Bipin Jojo
JTICI Vol.5, Issue 1, No.5, pp. 45 to 51, March 2018

A Conversation with Sanika Munda of The Khutkati Rights Struggle

Published On: Saturday, August 4, 2018

Bipin Jojo

Moderator: Welcome friends. He is one of the survivals among the elder generations who were fighting for the adivasis cause. Their fight was for the ‘Khutkati Rights’. The Khutkati Rights’ philosophy is something like this: God has created this earth and we have made the soil by our own effort. Who is the government to come and ask for tax. So this was the simple philosophy they had. Since 18th Century onwards this movement was going on and he is the one of the survivals of that movement. Rest all died. Till today because of this condition he does not pay tax to the government of Orissa. So many notices have been served to him but he says I will not pay nor go. You hang me or put me in jail. Do whatever you want to do, I will not give the tax; because government does not own me nor my land. It is from this movement that Saneka Munda comes from.

Saneka Munda in Sadri/Mundari:

Our case is very old. It is not a new case. It began from 1929-1930. The movement was led by our elders in 1929-30 when land measurement by the British government took place intending to increase their land revenue. When the land revenue was increased we said that we will not give the increased revenue of the land. We said how they can increase the revenue when the land remains same (when land has not been increased). We stopped giving land revenue from 1935. As of now, we are making similar demands from the Congress government in Sundargarh. In our Sundargarh we were told you go to upper level. So we went to Sambalpur. Sambalpur has the bigger court at that time. There also we were told that our case will not be heard here. All the Mundas, Kharia and Oraons of the area came together and went to Sambalpur but it was not heard. When it was not heard there, we went to Ranchi. In Ranchi, Marang Guru Jaipal Singh Munda was there. We met with him. He said we will go to Delhi. Then they went to Delhi. In Delhi they filed the petition. From there we got the report that the case will be heard and it is under consideration1. During this time Nirmal Munda was made president in Sundargarh. Orissa government was trying to catch Nirmal Munda and arrest him in Sundargarh. In 1939 a message was sent by the government that the case filed in Delhi will be heard and the Queen Saheeba is coming, so, you all gather. All thought about where to gather. They decided to gather in the house of Nirmal Munda as he was made head. At that time I had little knowledge, but I still knew how it happened. During that time there were Kotwars (Chaukidars) in the villages. Through Kotwars they sent the message that the paper has been passed and it will be heard, so gather on 25th April 1939. People were very happy and started gathering. People came from Raiboga and some from Rajgampur but could not come from Badgaon and Sundargarh. So, From Raiboga and Rajgambpur people gathered. Exact 12 O’clock they began their meeting. When meeting was going on, Military (Paltan) from Sundargarh came and gathered in one of the small Tongri (small hillock) and started watching from there how many people are gathering. After observing, they felt that people will not come anymore so around 3 o’clock they came down towards the house of Nirmal Munda. People were having meeting inside, meanwhile military came and surrounded the house in three circles. Those who were inside were not allowed to come out and those who were outside were not allowed to get in2.

