Bhagwan Birsa in Arunachal

Mechukha diary

Birsa Munda in Arunachal Pradesh? A tribal hero from the mainland in another tribal land speaking about his fight against the British government, his becoming a terrorist in government documents and his people’s struggle for jal, jangal aur zameen (water, forest and land) — is it not intriguing? Well, nothing like that happened. So how did Birsa Munda come to the North East? Stories of great men like Munda just flow.
A waterfall on the way to Mechukha is called Birsa Munda Falls. “What is the name of the waterfall? Naam yaad nehi aa raha hain (cannot remember the name),” the driver of the Sumo ferrying passengers from Aalo to Mechukha threw the question in the air and added that he knew the name but it just slipped out of his mind. There was a prolonged silence suggesting that none of the passengers knew the answer.
A stranger in the land, I was eagerly waiting for the answer. “Deb babu kya naam tha (Deb babu what is the name),” the driver now asked the question to a specific passenger.
“Birsa Munda Falls,” pat came the answer. I was surprised. How did the name come? The army, the knowledgeable driver informed. “Where is the waterfall dada (brother),” I asked.
“Oh we crossed it. In winter, it is only a trickle and there is nothing much to see,” said the driver. I looked helplessly at the tourists/visitors crowding the bridge beside which ran Birsa Munda Falls. I was disappointed to miss my chance of photographing the waterfall so that I could show it to my Jharkhandi friends.
“Can we stop for picture?” “Sorry madam, we are already running late and stopping would mean going back. Please don’t mind, huh.”
What could I say other than sulk to myself. As the vehicle moved on, I tried to enquire why the waterfall was named after a tribal hero from Jharkhand. Nobody could explain. “The army’s wish,” said the knowledgeable driver.
For those who do not know Birsa Munda, here is a brief introduction. Birsa Munda, who belonged to the Munda tribe, was a freedom fighter who led the ulgulan (revolution) against the British rulers in the late 19th century. He fought for the cause of tribal rights on land, water and forest resources. So strong was his clout in the Chhotanagpur region that Birsa was referred to as Bhagwan Birsa. Sahitya Akademi-award winning writer Mahashweta Devi’s book Aranyer Adhikar was based on the hero’s life.
The Munda leader fought for the same rights which many tribes in different parts of India are still fighting for. Far away from Chhotanagpur, palash and mahua, Birsa remains relevant even in Arunachal Pradesh and the rest of the North East. His cry for ulgulan resonates every time tribal rights are violated. The Bhagwan is an inspiration in this time of divisive politics and protests.

~ NM

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