The tribal people usually do not raise their voice unless their life, livelihood and cultural identity are threatened. During the British colonial rule, such things happened to the forest dwelling tribal peasants. In early 19th century the British rulers ignored the social and economic autonomy of large number of tribal communities residing in the present Jharkhand-Bihar areas. This was augmented by luring the simple tribal people to Christianity. Previously, these nature-worshiper or animist people, accepted the Hindu Vaishnavism during the sojourn of great Vaishnva saint Sri Chaitanya. This did not interfere with their religious practices. But Christian Missionaries hit at the root of their belief in supernatural and social institutions.
When their right on own land was at stake, many tribal communities of Chhota Nagpur area, rose in revolt. Thus there were several revolts by the Munda, the Kol, the Ho, the Oraon and the Kharwar in the early part of nineteenth century. This movement was large scale and prior to it the Mundas had begun showing displeasure since 1789. These were mainly directed against the non-tribal exploiters who were backed by the colonial rules.
Formative period of life of Birsa:
Further, Birsa’s involvement in people’s struggle and his leadership earned him a permanent place in the hearts of the struggling tribal communities. He was looked upon as their saviour. As a young man Birsa was much ahead of his contemporaries in his vision and revitalised the Sardar movement that had started since 1830.
Both the Sardar and Birsa movements had their origin in agrarian exploitation.The Sardars were loyal to the British and the King of Chotanagpur but wanted elimination of exploitative intermediary class. Some became violent in 1892 having no positive political aim and plan. Birsa’s aim was to get both political and religious freedom. Finding no way out, the Sardars joined Birsa movement to drive out the foreigner and establish Birsa Raj.
Beginning of the Agitation
The government got the distorted picture of Birsa movement. It was alleged that Birsa was instigating the munda people to disobey government orders, and to refuse paying taxes to the government. Birsa followers declared that British rule has ended. The government sent police to arrest them but the Birsa followers could repulse the police and targeted the missionaries. The Birsa followers became cause of worry for the British Government who ordered Birsa’s arrest on charges of treason.
Arrest and Release of Birsa
The District Superintendent of Police executed the arrest warrant of Birsa along with nine of his followers. Birsa was arrested at Chalkad in August 1895 while he was asleep. The police arrested him without much opposition except the scuffle with Birsa. He along with his followers were given two years rigorous imprisonment. He spent most part of prison life in Hazaribagh jail but he was released from Ranchi jail on 30th Nov 1897. He was asked not to indulge in any anti government activities.
Preparation for Uprising
The Birsa followers were inspired by his release and soon increased their activities under the leadership of Birsa. The Birsaites were divided into two groups one to organise revolt and another to deat with religious awareness. The religious group taught the people about the golden age of their ancestors, revival of their lost faith, right on property and about their condition due to exploitation by the Rajas, Zamindars etc. Underground preparation for greater revolt was going on and Birsa infused enthusiasm. He made them understand that under new system of governance, which the followers called “Birsa Raj” , the land and forest would belong to the peasants and therewould be a new religious faith combining traditional beliefs. Birsa made extensive tour of the area and held secret meetings with the Birsaites.
The insurrection of 1899-1900
The insurrection of 1899-1900 spread with the ideas that the Mundas were the real owners of the land, they had to establish Birsa Raj and Birsa religion . On the eve of Christmas, the Birsaites as per their plan started attacking the Christians and Churches of Chakradharpur, Khunti, Torpa, Tamar and Basia. All these incidents created panic among the European people.