There was one Mania Munda from Bhairlata. He was old not young. He had 2-3 sons who were sitting inside the room in meeting. He stood on the door and said, yes babu (son), we have come to hear. They asked what happened. No I have to go in. They were not allowing him to go in. When he was trying to go inside, the head of the military poked his stomach and the intestine came out of the stomach then he shouted telling ‘O my son they are killing me’. One of his son took a big stick, came running and attempted to beat the head of the military but by mistake his stick got stuck in the roof. If he had beaten him, military would have been finished off. The head of the military escaped and rushed out and his cap fell down. He told the other military men that he was being attacked. He whistled and immediately the military started firing at them. The military of the second circle fired at people and the third circle military fired in the air. Since many people had gathered, they were shot dead. One of those who survived narrated that in order to safe himself he laid down in a ditch of two-three feet where roof tiles were being made and soaked and thus escaped. He got up from the ditch but everywhere there was blood. People were lying dead. They asked those who were alive to collect the dead body, but they replied saying you have killed you pick up the dead bodies. There was one Jhanu Babu from Rourkela who called the bullock cart because there were no trucks at that time. He called five bullock cart. They loaded all the dead bodies in those bullock carts and went to Rourkela. They took those dead bodies to the brick kiln (bhatha) to put them. Some of the bodies were already put into the brick kiln. As soon as the owner knew that dead bodies are being thrown into his Bhatha, he came and said, that is not the place for burning the bodies, I will not allow. You take the bodies elsewhere. So they return back and were thinking where to throw the bodies. Finally they threw the dead bodies outside. Our people thought, they killed and have thrown here, where shall we take them? They went to Bamhanmara to ask for the place. The owner of the place Bamhanmara gave place to burry those bodies. All gathered and took the bodies to Bamhanmara, dug 10 feet long ditch, put all the dead bodies together and buried them. The burial place still exist3.

After burial, people went back to their houses. Everywhere there was mourning and yelling, and people started inquiring about their kit and kiln from village to village and house to house about those who had gone to attend the meeting and are currently missing. They found out that around 42 persons were missing. Declaring 42 deads, there was a stone erected there. Those injured were counted to be around 84. They were taken to Kunwarmunda Hospital. All those who had gone for the meeting including Nirmal Munda and all the boys whomever they found were arrested and put into jail in Sundargarh. After few months Nirmal Munda was transferred to Gwalior. Another two people were also taken there not knowing who all were there4. Till 1955 so many incidents took place in Sundargarh District which nobody speaks about. Police torture was rampant and pick up during these years. Police used to take people and their property. It was accounted around Rs. 7000 when the paddy was just 2 rupees/kg (paila).

In 1947, when India became independent, Nirmal Munda was released. When he came back, he started inquiring about what belongings of the people were taken away. During those periods, people were not allowed to have any meeting. So, sometimes we used to sit at night. I myself attended the meeting for three-four times. If anybody was taking the name of Adivasi, he was being beaten. It was said, “आदिवासी की जय पीठ में ढाय कहते थे”. They used to carry big-big sticks and beat us like animals. We approached Jaipal Singh Munda when he was in Ranchi. He told the people to stay calm as he was doing the necessary work. Jaipal Singh Munda Raja formed one group called ‘Adivasi Mahasabha’. He was sitting somewhere in Bihar because he was not allowed to enter Orissa5. By force, he once entered Sundargarh District (I have forgetten the year) and had meeting in around four place6. First in Birmitrapur…, secondly Udit Nagar Rourkel, thirdly Rajgampur and lastly in Sundargarh. When they were having meeting in Birmitrapur, police surrounded them and did not allow them to sit for the meeting. Jaipal Singh Munda said, “Come and beat me” and he showed his chest to them. Their bullet turned into water and did not work. So, Jaipal Singh Munda had some spiritual power also. After that, he went to Udit Nagar for meeting. I also had gone to listen. In his speech he told the people that we are Mundas and this is our country/Munda’s country. Munda means big man or master. Our country used to be Jharkhand before. The area of Jharkhand in the east was Kolkatta Munga tola, in the west Shreedaya ji, North Himalay Pahar and in South Thakur Dura. These many areas used to come under Jharkhand. Jaipal Singh Munda used to say that this is our country. His speech used to be very interesting. He appealed to the people to live properly. He said, “if we are socially, economic and politically good we can form our own government.” He had issued some pamphlets on social, political and economic issues and distributed to everybody. I tried to find some of those pamphlets but could not find. He used to speak all languages: Sadri, Hindi, and Munda, only Oriya he could not speak. He used to say, we are Adivasi and we will take the Jharkhand one day. The congress was demanding for freedom. He used to say, “we Adivasis are free and yet why we are not allowed to move freely.” This “ओड़िया लोगों को उड़ा के रख देंगे कहत रहे” because they were not allowing us to enter into Orissa. He said, now we are walking on foot from Rajgampur to Ranchi. One day nobody will walk on foot. We used to think “They will fly or what”. He further said, “each family will be connected with road and there will be light everywhere.” All these have really happened today7. He gave his last speech in 1969. This meeting was in Raiboga. There he said that “हम सत्तर ईस्वी में साफ़ कर के रहेंगे” you people just relax. Recognize the society well. He used to drink rice bear but only the pure one. If he was not drunk he would not give speech. According to me, whatever he had said is now fulfilled. Only two things has not come true or not fulfilled … When the construction of Mandaria dam started, the people of Dubla Bera where all were Mundas, they thought that they will call Jaipal Singh Munda and would not allow the construction of the dam. When Jaipal Singh Munda came and said, “(It is in Munda Language so could not transcribe)”. The people of Dubla Bera got angry on Jaipal Singh Munda. They said, “we were thinking not to allow the construction and he is telling we should allow the construction of the dam”. They said, “Let’s kill him”. There were no ways to come out from the village except one road. They were just waiting on the road to catch Jaipal Singh Munda but did not find him. At what time he escaped no one knew. All these things has taken place during my time that’s why I am telling8.

