Looking for Birsa Munda-112 years after his death (With Images)June 8th, 2012 - 4:21 pm ICT by IANS
Ranchi, June 8 (IANS) He is ‘bhagwan’ (god) to his people. But the jail cell in Ranchi where young tribal revolutionary Birsa Munda, who rose up against British rule, breathed his last on June 9, 1900 is no shrine.
Caught in a bureaucratic wrangle, what should have been feted as a symbol of resistance and a piece of Indian history is just another neglected room in the Old Birsa Munda jail complex in the Jharkhand capital.
There is even talk that the jail, now abandoned, could be converted into a mall.
There’s a Birsa Munda airport, a Birsa Munda zoo, statues in his honour but the jail cell in which 25-year-old Birsa died, just four months after he was captured by the British, lies forgotten by most.
“The cell’s roof is profusely leaking, weeds can be seen in abundance, the floors are deteriorating, the stairs are breaking down,” said Shree Deo Singh, the Jharkhand convener of the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
“The cell is painted every year when dignitaries visit it. Otherwise, it looks totally deserted and unattended,” Singh told IANS.
“No visitor or tourist is allowed into the jail complex or the cell since the building now houses a police battalion,” he said.
But there could finally be some hope.
The home department, headed by Chief Minister Arjun Munda, wants to develop the old jail, lying empty since the prisoners were shifted to a new building. He visited the jail in April.
“We are in the process of hiring a consultant and asking for a detailed project report,” Satendra Singh, inspector general (Prisons), told IANS.
INTACH too, on the directions of the the art, culture, sports and youth affairs department, had submitted a report.
But given the laxity of the past, Shree Deo Singh is not very optimistic.
“There is no progress on the restoration work. On the other hand, there was news that the government is planning to convert the jail to a mall, keeping just the cell building intact,” he said.
Satendra Singh denied this. “There are no plans to construct a mall.”
But there is no denying the tussle on who should develop the jail.
“The jail is under the home department. We have requested them to hand it to us for restoration. It is in the process. We want to conserve it as it was,” an official of the art and culture department, who did not want to be named, told IANS.
“We want to make it a protected monument. We want to start light and sound shows.”
The last days of Birsa, seen as a messiah by tribals at the age of 25, in Ranchi jail were tragic.
Writer Mahashweta Devi had given a detailed description of Birsa’s death in the jail in her 1977 Bengali novel “Aranyer Adhikar”. Here’s a translated extract:
“Now there was the shadow of death on his face. Anderson touched his pulse. Around nine, the pulse, after slowing down, stopped. Suddenly the body lost its stiffness. The twisted brow dissolved. The face was still and calm. Other than death, no one else could bring this calmness to Birsa Munda’s body.
“At nine he died. Then, the shackles were taken off his hands and feet. While he was alive, in the solitary cell when he was suffering from unknown, incurable disease, it was not possible to unshackle him. It was hard to trust him. Not the Hul of the santhalis, not the battle for the nation of the sardars, Birsa had given the call for ‘Ulgulaan’ great revolt.”
Birsa’s revolutionary spirit still lives among the tribal people, a senior government officer told IANS. In fact, even now the war cry of the Bihar regiment is “Birsa Munda Ki Jai”.
“The people have been divided into different groups, parties. Today, there is no leader (like Birsa) to unify them. But if they come together, they can achieve anything,” he said.
Like in the book, when Shiben, the sweeper who was ordered to cremate Birsa secretly in Kokar, came shouting that night: “Ulgulaan never ends. Bhagwan never dies.”
(Sourabh Gupta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Tags: affairs department, art culture, bhagwan, birsa munda, chief minister, convener, cultural heritage, culture sports, deo, detailed project, dignitaries, indian history, jail cell, laxity, national trust, police battalion, restoration work, shree, wrangle, youth affairs