Independence Day for Indians brings back remembrances to sacrifices of freedom fighters who envisioned India as an independent free bird; free from the hands of all external forces and stand united as one secular, socialist, democratic republic.
For independence, each and every region was fighting their own war. Many of the protests against the British were led by tribal heroes. Their fight was for their land and most importantly, their people. India has witnessed their struggle turning into a revolution without the use of equipment like bombs and tanks. Let’s take a look at some of the tribal freedom fighters:
Pride of Sonakhan, Chattisgarh Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh looted trader’s grain stock and distributed them amongst poor after the 1856 famine.
He was then arrested by the British, but managed to escape the prison with the help of other prisoners and reached Sonakhan.
As it was with people across the country, the people of Sonakhan had joined the revolt of 1857 against the British. Veer Narayan Singh formed an army of just 500 men and rose up against the British army, which was led by Deputy Commissioner Smith.
After hours of fighting, Veer Narayan Singh was again arrested and was sentenced to death on charges of sedition.
The sacrifice of Veer Narayan Singh made him a tribal leader and he became the first martyr from Chhattisgarh in the independence struggle of 1857.
Birsa Munda was a tribal hero from the tribal belt of Chotanagpur. Though he died at the age of 25, he is still remembered as a freedom fighter, religious leader and folk hero. He believed in the importance of cultural roots and influenced people to understand the importance of land and the rights that they possess with the land.
He soon realized the intention of the British was to loot their lands and push the people into the deep pit of poverty and bonded labour. He fought against the forceful seizure of land and raised a rebellion against the British and the middlemen. Under his leadership, many protests took place making his vision into a revolution. He was arrested and passed away in prison on June 9, 1900.
A brave son of Andhra Pradesh, Alluri Seetha Ram Raju sacrificed his life in the freedom struggle against the British. He is known as “Manyam Veerudu” (“Hero of the Jungle”) by the local people. He was a revolutionary at heart from a very young age. He inspired tribals to stand united as one against the British. He taught them guerrilla warfare—so that they can not only safeguard themselves, but also fight against the English army.
He led the Rampa Rebellion of 1922 in the Godavari districts, which are a part of today’s Andhra Pradesh. In these areas, the land was extensively occupied by tribals and the British wanted to make use of it for commercial purposes. The rebellion broke out in August 1922 and took the form of guerilla warfare, ending in May 1924 with the capture and shooting of Raju.
Rani Gaidhinliu was a Naga leader from Manipur known for her armed resistance against the British. Gaidinliu joined the Heraka movement in 1927, with an aim to end the British rule and establish the self-rule of Nagas. By the time she was 16, she became a leader of guerrilla forces fighting against the British rulers.
In a surprise attack, she along with her followers were arrested by the English troops and was then taken to Imphal where she was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Due to her excellent efforts in the freedom struggle, she was given the title of “Rani” by Jawaharlal Nehru who freed her from jail after independence. Rani Gaidinliu continued to work for the welfare of her people even after her release.
Brothers and tribal freedom fighters Sidhu Murmu and Kanhu Murmu fought with their bows and arrows against the British in the Santhal Revolt of 1855. The revolt was organized against the Zamindars and British who auctioned away large tracts of land belonging to the Santhals, resulting in loss of land and mass exploitation.
The Murmu Bothers led a movement of liberation which turned into a full-fledged war between the Santhals and East India Company’s army. Almost 20,000 Santhals were killed in the rebellion as they stood no chance against the weapons used by the company. Sidhu and Kanhu fought till their last breath and in the end succumbed to their injuries.
You can watch Adivasi Lives Matter’s video on tribal freedom fighters here.
About the author: Jyotsna Hans is a content writer for Adivasi Lives Matter. She is pursuing her undergraduate degree in law. She is fond of good food, good reads and good places to travel. “Through my articles, I tend to bring all tribal goodness in the limelight”, she says.