From Hindua Munda to King Ashoka there was prosperity of the people and other creatures. It was a Parha Raj9 which gave such prosperity. It was Sat Yug (period of Truth). After the destruction Munda People’s reign or Parha Raj, Sat Yug ended. After Sat yug, came Kali Yug and after Kali Yug came Bhag Yug. Now it is Bhag yug10. This is how they governed. From Hindua Munda till King Ashoka it was around 7000 years the dynasty of Mundas. According to hierarchy in the country (Desh) it was Manki – Munda – Majhi and according to village it was Munda – Pahan – Mahato. When there was the question to print monetary currency, all including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, all people of the Congress asked about the picture in the currency, but Jaipal Singh Munda kept quiet. During the time of Munda there was three heads of the tigers. It was being used for quite a long time. From here only Jaipal Singh Munda gave these three heads. These three heads are the symbol of Manki-Munda and Majhi or in village Mund-Pahan – Mahato. According to this structure of Munda society, the three heads of tigers in Indian coin was given. It is in use ever since the country India got independent. Otherwise earlier it was being used according to the Kings of the time. Now it is of congress government or Orissa government but their currency/ stamp (Mohar) is not in use. They are using our Stamp/Mohar and so how can they ask for tax. Mohar/Stamp is of Mundas, so how can we give the tax and why they will govern us. Therefore I am not giving tax and I will not give. Unless we get the right of Munda Khutkati we will not give the tax11. Once we went to Tashildar and he asked why we are not paying tax. We said, no sir, we are asking for Mundari Khutkati Adhikar. There was a photo of Birsa Munda behind his chair in the office. He said to us to look at that. We said, Birsa Munda fought for the right of Mundari Khutkati. We will not be able to do your work so you all go to higher authorities he said. Then we went to Bhuwaneshwar and met Sharma Saheb (B.D. Sharma). He said, I will take all of you to the person who will do your work. He took us to Bhuwaneshwar and made us to sit face to face with Governor of Bhuwaneshwar. Governor said, by not giving tax you all are not doing well. We said, we will give the tax but we should get the right of Mundari Khutkati otherwise we will not pay tax. He asked us to come again because now the work cannot be completed. We went again to meet the Governor, around 8 to 10 of us, I don’t remember, but again nthing came out of it.

