India, a mosaic of diverse cultures and traditions, takes pride in commemorating the valour and sacrifices of its courageous warriors who fought for independence. Amidst these celebrations, the significant contributions and struggles of the Janjatiya communities went unnoticed. It took Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who stands out for his unwavering respect and affection for the Janjatiya society and culture, to recognise this valour of the tribal communities.
In a powerful gesture, he has designated the birth anniversary of Bhagwan Birsa Munda as "Janjatiya Gaurav Divas," a day dedicated to acknowledging and honouring the Janjatiya community nationwide. This year marks the third edition of celebrating Bhagwan Birsa Munda's birth anniversary as "Janjatiya Gaurav Divas" with profound reverence, respect, and enthusiasm.
Since its inception, this commemoration has served as a catalyst for recognizing the coexistence of tribal communities, transforming the long-cherished dream of social equality into a tangible reality. It is a poignant moment where the nation comes together to appreciate and embrace the rich heritage of the Janjatiya population.
Bhagwan Birsa Munda wasn't just a protector of the forest; he stood as a guardian of socio-cultural values, sacrificing himself alongside comrades in the fight against the British. Similarly, in various corners of the nation, Janjatiyapeople displayed unwavering determination, steadfastly resisting British rule. Surprisingly, few are aware that the earliest and most impactful resistance against the British emanated from the heart of the country's forests among the resilient Janjatiya society, whose lives and livelihoods revolve around Jal, Jungle and Jameen as they are symbiotically in close relationship with the nature.
From the Pahadia movement spearheaded by Tilka Manjhi to the 'Larka Andolan' led by Budhu Bhagat, the Santhal Hul movement championed by Siddhu Murmu and Kanhu Murmu, the Naga movement steered by Rani Gaidinliu, the Rampaa movement ignited by Alluri Sitaram Raju, the rebellion of the Koya tribe, to the 'Bhagat' movement organised by Govind Guru— the Janjatiya community has left an indelible mark in the extensive tapestry of resistance against British rule.
Birsa Munda, known as 'Dharti Aaba,' waged a formidable battle for his homeland, prompting the British to enact the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy-CNT Act. This pivotal legislation safeguards ancestral forest rights under the banner of 'BhuiharKhunt,' granting ownership rights to water, forests, and land.
In homage to Bhagwan Birsa Munda's relentless struggle and in acknowledgment of historical injustices in tribal regions, the Parliament of India has enacted the Forest Rights Act. Central to Birsa Munda's mission was safeguarding his self-governing community from external influences. Hence, the introduction of laws like PESA becomes crucial to shield traditional systems from outside interference. PESA should align with these age-old systems, seamlessly integrating constitutional provisions. The core concept is to institute a Panchayat system in Scheduled Areas, preserving cultural traditions and the natural order, all while maintaining harmony with nature.
Embracing the formidable task of revitalizing Janjatiya society echoes the timeless principles of Bhagwan Birsa Munda. In doing so, we not only preserve but also celebrate the richness of Janjatiya culture with pride.
The Government of India's Forest Rights Act (FRA) places a significant emphasis on restoration by intertwining it with social harmony. Instead of conferring exclusive rights to a particular group, the Forest Rights Act recognizes the entire human community as equal stakeholders. In the face of diverse challenges, addressing these issues with sensitivity is paramount. All Indians must ensure the preservation of the delicate interdependence of nature. This resonates with the distinctive philosophy of Bhagwan Birsa Munda.
Marking Janjatiya Gaurav Divas is a pivotal gesture in acknowledging and honouring the significant contributions and challenges faced by Janjatiya communities in India. This celebration underscores the government's dedication to the well-being and empowerment of marginalized groups. Through a spectrum of policies, programs, and laws, the government endeavours to uplift these communities and rectify historical injustices.
The Indian Constitution plays a crucial role in protecting the rights of Scheduled Tribes, ensuring their well-being, and fostering inclusivity. Acts such as the Forest Rights Act, PESA, and others have fortified the rights of Janjatiya communities, granting them the power to safeguard their unique way of life. Institutions like TRIFED and NSTFDC have provided vital support and opportunities, enabled the economic advancement of Janjatiya communities while preserving their rich cultural heritage.
For centuries, the Janjatiya communities have been the stewards of their civilization and culture, preserving a rich heritage. Janjatiya Gaurav Divas offers a unique chance to delve into the highly rich traditions, customs, and social-cultural systems of Janjatiya communities.
In the present day, the nation increasingly acknowledges the pivotal role of the Janjatiya community in the process of nation-building. Looking ahead, let us draw inspiration from their magnificent heritage, committing ourselves to building a new India in this auspicious era.
(The Author is Union Minister of Tribal Affairs, Government of India)