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Remembering Jaipal Singh Munda: The forgotten great Adivasi intellectual of India
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Remembering Jaipal Singh Munda: The forgotten great Adivasi intellectual of India

Chevuri Sathish Kumar                                                                                                               

The notion of Adivasi has entered the consciousness of the tribal people. The identity that was forced upon them from the outside precisely to mark their differences from the dominant community has now been internalized by the tribal people themselves. Not only has it become an important marker of social differentiation and identity assertion, it is also an important tool for the articulation of the demand for empowerment[i]. The Adivasi discourse was started by Jaipal Singh Munda in the early 20th Century. Jaipal Singh Munda was inspired by Birsa Munda’s social movement. Birsa Munda led the social movement against Indian Zamindars and the British raj with the historic slogan ‘abua: dishom abua raaj’ (‘our country, our rule’).

Jaipal Singh Munda started to mobilize the Adivasi peoples under the Adivasi Mahasabha, which later changed into the Jharkhand party of Bihar, to fight for their own territory. That territory became Jharkhand state in present times. Jaipal Singh Munda’s political movement was accepted by the Adivasis and he was conferred the title of ‘Marang Gomke’ (‘supreme leader’). He was also inspired by the uprisings, revolts, movements of Adivasi leaders like Kanhu’s Hul (1853-54).

From his life experiences, we can perceive that he was an impressive personality with great skills in different streams: an intellectual, academician, orator, sportsman, writer, mass leader turned politician. He always fought for the rights of the Adivasis with laying emphasis on their geographical identity, separate identity and cultural identity. Jaipal Singh Munda strongly raised the question of the establishment of an ethnic state with traditional tribal self-rule within the democratic system, free from internal colonialism[ii] His life journey is a source of inspiration to all Adivasi societies.

On 3 January 1903, he was born to Amru Pahan and Radhamuni in Takra Pahantoli, Khunti (Jharkhand). His family had given him the name Pramod Pahan, which was later changed to Jaipal Singh Munda. He belongs to the Munda tribe in Jharkhand. Jaipal started his early childhood education at St Paul Primary school, Takra and St. Paul English School, Ranchi (1908-1917). With the help of Christian missionaries, he got the opportunity to go to England to pursue his higher studies. He joined in St. Augustina College, Canterbury, England(1918-1919).

In 1922, he matriculated from St. John’s College, Oxford. It is here that his hockey talents were first discovered and chosen as a regular player (1923-1928). He was the first Asian to win the title of ‘Oxford Hockey Blue’. From (1924-1925), while studying and playing hockey, he was very active in student politics and was elected as general secretary and president of the Debating society of St. John’s college, Oxford. He started to write a regular column in the sports journal of Oxford University named ‘ICS’. During his Oxford University days, he used to write in the newspapers ‘Adivasi, ‘Adivasi Sakam’, ‘Abua Jharkhand’ and ‘Hira Nagpur’. He also wrote in the famous periodical ‘The Times’. He founded the Indian Students Hockey Federation, England.

He completed his BA from Oxford in 1926. In 1927, he was selected  for the ICS. His hockey achievements were recognized in India and and he was appointed as Captain of the hockey team which was sent to the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928.  But later he left the captaincy due to racial discrimination. He took the daring step to quit the ICS to play hockey for India. He dedicated his life to the game. He was offered a job with Burmah Shell Oil Storage and Distributing Company of India, London. In 1929, he completed his Master of Arts in Economics from St. John’s College, London. From 1929 to 1936, he worked at various job positions in Calcutta, Bombay, in different government organizations.

In 1932, he got married to Tara Mazumdar in Darjeeling. In 1934, worked as a Lecturer of Commerce at Achimota College, Gold Coast ,Ghana (Africa). He returned to India and became the Revenue and Foreign Minister of Bikaner State, Rajasthan and in 1937, he was appointed as Vice Principal of Rajkumar College, Raipur. Then he returned to Ranchi. Jaipal was concerned about Adivasi issues and wanted to work for their rights. All the Adivasi leaders requested him to accept the position of the President of the Adivasi Mahasabha in 1938. On January 20th 1939, he was elected as President-designate of the Mahasabha. From that day, he became the captain of the movement. He constantly mobilized and gave direction to the Adivasi people to carry bows and arrows, and dance at every meeting to show their cultural identity. In his first speech, he asked for a separate Jharkhand state.