1As the land settlement began in this part of the country around 1929, it was known as the Mukharji settlement. The tribal of this area in unison, said that they will not pay the tax. So, according to him, earlier from whatever tax they used to pay, the tax was further increased. They were not happy with the entire taxation system of the British, especially the increase and so they opposed it. Around 1935, they appealed to the local government here in Sundargarh to one of the Zamindar. It was however not the place to present their demands and was told that they should instead take their demands to Sambalpur. They went to Sambalpur and there they wrote and appealed for the cancellation of the taxation system. However, there also they received no response, and so finally they went to Ranchi to appeal to the government. In Ranchi they met Jaipal Singh Munda who was one of the constitutional assembly member and himself a tribe. Jaipal Singh proposed to them that this case be taken with the government in Delhi. In Delhi, there were some assurances that their case will be considered.

2Meanwhile the whole Khutkati struggle was going on under the leadership of one local leader Nirmal Munda. This struggle continued from 1929 to 1939. In the month of April 1939 they got some message that their case has been resolved and the response was positive. The rumour spread and people in and around the area gathered on April 25th 1939 in a place called Sinko Amko where Nirmal Munda’s house was located. They came and gathered there from around 12 o’clock and was eager to listen to the judgement. At the same time, the police force of the British government also arrived and they were hovering close to the village on the hills. It was almost 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the police encircled the crowd in three rows. Saneka Munda noted that in the first row was the Indian Army, in the second row was the British Army and again in the third row was the Indian Army.

3There was one person named Mania Munda from a village close by whose house was close to Nirmal Munda’s residence. He was like a village watchman. He was sitting there and talking to Nirmal Munda. During this moment the chief of the police force came and wanted to get inside the house of Nirmal Munda, probably with the intention to arrest him or to question him. Most likely to arrest him. This was the situation. Mania Munda stopped the police Chief at the gate. He was quite a hefty man, and while this British Army chief tried to get inside the house of the Nirmal Munda, Mania Munda did not allow him too. This led to a tussle between both of them. In between this, the army chief pierced Mania Munda’s stomach. Mania Munda fell down and suddenly shouted for help and assistant from his sons, stating that this police chief was killing him. Mania Munda’s son was close by. He takes one big log and tried to hit that police chief, but was not able to because the whole log got stuck in the house-roof. The Police chief’s hat, however fell down in the ground and he came out yelling, ‘they are hitting me or killing me’ blowing the whistle. As the whistle blew, the army line from the second row and not the first row as they were very close to the people, started firing. As a result many people fell down and died on the spot. Everywhere there was blood. One of the survivors states that there was a small ditch where he fell down into and therefore escaped. This was the situation. One of the leaders from the area called Dhanu Babu asks for the bullock carts from neighbouring villages. Around five bullock carts were brought. They loaded all the dead bodies in the bullock cart and took them to a place called Birmitrapur where there was a brick kiln. Some of the dead bodies were put into that bhatha and burnt, but the manager of that bhatha learnt that they are putting the dead bodies into his kiln. So he did not allow the burning of these dead bodies into his kiln. The people asked one village called Bamhanmara which is close by. There the relatives of the deceased asked Bamhanmara people to give some space so that they can bury them with due respect. So Barhmanmara people allowed some space. There they dig a hole and the dead bodies were laid down one after the other and buried.

4Saneka Munda says, nobody knows who died, because many people gathered there, so it was difficult to identify who were there and who was not. After some enquiry, they made the list which revealed that around 42 of them had died and about 84 of them were injured and taken to Kunwarmunda Hospital. Many people were arrested. From 1939 to 1955 the struggle continued, but it was till around 1945 that the police harassed the people and even would take away their rice, chickens, goats, etc. This harassment continued till 1945. Saneka Munda notes that about 7000 rupees was lost but it must be more like 7 lakhs or something, because, many houses were burnt and the cows, goats, chicken and other belongings of the people were taken away. The loss was massive. This harassment continued for quite long. Nirmal Munda was taken to Gwalior Jail along with two people and they were imprisoned for quite some time.

5Saneka Munda stated that ancestors governed through Parha Sasan the areas around for about 7 thousand years. Adivasis earlier had their own state and were now reclaiming the same. This was likely the reason the people of Orissa did not allow him to enter into Orissa.

