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Tilka Manjhi

I - Day 2018 Home page

By Sujit Chaudhury

India is a 7000 years old living civilization and its history  is covered under multiple layers of facts and events. History is always chronicled by the powerful as a result of which the history of the natives of  India, the Tribal and marginalized people remain hidden under dust of time. The Manjhi Revolt against the British empire is one such forgotten event in Indian history. Tilka Manjhi was a tribal leader from the  Chhotanagpur hills. He was the first freedom fighter who fought against the British empire with bows and arrows, long before Mangal Pandey took up arms against the empire.

Around 1770, Santhal Pargana was severely affected by drought and people were dying of hunger.  The British East India Company in power, instead of providing food and relief to the people started exploiting the tribal communities. Tilka Manjhi organized the adivasis and revolted against the British oppression in 1772. To stop the revolution Lord Clive used the divide and rule policy by bringing few local tribal leaders under the British by forgiving their revenue. But Tilka Manjhi understood their ploy and he organized the tribal communities under one armed group to fight against the British exploitation and tyranny. Tilka, also popularly known as Jabra Paharia made this movement a mass movement and circulated a message written on Sal leaf that said “We must be united” and it has become famous as Manjhi Revolt.

To stop the Manjhi revolt, the erstwhile Governor General Hastings sent 800 British soldiers under the  command of Captain Brook. Brook kept suppressing the tribal for 2 years, followed by James Brown and then August Cleveland, who came as superintendent of Rajmahal region to suppress the voice of tribal. In January 1784, Tilka attacked 29 year old Cleveland with bows and arrows in which Cleveland died. Tilka Manjhi disappeared in the Tilapore forest and started guerilla war against British. The British army surrounded the forest, but he and his men held the enemy at bay for several weeks before he was caught in 1785. After his capture, the British tied him to a horse and dragged him all the way to the Bhagalpur in Bihar, India. There his lacerated body was hung from a Banyan tree publicly. A statue of Tilka Manjhi was erected at the spot where he was hanged, after Indian independence in Bhagalpur.

Tilka Manjhi’s fight against the British colonial power was the first in a long series of Tribal resistance in this region. It was followed by Bhumij Revolt in Manbhum in 1798, the Chero Uprising in Palamau (1810), the Munda uprising in Tamar (1819-1820), the Kol rebellion (1833), the Second Bhumij Revolt (1834) and the Santhal Hool (1855).

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