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Like many previous instances, birth anniversary celebration of Tilka Manjhi, a legendary tribal martyr who is considered to be the pioneer of revolt against the British imperialism in Asia, this time remained much controversial.
Though celebration of birth anniversary of Tilka Manjhi every year on February 11 has become a custom in Anga Pradesh (the districts of eastern Bihar and Santhal Parganas of Jharkhand) but intellectuals divided into two camps. One section of people rejected the existence of Tilka Manjhi since there is no historical evidence about this tribal hero and claimed him as an imaginary figure. Some of them however claimed that people particularly the Santhals of Santhal Parganas for continuing their struggle against British created a legendary figure naming Tilka Manjhi from the character of Jaora Paharia, who was a renowned freedom fighter from Paharia race (the primitive tribe and the original settlers of Santhal Parganas of Jharkhand).
While others sniffed the conspiracy by the than British who didn’t give a space to the great worrier like Tilka Manjhi in the pages of history. But who belief on this theory that Tilka Manjhi was omitted from history by the British, they also have no answer about why there is not a single instances or references from the local historians at that time about Tilka Manjhi? Amid the controversy, historians still getting increasingly intrigued by his shadowy figure.
However at Anga Pradesh different social organizations including government establishments like Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University , Bhagalpur (TMBU) today paid rich tributes to Tilka Manjhi, a tribal martyr on his birth anniversary.
Though people paid floral tribute to the picture of Tilka Manjhi (many pictures appeared on social media which have no authenticity) or the statue installed different places in Anga Pradesh like Tilka Manjhi chak, the most posh colony at Bhagalpur city or located even on the most inaccessible valley of Rajmahal series of hills. Many places at Santhal Parganas today’s occasion sparked a little bit tension as Paharia community celebrates it as the birth anniversary of Jaora Paharia while the Santhals claimed it is of Baba Tilka Manjhi.
Social medias too remained active for providing platforms to different groups and individuals to attack and counter attack against each other on the issue of Tilka Manjhi. “The way people abused each other due to identity crisis of Tilka Manjhi is indeed a unfortunate for Anga Pradesh. Instead of abusing and throwing allegations, they should unitedly face the situation and should thrust their energies to find a solution for solving the hidden part of history,” said Asmani Syanal a home maker at Sahebganj.
Ram Dulal Deheri, a noted Paharai activist in Santhal Parganas rejected the existence of Tilka Manjhi and alleged that it was the Santhals who outnumbered Paharais at their own home turf and forced the Paharais to shift atop Rajmahal series of hills spread across different parts of Santhal Parganas, conspired to create Tilka Manjhi parallel to Jaora Paharia. “ In Santhal Hool (Santhal insurgence) of 1855 at Santhal Parganas, Sidho, Kanho, Chand and Vairab, the Murmu brothers became the national hero who had shown exemplary courage to united the natives of the land and to fight against the British. But after Santhal Hool, in which many Paharias and other community people also scarified their lives, the Santhal and some historians created the myth of Tilka Manjhi and installed his character in parallel to the great worrier, Jaora Paharia,” Deheri alleged.
Raman Sinha, a senior faculty of history at TMBU too objected such imaginary figure like Tilka Manjhi. “We have no point not to respect such character but being a student of history how one could support the existence of a figure who have no history. Why not there is any mention about Tilka Manjhi in any book including the old District Gazeteers of Santhal Parganas or Bhagalpur?” Sinha raised question. Sinha earlier several time urged the TMBU management for a detail research to establish the truth about Tilka Manjhi.
Interestingly, many Paharia hamlets atop remote Rajmahal series of hills celebrated the birth anniversary as the Paharias feel today for the late hero, who, they claim, was non else but Tilka Manjhi, also like Jaora Paharia, deified as a martyr and a freedom fighter in history.
Experts on Paharia affairs pointed out that the British rulers brought out a copper coin on Jaora Paharia around 1894, almost a hundred year after his death. Curiously, British records described him as a rebel and a “dreaded bandit” ruing over Rajmahal hills. “Why British issued a coin to commemorate a rebel?” asked Niraj Jain, a Barharwa (Sahebganj) based social activist. He lambasted such modern historians/ scholars who criticized Paharias for comparing Tilka Manjhi with Jaora Paharia. “Such people have started saying that Jaora played a double game and bent down before British for having forgiveness. But is there any history of it anywhere? Why British who had done such big event for Jaora, didn’t mention it anywhere, at least to tame other rebels. Paharias never bent down before any like the Mughals or the British, go to the history it could be found,” Jain said.
