This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sumantra Mukherjee. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Revolutionary Role Of Adivasi Women In The Tribal Freedom Movements

More from Sumantra Mukherjee

When we speak of an Adivasi woman, we think of a feeble-looking woman working relentlessly in the fields plucking tea leaves. They belong to tribes like Santhals, Gonds, Bhils, Oraons, etc. who came to Assam from far off places like Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and West Bengal. Today, the tea tribe community is one of the most significant vote-bank in Assam. But what has been the participation of these women in setting the political agenda?

Oswald Spengler, the famous German historian and philosopher, believed that the linear view of history is intellectually dead. So, in the many mutinies and revolutions India witnessed since 1715, perhaps the participation of Adivasi women never made its mark in our history books. During the Santhal Adivasi rebellion of 1855, numerous women participated and were killed. One of them was Tilka Murmu. Then there were Pahariya Mutiny in 1778 in Chota Nagpur, Tamar Mutiny in 1789 and again from 1794-1795, Tanti Mutiny in started in 1786 under the leadership of Harihar Tanti and the famous Sardar Mutiny, which happened in 1830 popularly known as The Great Rebellion started under the leadership of Kate Sardar and his comrades.

These revolutions started when tribal communities witnessed that the British were exploiting their resources and were displacing them from their natural habitats. During those revolts, the participation of women was at par with the men. In 1895 when Birsa Munda gave the clarion call for revolution, several women too joined him. One of them was Sali, who was one of his most trusted comrades and led the revolution with him. One of the most pivotal roles played by women during these revolutions was, they used to smuggle weapons and travel from one unit to another. The bow and arrow were the most used weapons in tribal rebellion. The women used to attach the kaars (finger tabs worn by archers) around their stomach and used to disguise themselves as pregnant women to smuggle it.

In the 1930s, Mungri Oraon became the first female martyr of Assam. She used to work as a domestic worker in the house of a British official and acted as a spy. She used to pass on confidential information to the Indian National Congress (INC). When that British official came to know about it, she was killed. In Assam, the Congress was dominated by the upper-caste, elite Hindus. There were allegations that the tea tribe community was discouraged from participating in the freedom movement. But in spite of these, they participated. There were anecdotes of how Congressmen worked as middlemen to suppress the unrest of labourers and helped the British administration.

There were instances when Congressmen did not encourage freedom struggle movements within the tea gardens. During a meeting of INC in 1934, the issue of treating tea adivasis as untouchables came to the fore. Over the years, Adivasis were recognized for their valour and unity. So, the Congress came up with a plan to initiate class collaboration so that class contradiction does not arise and the Adivasis are forced to make compromises. Thus, in 1948, a year after India’s independence from British Raj, Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangh (ACMS) and Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) were born just to dominate and suppress the class struggles among the working class.

There were women who came up as trade union leaders who made lots of compromises that suppressed the community rights of the Adivasis reducing ACMS to a PR agent of the tea estate management. Thus, coercion was used as a tool to catalyze class collaboration in the tea estates so that no uprisings can deter the business of a tea estate. Post-independence, the role of Adivasi women was politically limited to being transported from one public meeting to another just as a mute audience sitting in the arena, hearing the politicians speak. According to Tapan Sutabanshi (General Secretary of Adivasi People’s Liberation),  four women were killed in Kokrajhar’s Mornai Tea Estate where the Communist struggle was gaining momentum. Three of them were Sagorika Soren, Mipsha Goria and Sita Marandi.

In the book Sargula Exodus, it is mentioned that in Cachar district of Assam, the women of All India Trade Union Congress pro-actively participated in a rebellion at par with the male comrades. Durgi Bhumich was one of the revolutionaries who fought till the end. In one hand where ACMS uses the workers’ movement for the interest of the tea management; on the other hand, they did fear women’s integrity. Therefore they reduced the role of women as puppets with no decision-making capacity. Thus today you will hardly find any Adivasi woman in the frontline politically reducing their role as mute spectators sitting in the public rallies or holding flags and walking in a protest march with no right to voice their rights and opinions on any concern.

(Sumantra Mukherjee is a National Media Fellow, and this article is a part of his work which is supported by National Foundation for India.)

You must be to comment.

More from Sumantra Mukherjee

Similar Posts

By Tuba Afreen

By The Bleed Eco Project

By Meir Syed

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below