settle in the land of Munda and became Jagirdars and zamindars.
    • The land owned by Mundas were seized or forfeited and they were forced to work as landless labourers in the fields of these Jagirdars and zamindars.
    • They exploited these meek tribal people by charging them high rate of interest and withholding their receipts. Such practices brought the indigenous people in conflict with Dikus (outsiders).
  • Further, large forest areas was constituted as the protected forest and took away their rights from these lands.
    • The landlords and Dikus (outsiders) strengthened their hold over the properties of the Mundas and demanded begari (wageless labour).
    • The holders of lands were reduced to holders of plough.
    • As a result, their condition got worse and they lost their grip over ancestral land.
    • Thus, the people of Munda tribe were desperately in need of a person, who could show them the way and lead them to fight back for their land.


The Rebellion

  • It was at this time, Birsa Munda, spearheaded the tribal movement.
  • Born in 1875, he began to understand the nature of exploitation met out against his tribal villagers.
    • He had knowledge about the Golden Age of Munda tribe, which existed before the advent of dikus and had seen its transformation into an impoverished tribe.
    • He strived for a positive political programme, his object being the attainment of independence, both religious and political.
    • The movement sought the assertion of the rights of the Mundas, as the real proprietors of the soil.
    • This ideal agrarian order, according to Birsa, would be possible in a world free from the influence of European official
  • As a result, he called upon the Mundas to fight against superstition, give up animal sacrifice, stop taking intoxicants, to wear the sacred thread and retain the tribal tradition of worship in the sarna or the sacred grove.
    • The rebellion, was essentially a revivalist movement, which sought to purge Munda society of all foreign elements and restore its pristine character.
  • Further, by 1890s, he was mobilizing people and enraging the tribal in the region.
    • In 1894, he declared a revolt against the British and the dikus and declared to create a ‘Munda Raj’.
    • Under his leadership, the villagers attacked the police stations, churches and government properties in 1899.
  • However, on 9 January, 1900, the rebels were defeated. Birsa was captured and died in jail. Nearly 350 Mundas were put on trial and of them three were hanged and 44 transported for life.


Significance of the Movement

  • Although the rebellion could not reach the desired end, it left a significant impact on the tribal movement of India.
    • It showed that the tribal people had the capacity to protest against injustice and express their anger against colonial rule.
  • The British enacted the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 which restricted the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal people.
    • The “Khuntkatti” rights were recognised and ”Beth begari” was banned.
    • Consequently, tribals won a degree of legal protection for their land rights.
  • Most importantly, Birsa Munda, in just 25 years of age, left a legacy behind him, and he is named among the exceptional freedom fighters of India.

Thus, the sacrifices, devotion and hope poured in the revolt by Munda tribe have its own legacy followed by the people of India.

In news

  • Every year, Birth anniversary of Birsa Munda is observed on November 15th.
  • In recognition of his impact on the national movement, the state of Jharkhand was created on his birth anniversary in 2000.