6The entire episode and many other similar incidents led Jaipal Singh to start a movement. Because of this Jaipal Singh was not allowed to enter Orissa, and so he could not organize any committee and could not come to this place. Later on, he had came to Orissa four times; to Birmitrapur, Udit Nagar, Rajgampur and Sundargarh. There he assured the people to remain vigilant in their social, economic and political activities as Adivasis and spoke to the people on how there was a need to have the system in our own way. People trusted Jaipal Singh and had confidence in him. He was a very good political leader. It seems, during this time he already had a dream map of the new state, which constitutes of Kolkatta Munga tola in the east, Shreedaya ji in the west, Himalay Pahar in north and Thakur Dura in the South. This was his vision of the separate state that he spoke about.

7According to Saneka Munda many of the things that Jaipal Singh spoke off those days were now fulfilled. Things like electricity, road, vehicle, communication etc have ow become real. However while many of the things are fulfilled, two things remains (which he said in Munda language) First, in every 20 to 25 miles there will be Munda Adivasi, and second, now you are struggling for land but there will be more than enough land for everyone said Jaipal Singh Munda. This refers to self-government.

8In another incident related to Jaipal Singh, there was a factory in Rourkela which started around 1954. During that time the government thought of constructing one dam called Manderia dam. Many people opposed that dam because of the submergence of their land, their village and so on. People were angry about the dam. Jaipal Singh Munda came there and favored the construction of the dam, telling the people not to resist for the sake of development. Saneka Munda stated that the people from one village called Dublabera which was close to the dam where only Munda people resides got angry with Jaipal Singh, and had even planned to almost kill him or finish him off. They waited for Jaipal Singh but he was clever enough and quietly slipped away and escaped from there. This was the situation during those times. Jaipal Singh was a great orator and people listened attentively to him. He assured them that slowly development will take place.

9Saneka Munda notes that earlier the Malgujari system (land revenue system) was not there. Tribals used to give some contributory to the king and so there was no taxation system in this area. Birsa Munda use to fight with bow and arrow. Birsa Munda was the man who started the revolution and we are still continuing the same. Basically after the death of the Birsa Munda, the CNT Act was enacted by the British in 1908. All these political processes was a result of the entire movement. There is no taxation system and they used to give contribution/chanda to Rajas. That was the system. He has very good memory.

10Till Ashok Samrat (King Ashoka) beginning from around 7 thousand years ago, during those times they had Parha System; a tribal system of government/ self-government system. It was a time of great joy, happiness and prosperity for tribals. But now the whole Parha system is lost. The period is called sat yug. Now we are going through Kali Yug and Bhag Yug/Bhay Yug.

11About the coin and three heads of tiger he says, in the Munda system Manki-Munda and Majhi is the three heads of leadership. In the village Munda-Pahan-Mahto is the different heads of leadership. Through these systems the country or village is to be governed. With this three system, they used to make laws and that was how the Parha system had emerged and people were happy. Saneka Munda notes how these three tiger heads came in the independent elections. It seems, Jaipal Singh might have said that these three heads were there during the time of Ashoka. He must have learnt as a tribal or Munda chief the tribal system of government and he could have proposed to Gandhi, Nehru and others that we will have these three heads and it was accepted in the constitutional assembly. We see the three heads in the seal of the government of India. Congress has fought for freedom but we have the seal/Mohar, and if we have Mohar why other rulers are ruling us. We should rule our own country. And why should we pay the tax. We will not pay the tax. He also shared that he had gone to Tehsildar to raise this issue. Tehsildar stated that whatever comes from the top level, he only he can give. So he went to the governor. It seems (Late) Dr.B.D. Sharma was also there at that time and it was he who took Saneka Munda to the Governor. The Governor asked them (Saneka Munda and others) to come for a second time. On the second visit they were around 8 to 10 persons, although he does not remember the names of the individuals, however nothing came out of the visit.

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