Historical evidence claims that Jaora was actually made the commander –in-chief of the 1300 –strong Hill Archers’ Core(HAC) comprising mostly Paharias armed with bows and arrows. The band was meant to subjugate the Rajmahal hills. However, history didn’t mention why Jaora Paharia fell from the grace and was denounced as a rebel and a bandit? “It’s part of strategy by the British off course; it was indeed a challenge before the British at that time how to tame the Paharia race as “wild beast” had been used for them. But it was Augustus Cleveland, the district magistrate of Bhagalpur (Rajmahal hill areas along Dumka and other parts of Santhal Parganas were under the jurisdiction of Bhagalpur) approached this “ wild” and “bandits” Paharias. He recommended to Warren Hastings that the tribals be allowed to promote their traditional customs and social systems.
Cleveland, the sole British officer who become very popular atop Rajmahal hills as Paharias used to call him as “Chilmili Saheb”, approached Hastings to provide financial assistance to the Paharias. It was the same design that prompted Eyne Cool to constitute the Hill Archers’ Core. And issue the copper coin, too, appeared part of a desperate appeasement policy, writes Rajendra Prasad Singh in his book on Tilka Manjhi.
Singh also advances the theory that the East India Company and later the British rulers tried their level best to divide the Paharias and the Santhals.in the District Gazeteer of Santhal Parganas, P C Roy Choudhury endorses such attempts and records how the village heads were offered allowances to Paharias. “ The chiefs of northern hills gladly accepted the allowances but they were turned down by the chifs in hills to the south,” mentioned the Gazeteer (page -66).
While the mystery of the coin on Jaora is yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone, the complexity relates to the claim that Jaora and Tilka Manjhi were one and the same person. Tilka Manjhi is acknowledged by historians to be a Robinhood-like figure who robbed the Company’s treasury to share the spoils with the poor. 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. “It was a great sin ever created by some of the historians who just ignored Tilka Manjhi because he hailed from a poor backward community. Some semi-literate historians trying to attach his mane with another Paharia rebellion who played a double game,” alleged Bilakshan Ravi Das, a senior teacher at TMBU and also fights for the cause of backward depressed mass.
Ravi Shanker Choudhary a young faculty of history at TMBU said that it was said that Tilka Manjhi was apprehended in 1785, flogged, tied to a horse and dragged through Bhagalpur before being hanged from a banyan tree. The site is known as Tilka Manjhi Chowk, the area is known after him and the Bhagalpur University is also named after this heroic figure.
“The source of history of that period comes from British historians and they might ignored the bravery of Tilka Manjhi. Through there is no written or any inscriptions on Tilka Manjhi but he stills rules in the hearts of the natives of Anga Pradesh. So how it possible for any imaginary character?” asked Shivshanker Singh Parijat, a retired bureaucrat and a historian.
On the otherhand Paharias have been claiming that Tilka Manjhi was none else than Jaora Paharia. “ First the period mentioned about Tilka Manjhi has the similarity with Jaora Paharia. Secondly, Tilka denotes blood-shot eyes in Paharia,” points out Kabita Paharin, a student in Sidho Kanhu Murmu University, Dumka. Noted Bengali writer, Late Mahasweta Devi also illustrated Tilka Manjhi in her book but it shouldn’t be considered as a historical accuracy, said Chaya Guha, a retired teacher of Sidho Kanhu Murmu University, Dumka.
If all these complications were not enough, there is controversy over the manner in which Augustus Cleveland died. British chroniclers claim he died of natural causes and that he had attended office till November, 1783. Since the collector was also barely 29-year-old, historians wonder how he could have taken ill so suddenly to die within a month. The plaque below the statue of Tilka Manjhi, however, is categorical in stating that he killed the “arrogant” collector with his poisonous arrow.
The members of Paharia Adim Jaati Seva Samiti, a body fights for the cause of Paharias resolved to mount pressure on Jharkhand government for highlighting the great hero Jaora Paharia, who is almost forgotten. “We will start movement against such apathy towards our hero,” said Shyamlal Deheri.
While at Bhagalpur, several persons including professors and other people concerned urged TMBU to conduct a research works with the team of historians and archaeologists to establish the facts properly. “It should be done because the varsity (TMBU) is functioning the name of Tilka Manjhi and nobody knows about him in lack of any contemporary history on Tilka Manjhi,” said Beheri Lal Choudhary, the head of the post graduate department of ancient history of TMBU.