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He is famous not only at Bhagalpur but also in the districts of neighbouring Santhal Parganas in Jharkhand. In his name, there is a University and one of the posh locality at the heart of Bhagalpur city along with hundreds of institutions in Bihar and Jharkhand. But nobody knows the man standing with bow and arrows- only myths and legends are the sources to know his identity!
Admires of the legendary worrier Tilka Manjhi, who are planning to celebrate birth anniversary today (February 11), are still disappointed and frustrated. The reason : no proper reorganization is yet given to this forgotten hero like other freedom fighters.
Tilka was claimed to be the hero of Paharia revolt at Rajmahal hilly region in Jharkhand (1766-1780), Asia’s first revolt against the British colonialism however remained a controversial chapter in history.
Despite Bhagalpur University had changed its name as Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University (TMBU) in 1992, no official arrangement is yet start to pay tribute to Tilka on February 11. “The varsity spent lakhs of rupees in research and other works but it is very unfortunate that no proper research work done yet to focus on his life. More interestingly, his character is yet not included at any school or college level syllabus,” alleged Raman Sinha, a senior teacher in the faculty of history in TMBU.
The legends narrate that Tilka Manjhi, hero of the famous Paharia revolt, a pioneer movement of freedom struggle in India, was arrested in 1785, flogged, tied to a horse and dragged through Bhagalpur city before being hanged from a banyan tree which was located at Tilka Manjhi Chak and destroyed some years back in lightening. Hence site is known as Tilka Manjhi Chowk, the area is known after him where local artiest built his statute after the Independence.
“Perhaps TMBU is the sole varsity in the country which has no idea about Tilka Manjhi on whose name it is functioning; no research has yet been conducted on him so far. This is why Tilka becomes a legendary myth here,” said Rajiv Ranjan, a former student of the faculty of history of TMBU.
People here along with the neighbouring districts of Santhal Parganas at Jharkhand celebrate February 11 as the birth anniversary of this legendary hero who for the first time revolted against the British rule in India though the history does not have evidence on Tilka Manjhi. Interestingly, there was no contemporary writer even mentioned his name and hence Tilka has been missing from the pages of history. But he still ruling over the hearts of people in the entire region.
However some section of historians found similarity of Tilka Manjhi with Jaora Paharia. The name of Jaora Paharia is might not very familiar to the people although historians are getting increasingly intrigued by his shadowy figure. What is undisputed at the moment though is the empathy that Paharias (endangered primitive tribes resides atop Rajmahal series of hills at neighbouring Santhal Parganas who earlier ruled over the region) along with a section of historians feel today for the late hero, who, they claim, was none else but Tilka Manjhi, deified as a martyr and the first freedom fighter from this region (Santhal Parganas once was a part of Bhagalpur).
The British rulers brought out a copper coin on Jaora Paharia around 1894, almost a hundred years after his death. Curiously, British records describe him as a rebel and a “dreaded bandit” ruling over Rajmahal Hills. Why would they issue the coin to commemorate a rebel?
“Historical evidences claim that Jaora was actually made the commander-in-chief of the 1,300-strong Hill Archers’ Core (HAC) comprising Paharias of Rajmahal hills armed with bows and arrows. The band was meant to subjugate the Rajmahal hills. For reasons not yet clear, Jaora Paharia fell from grace and was denounced as a rebel and a bandit.
Some historians have sought to explain that the Company was forced to issue the coin in a bid to win over the Paharias. After having failed to control them, the Company tried everything to appease the tribals.
Former district collector, Bhagalpur, Augustus Cleveland in November 1779 recommended to Warren Hastings that the Paharias be allowed to promote their traditional customs and social systems. He also requested Hastings to provide financial assistance to the Paharias. It was the same design that prompted Eyne Cool, the than in-charge of “Damin-i-koh” (a Partisan word meaning the skirt of the hills and referred on the Rajmahal series of mountains), in 1782 to constitute the Hill Archers’ Core. And the issue of the copper coin, too, appeared part of a desperate appeasement policy, writes Rajendra Singh in his book on Tilka Manjhi.
Singh also advances the theory that the Company and later the British rulers tried to divide the Paharias and the Santhals. In his District Gazeteer of Santhal Parganas, P.C. Roy Choudhury endorses such attempts and records how the village heads were offered allowances to the Paharias. “The chiefs of northern hills gladly accepted the allowances but they were turned down by the chiefs in hills to the south,” mentions the Gazeteer ( page 66).
Tilka Manjhi is acknowledged by some historians as well in the folk songs on the Rajamahl series of hills as a Robinhood-like figure. He is said to have sustained a guerrilla warfare, attacked Bhagalpur in 1784 and killed the young collector, Cleveland, with a poisoned arrow. At least that is what Dr Kumar Suresh Singh has written in his book Tribal Society of India (An Anthropology-History perspective), on page-121. Such legends claim that Tilka was born at a tribal family at Tilakpur village in Sultanganj block in Bhagalpur. Even noted Bengali writer Mahaswetah Devi in her famous fiction, also projected Tilka Manjhi.
But historical records said about the sudden demise of the 29 year-year old Cleveland on January 13, 1784 after falling ill. But thehistory did not mention detail about the fatal disease which killed him. “Since the history which we read today, were mostly written by British historians. It might possible that they just suppressed the facts and mentioned that Cleveland died Natural death due to illness. They didn’t specify the disease that claimed the life of the young collector?” said Siv Shanker Singh Parijat, a historian at Bhagalpur.
Many people like Parijat have been claiming that Tilka Manjhi was none else than
Jaora Paharia. “The Paharais made Jaora alive in the form of Tilka just to keep the revolution alive. He should be given due regards like other martyrs ,” said Lallan Verma, a history scholar here. Gaya Lal Deheri, a noted Paharia leader at Santhal Parganas also echoed Verma and claimed that an imaginary figure of Jaora was created in public minds. “But very unfortunately some were busy to claim him as Santhal and we had to move to the court and managed to rectify such errors from the plucks at many status of Tilka at Jharkhand, he was a Paharia,” Deheri recalled.
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