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Remembering Telanga Kharia on his birth anniversary, the tribal hero who fought against colonial rule and paved the way for Indian independence

Kharia is also known for preparing the grounds for Birsa Munda's “Ulgulan” or revolt against the British and the Dikus– the outsiders. 

Today is the birth anniversary of Telanga Kharia, the renowned tribal hero who embodied tribal autonomy, self-determination, and sovereignty. Between 1850 and 1860, Kharia led the movement against British brutalities and land alienation of tribal people in the Chotanagpur Region. He was born on February 9, 1806, in Gumla, Jharkhand. This unsung hero fought against colonial injustices and paved the way for Indian independence.

Kharia is also known for preparing the brewing ground for Birsa Munda‘s “Ulgulan” or revolt against the British and the Dikus– the outsiders. 

Telanga Kharia was also known as ‘Budha Sher’ (old lion) because of his incredible power even at 50. Telanga is derived from the Kharia word ‘Teblega,’ which indicates someone with excellent oratory and leadership abilities. He became interested in social and political issues when visiting the palace of Nagvashi King of Ratu with his father Thuiyan Kharia, who worked as a storekeeper there. Kharia began his campaign against British oppression in 1849.

Image source: Divya Rashmi samachar

The tribals had their own traditional, autonomous form of self-governance for a long time, known as the Parha system. The British, who had established their rule over the Chotanagpur region, were threatening this traditional system. The tribals were now required to pay a tax known as ‘malgujari’ on the land they had been cultivating for centuries. They lived in misery, exploited by local zamindars and sahukars (money lenders) who worked hand in hand with the British. When they were unable to repay the loans, the sahukars confiscated their lands.

Enraged by the constant ill-treatment of his fellow tribesmen, Telanga Kharia started a full-fledged revolt against this oppressive system. He started recruiting people and creating awareness among them. He founded ‘Jodi Panchet’ (Jury Panchayats) at Gumla, Simdega, Sisai, Kolebira, and Chainpur, where he taught youths above the age of 20 how to use teer (arrow), bhala (speer), kulhadi (axe), barchi (harpoon), and pharsa (battleaxe).

Every hamlet had a Jodi Panchet that communicated when Britishers arrived. Due to their great organizational skills, the Britishers had a tough time locating them. Kharia amassed an army of approximately 1500 trained troops. He initiated a series of ambush operations against the British and their stooges using guerilla tactics.

Telanga Kharia waged an active revolt against the British in Chotanagpur from 1850 to 1860, launching attacks from his forest hideouts to evade detection. His followers launched many attacks and raids on the British, thereby challenging their control. When the British realized they had underestimated the tribals, they began to hunt for Kharia.

Unfortunately, one day, one of the Zamindar’s henchmen informed the British of his presence. The latter quickly encircled the Jury Panchayat which he had organized then and arrested him. He was initially brought to Lohardaga prison, and then relocated to Kolkata, where he was imprisoned for 18 years.

After his release from prison, he reconvened with his followers at the Sisai Akhara with the purpose of revitalizing the cause. The British planned to get rid of him as soon as the information reached them.

On April 23, 1880, Telanga Kharia was shot while offering daily prayers by a British agent named Bodhan Singh. Telanga’s followers buried his body in Gumla district’s Soso Neem Toli hamlet, ‘Telanga Topa Tand’ is the name of the burial site. Chotanagpur residents revere this location. Every year on this day, the people remember his martyrdom, and a week-long ‘Shahid Telanga Mela’ is organized.

Telanga Kharia is an inspiration for his bravery, sacrifice, and martyrdom for fighting against the mighty colonial power.

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