“The Adivasi Movement stands primarily for the moral and Material advancement of Chotanagpur and the Santhal parganas, for economic and political freedom of the aboriginal tracts. The real danger however is that with the transfer of land revenue and law and order to popular ministries, far-reaching legislative changes are taking place which affect the welfare of the aboriginal tribes adversely. Opposition by the forest subordinates, high rate of imposition of forest offences, and  the restriction of rights of grazing and extraction of fuel, grass and edible fruits, all lend to make the forest aboriginal disaffected. Our complicated system of law and legal procedure is entirely unsuited to the needs of an aboriginal population. We will be content with nothing less than an existence of our own, a separate province, separate Government, a separate administration[iii]”.

Whenever he visited any region, he started the trend of carrying the traditional symbols of the Adivasis—the bows, arrows and green headgear—at every meeting. The Congress party was working for the independence of the country, from early 20th century. The Adivasis had their own demand, which the Adivasi Mahasabha raised : we want a separate territory. With this motto, the Adivasi Mahasabha won the maximum seats in the district board elections in Ranchi and Singhbhum. The Congress lost its popularity at the ground level because of the massive victory of the Adivasis. In 1940, he demanded the Congress to allocate 1/3rd of total budget for development of Jharkhand, and also the opening of a degree college in Ranchi. He also requested them to give preferences in education and employment opportunities to people of the Jharkhand region based on the percentage of their population.

From 1942-45 he worked in various government positions. In 1946, Jaipal Singh Munda, under the banner of Adivasi Mahasabha, went for elections. His philosophy behind choosing the rooster, the Rangua Muruga (‘colourful rooster’), was as a symbol of his movement,  as a symbol of political resurgence. Jaipal’s won the 1946 election and had enough MLAs to enter the Constituent Assembly and the Provincial parliament. In 1946, he participated in the Constituent Assembly and proposed making tribals’ land rights a fundamental right. From 1946 to 1949, he remained a member of the Constituent Assembly for excluded and partially excluded tribal areas (except Assam).

In 1947, he established the ‘Adivasi Labour Federation’. In 1950, Adivasi Mahasabha converted into a political party with the name ‘Jharkhand Party’. With the motivation and the speeches of the Jaipal Singh Munda, it went for 1952 election with the election sign of ‘Murga’ (Cock). The Jharkhand party won 30 MLA seats and 4 MP seats. Munda got elected as an MP from Khunti. In 1954, he submitted a proposal for the creation of a separate Jharkhand state to the State Reformation Committee . In 1957, Jharkhand party won 34 MLA and 5 MP seats. From 1957-62, he remained as MP from Khunti. In the 1962 election, Jharkhand party won 22 MLAs and 5 MPs. In 1963, Jharkhand Party merged with the Congress; Munda took oath as the Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar at Ranchi. He was a Minister for only 23 days. In 1967, he was elected as MP from Khunti for the 4th time on the Congress ticket. In 1970, he rejoined the Jharkhand party in Ranchi. From 1967 to 1970, Jaipal Singh Munda suffered from ill health and finally passed away on 20 March 1970 in Delhi.

The significant contributions of Jaipal Singh Munda

The consciousness of statehood for Jharkhand was started by Jaipal Singh Munda. Later,  the Jharkhand state was formed in 2000 after a long struggle waged by Adivasis and their leaders. Hockey became a popular sport in India because of him; many Adivasi students took to hockey and were very emotionally involved in it, playing in several national and international events. From the legendary Michael Kindo to players like Birendra Lakra, Amit Rohidas and Deep Grace Ekka were part of the men’s and women’s hockey teams at the Tokyo Olympics recently[iv] . For his contribution to the cause of Adivasis, the Governments honoured him with recognition by building a multipurpose stadium in his name.[v]

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Notes and References

[i] Xaxa, V. (2008). State, society, and tribes: Issues in post-colonial India. Pearson Education India.

[ii]  Pankaj, A. K. (2017). Adivasidom, Selected  writings & speeches of Jaipal Singh Munda, published by Pyara Kerketta Foundation

[iii]  Kiro, S. (2020). The Life and Times of Jaipal Singh Munda. Prabhat Prakashan.

[iv] https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/jaipal-singh-munday-paved-way-on-hockey-field-off-it-7562819/

[v] https://jantamanch.com/sports/jaipal-singh-stadium-junkyard

http://adivasiresurgence.com/2018/08/09/jaipal-singh-munda-visionary-adivasi-intellectual-modern-india/

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Chevuri Sathish Kumar has an M.A. History from University of Hyderabad. He is currently a Ph.D. research Scholar at the Dept. of History, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow.

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