Mains Practice Question


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Explore the impact of Birsa Munda's actions on the social and political fabric of India during the late 19th and early 20th centuries


  • Birsa Munda, born on November 15, 1875, emerged during a period of significant transformation for his community. The Mundas, originally a nomadic hunting tribe that had transitioned to farming in the Chotanagpur district of present-day Jharkhand, faced severe challenges due to oppressive policies and events.
  • Before colonial rule, land ownership in this region was governed by the "khuntkatti" system, based on customary rights and free from landlords.
  • The introduction of the Permanent Settlement Act of 1793 marked a turning point, facilitating colonial penetration into rural India. The East India Company used this law to establish the zamindari system of land revenue collection, creating two distinct classes: the land-owning zamindars, seen as outsiders or "dikus" by the indigenous people, and the tenant farmers or "ryots."


  • The Act allowed the dikus to claim ownership through deeds specifying particular territories, displacing indigenous people and depriving them of land they had cultivated for generations.
  • Additional oppressive policies worsened the community's plight, including the "begar" system of forced labor, dependency on money lenders for credit, and the replacement of traditional clan councils with colonial courts.
  • The famines of 1896–1897 and 1899–1900 further led to widespread hunger among the tribes.
  • British rule and the increasing presence of Christian missionaries in the area fueled tribal resentment towards the dikus.
  • Between 1886 and 1890, Munda spent much of his time in Chaibasa, a center of the Sardari rebellion, where the Oraon and Munda tribes peacefully resisted British authority.
  • This period inspired Munda to join the anti-missionary and anti-colonial movements. By the time he left Chaibasa in 1890, he was deeply committed to fighting British oppression of tribal communities.
  • In 1899, Birsa Munda initiated the Ulgulan movement, employing guerrilla warfare and weapons to expel the foreigners. He urged the tribes to establish Birsa Raj and defy colonial laws and rent demands.
  • Despite their efforts, the British quickly suppressed the movement due to their superior strength. Munda was captured by British police on March 3, 1900, while resting with his guerrilla force in the Jamkopai jungle of Chakradharpur.
  • The movement did, however, lead to significant changes, including the government's repeal of the begar system and the enactment of the Tenancy Act of 1903, which recognised the khuntkhatti system. Later, the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 prohibited the transfer of tribal land to non-tribals
Other Points to Consider

Ulgulan movement

Other tribal movements




Previous Year Questions

1.How did the colonial rule affect the tribals in India and what was the tribal response to the colonial oppression? (2023)

20-Jun 2024