The credit of being the first revolutionary in the history of Bharat’s war against colonial regime goes to Jabra Pahadia Tilka Manjhi, who fought against the British rule in the hills of Rajmahal (Jharkhand). He organised the tribals to form an armed group to fight against the resource grabbing and exploitation of British by adopting Indian guerrilla warfare.
Tilka Manjhi strongly opposed the brutality and heinous actions of British rule and waged a long battle. He also led the famous Santhal movement.
The heroic freedom fighter Tilka Manjhi is named as the country’s first freedom fighter and martyr. Tilka was arrested by British forces and hanged in 1785. Some sources mentioned 1784 as year of his gallows in some references.
- In Jharkhand the tribals had a number of encounters and battles, recorded as Santhal struggle of Tilka Majhi, Siddhu-Kanu, Bhumij (Sardar) struggle, VirBuddhu Bhagat movement, Tana Bhagat Movement, the freedom struggle of Birsa Bhagwan, etc., which did not allow the British to set their feet on the sacred land. But the crafty British recorded these territories as ‘excluded’ to mislead the world. Accordingly, their territories remained outside the purview of the general law
- (Chathapuram S. Ramanathan; Subhabrata Dutta (15 August 2013). Governance, Development, and Social Work. Routledge. p. 44)
- ‘This land is mother earth, our mother, we will not pay rent to anyone.
-Tilka Majhi during the war with British forces between 1781-84
Tilka Majhi was born on February 11, 1750 in Sultanganj, of Bihar. He was born in a small village called Tilakpur and he belonged to Santhal family. His father’s name was Sundara Murmu. Since childhood, Tilka lived in the shadow of forest civilization and hunted wild animals. Workout-wrestling, climbing on the big trees, walking in the valleys, playing with wild animals, roaming in wild forests, rivers, etc. were his daily routine. Wildlife had made him fearless and brave. Tilka Manjhi is also known by the name of Jabra Pahadia due to his unbeatable courage.
Since childhood, he had seen the tyranny of English on his family and on the tribal people. English rulers had usurped the rights of the poor tribals who cultivated land and planted trees. Tribal people, children, women, old men were greatly tortured by the British.
First Encounter with British forces
The struggle between the forest dwellers and the British revolutionized Tilka. Tilka called for a war against the British at a place called Shanachar (BanachariJor). The tribal warriors led by Tilka were heading towards the forest areas of Bhagalpur and Sultanganj. They were taking on the British soldiers on the land of the Rajmahal. The British government (1767) was upset due to the retaliation.The forest dwellers under the leadership of Tilka Manjhi started to dominate the British, seeing the severity of the situation, the British appointed an officer named Cleve Land to be sent to the Rajmahal region.
Murder of Cleve Land
Cleve Land deployed army and police in the Rajmahal hills.
Tilka with his force was in constant conflict with the English government.In the valleys of jungle, Terai and rivers of Ganges, Brahmi, etc., Tilka Majhi, with his small indigenous weapons army, continued to fight incognito in the mountainous areas of Munger, Bhagalpur, Santhal and Parganas, fighting constantly against the British. Cleve Land and Sir Eyre had pitched battles with brave Tilka’s army. While the British troops headed for combat, Tilka’s soldiers began to secretly hit arrows on the English army. Tilka climbed a palm tree. At the same time, Cleveland came climbing on a horse. At that very moment, Tilka killed Superintendent Cleveland on January 13, 1784 with his arrows. After the news of the death of Cleveland, English Government grew shaky. Rulers, soldiers and officers were enveloped in an atmosphere of fear.
Arrest of Tilka Majhi
The British Government decided to find and hang Tilka.
One night when Tilka and his revolutionary partners were at a celebration of dance and songs, then suddenly a traitor warlord Jaudah attacked the Santhali army. In this sudden invasion Tilka survived, but many soldiers were martyred. Some were imprisoned. Tilka escaped from there and took refuge in the mountainous region of Sultanganj. English army laid a trap for him in the surrounding mountain areas of Sultanganj and Bhagalpur.
Heroic Tilka and his army now camouflaged (hiding in mountainous areas) had a hard life. His army began to perish due to starvation. But they continued to fight a guerrilla war with the British. The English army was invaded by the Santhal tribals.
Arrest of Tilka Manjhi and Supreme Sacrifice
Tilka Manjhi was arrested and brought to Bhagalpur by the British. He was dragged behind 4 horses with thick ropes.
In 1785, Tilka was killed as the British hanged him on a banyan tree.
Tilka was the first leader who fought against the British to free Bharat from slavery, which after 90 years manifested as an armed struggle for independence in 1857. In the memory of Tilka a statue was erected in the court of Bhagalpur. There is also a university named after him. Tilka will always be remembered eternally as a son of Bharat Mata.