Tilka Manjhi and Telanga Kharia, one from Bhagalpur, another from Gumla, Jharkhand who lead an intense tribal resistance against the British in the forests of Jharkhand-Bihar.
Thread on these two not so well known heroes.
Jharkhand whose name literally means “Bush land” or “Forest land” had a long history of resistance to the British colonial rule. Among the numerous tribes that make up the state, the Santhals are one of the dominant ones.
Located primarily in the south eastern part of the Chotanagpur plateau and Midnapore in West Bengal. While they lived in the valley, the Mal Paharias primarily inhabited the hills.
The British acquired the Junglemahal region, primarily covering Midnapore, Burdwan, Birbhum and Bankura, from Siraj-ud-daulah in 1750, followed by taking over the Santhal Parganas, Chotanagpur in 1765, and the entire Dewani of Bengal, Bihar, Odisha after their victory at Buxar.
With the East India Company directly collecting taxes, they collaborated with the mahajans( money lenders) to grab the tribal land against unpaid loans. The tribals were in effect reduced to tenants or laborers on their own lands.
Also the British followed a policy of divide and rule, pitting the hill dwelling Paharias who were more nomadic, followed the Jhum( slash and burn) cultivation, against the Santhals who lived in the valley and practiced a more settled form of cultivation.
Tilka Manjhi who raised the first major revolt against the British exploitation was born on February 11, 1750 in a small village near Sultanganj in Bhagalpur district. While it was not clear, whether he was a Paharia or Santhal, his real name was Jabra Paharia.
He got the moniker of Tilka from a local Paharia term meaning “a man with angry red eyes” owing to his fiery rebellious nature, while Manjhi was due to his position as the head of the village later.
At the age of 20 itself, Tilka Manjhi was rallying the tribals in Bhagalpur against the Company rule, urging them to reclaim what was their rightful lands. The trigger was the devastating famine that hit Bengal in 1770
Over 10 million starved to death and Bihar, Santhal Parganas were the worst hit areas. The Company instead of providing assistance, collected taxes even more forcibly from the starving peasants and tribals.
Tilka Manjhi rode on the anger of the masses against the Company rule, as he made a daring raid on the treasury at Bhagalpur, overpowered the guards and distributed the money among the peasants and tribals.
This event, made him popular in the eyes of the long suffering masses, as he became a Robin Hood figure of sorts. Warren Hastings, then Governor of Bengal, sent an 800 strong forced under Captain Brook to capture Tilka and crush the revolt.
However inspite of the atrocities inflicted on the Santhals, they failed to capture him. By 1778, Tilka Manjhi united all the various tribes in Jharkhand, Bihar, as he launched an attack on the Ramgarh cantonment.
So furious was the assault, that the British with all their advanced weaponry could not counter, the tribals with very primitive weapons. Realizing the threat, the British appointed August Cleveland, a very shrewd oficer as the Collector in charge of Bhagalpur, Munger
Cleveland, used the typical divide and rule tactics, learning Santhali to communicate better with the natives, giving tax exemptions, and also raising an army unit from the hill tribes.
The tactic worked as around 40 tribes in the Santhal Parganas region, accepte the Company’s authority. Though Cleveland tried to win Tilka over by offering him a position in the army, as well as granting tax exemptions, he refused to fall for their luring.
He kept organizing the various tribes, sending messages on sal groups to those which had not accepted the British rule, as he managed to win their support. He then made a daring raid on Bhagalpur in 1784 taking the British by surprise.
Cleveland was killed when a poison tipped arrow from Tilka’s bow hit him, as they retreated to the jungles again. The raid on Bhagalpur, and Cleveland’s death rattled the British even more, as they sent a strong force under Lt. Gen Eyre Coote to end Tilka’s revolt and capture him
With one of his own men betraying his location to the British, Tilka had to flee in the face of a British attack on his hideout. While Tilka managed to escape, many of his fellow comrades, were killed in the raid.
Though Tilka still carried out the raids from the forests near to Bhagalpur, the British blocked all the routes, leaving him with no option but to engage with them in the open. He was finally captured on January 12,1785, with his hungry and tired forces being overpowered.
He was executed on January 13,1785 in one of the most brutal manner ever. Tied to horses, he was dragged for miles, and then hanged from a banyan tree. He was just 35 when he laid down his life for the cause of freedom.
Tilka Manjhi’s sacrifice would not go in vain,he inspired many other tribal revolts in Jharkhand, like the Santhal revolt of the Murmu brothers, and later Birsa Munda’s.
A statue of him has been erected at the Bhagalpur court, where he was hanged, while the University at Bhagalpur has been named after him too. Many Santhali folk songs sing about his bravery and sacrifice.
Antother such hero from Jharkhand, belonged to the Kharia tribe, primarily found in the East Singhbum, Gumla and Simdega districts and Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, while in Bengal, they are concentrated in Purulia, along with West Midnapur and Bankura.
They are primarily divided into three groups- Hill, Delki and Dudh Kharia. Telang Kharia born on February 9, 1806, at Murugu village of Jharkhand’s Gumla district, to Thunya Kharia, a storekeeper in the palace of the Chotanagpur Nagvansi king of Ratu, and Ratni Kharia.
A brave, honest lad by nature, who like most of his tribe members was involved in agriculture and animal husbandry. He often was witness to debates on social, political issues in the court of the king, which made him develop a deep interest in them.
From a long time, the Kharias had their own traditional , autonomous form of self-governance, called the Parha system. The sytem however was under threat from the British who had established their rule over the Chotanagpur region.
The tribals now had to pay revenue called malgujari on their own land which they had been cultivating for centuries. Reduced to penury, exploited by the local zamindars and sahukars, who were hand in glove with the British, they led a miserable life.
Forever under the threat of debt, their lands were confiscated by the sahukars when they could not repay the loans. It was against this oppresive setup that Telanga Kharia began his revolt, organizing people and raising awareness in them.
He created a parallel form of Government setting up Jury Panchayats all across Gumla, Simdega, Sisai, Kolebira and Chainpur. He set up Akharas to train his followers in usage of arms, wrestling, and raised an army of around 1500 trained men.
Using guerilla tactics, he began to launch a series of ambush attacks against the British, and their stooges. From 1850-60, Telanga led an intense revolt against the British in Chotanagpur, as he primarily launched attacks from his forest hideout to avoid detection.
However with one of the Zamindar’s agents informing the British about his presence, they surrounded the Jury Panchayat, and arrested him. He was first sent to Lohardaga prison and later on to Kolkata, where he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
After his release from prison, he again met his followers at the Sisai Akhara, with an intention to renew the movement. With the information reaching the British, they planned to get rid of him now.
April 23, 1860
Telanga was offering his prayers at the Sisai Akhara, when one of the British agents Bodhan Singh, ambushed and shot him dead, as he collapsed on the spot
However his followers immediately carried his body to the forest, so that the Britishers could not find his corpse. Crossing the Koel river, they burried his body at the Soso Neem Toli village of Gumla district.
This place is now known as Telanga Topa Tand, and is a pilgrimage spot for the Kharia community. His sacrifice is commemorated by the Adivasis here annually on this date, and a week long Sahid Telanga Mela is organized at the Dhedhouli village of Gumla district.
While most of us know about Birsa Munda, not many are aware of Tilka Manjhi and Telanga Kharia, outside of Bihar-Jharkhand, tributes to these 2 heroes, whose revolts inspired others. And thanks for following this long thread of mine on them.
Credit – @sadaashree
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