Skip to main content

Mangarh bhil massacre 1913: Need felt to shed 'patronising' attitude towards tribals

Guru Govind
By Bharat Dogra* 
On 17 November, 1913 the colonial British regime mobilized cannons and machine guns to fire on Bhil tribal freedom fighters gathered at the hill of Mangarh, located in present day Banswara district of South Rajasthan. Over 1,500 of those gathered died. The legendary leader of the tribal community, Govind Guru ( or Govindgiri) was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Eye-witness accounts have revealed that firing tactics designed to maximize killings were used. Despite the enormity of the tragedy -- many more people were killed here than at Jalianwala Bagh in Punjab -- the Mangarh massacre did not get the due attention in history till very recently. It appears that long overdue efforts are likely to be made now to do justice to the valiant bhil freedom fighters and their great leader Govind Guru.
Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot has been pleading for a long time for this.  While a memorial has lately come up at Mangarh, and some steps have been taken to remember the tribal freedom fighters, the view is strong much more needs to be done. The tribal belt where Guru Govind gets high respect is certainly not confined to Rajasthan and extends to several states including Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and to some extent Maharashtra.
The memories of Govind Guru are also etched in Hyderabad and neighbouring areas where he was imprisoned. Hence a suitable national effort is needed to create an appropriate national monument which can do justice to the valor and sacrifice of the Bhil freedom fighters who sacrificed their life at Mangarh in 1913.
In early 1900s, particularly following a famine, common people of Rajasthan including peasants and workers had been suffering a lot due to the injustices and atrocities perpetrated by the combined might of the princely kingdoms and the overarching British colonial rulers. The bhils at the lower end of society suffered the most and were frequently subjected to bonded labor and high taxation.
During the times of Rana Pratap and even later they had received much respect from royalty and they too had fully reciprocated this, being willing to sacrifice even their life. However, with the advent of British rule, some of the royalties were reduced to being lackeys of colonial rulers and turned against their own people to extract more and more from them for themselves as well as the colonial rulers. In turn the British assured the support of their army in case of any rebellion against them. Hence both colluded readily whenever it came to repression of freedom fighters.
It was in these conditions that a bhil activist, Govindgiri, who had himself also suffered from such extreme exploitation, started trying to find a way out of these many-sided injustices for his community. He felt that in order to get the strength for protecting their rights, the bhils needed first of all some reforms in their own community. Hence he started a social reform movement, with special emphasis on giving up liquor, using symbolism with which the community could identify.
Current monument
This was not an end in itself, but a means to gather the strength and establish the unity for the bigger struggle against exploitation. They raised specific demands for abolishing bonded labor/forced labor and arbitrary as well as high taxes. 
There were several small struggles which ultimately culminated in a big and determined gathering at the hill of Mangarh which had been the place of earlier struggles too. By this time the feudal rulers and their colonial masters had become alarmed at the growing strength of this movement and so they used their full force in a very cruel way to crush the gathering rebellion.
When faced with such terrible and cruel use of force, the conduct of the valiant bhil freedom fighters was most noble and determined as they refused to vacate their positions despite being threatened by the use of overwhelming force against them.
This struggle had spread to vast parts of the central tribal belt and so the creation and proper maintenance of a much bigger national monument to honour this struggle and its leader Govind guru is long overdue. To make this even more appropriate to our times, this memorial should include a tribute to the resilience and strengths of tribal communities.
As Jayesh Joshi, an activist who has worked in the tribal belt of Banswara for several years , says:
“A patronizing attitude often seen fails to do justice to the the many strengths of tribal communities, their self-reliance, sense of justice and fair play, their harmony with nature. These strengths should also be reflected in the monument and its museum, as these strengths also contributed so much to the struggles of Govind Guru and his companions.”
So the emphasis of this national monument should not be so much on grandeur as on appropriateness -- capturing the spirit of tribal communities -- their sense of justice, harmony with nature and resilience.
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘When the Two Streams Met', ‘Azadi Ke Deewanon Ki Daastaan’ and ‘A Day in 2071’



Women innovators on simple, revolutionary alternate solutions for water problems

By Proshakha Maitra, Mansee Bal Bhargava* The detrimental effects of uncontrolled population rise and accelerated change in the global climate have posed tremendous pressure on the water and sanitation. This calls all stakeholders, from both developed and developing nations, to improve their resilience and to instigate sustainability. It is more crucial than ever to optimise the use of the resources we have on hand since the world population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050.

Muted profit margins, moderate increase in costs and sales: IIM-A survey of 1000 cos

By Our Representative  The Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad’s (IIM-A's) latest Business Inflation Expectations Survey (BIES) has said that the cost perceptions data obtained from India’s business executives suggests that there is “mild increase in cost pressures”.

Alleged killing of another Bangladesh youth inside Indian territory: NHRC inquiry sought

By Kirity Roy* There was yet another incident of the killing of a Bangladeshi youth by the Border Security Force personnel attached with ‘Barthar’ BOP of ‘G’ Company of 75 BSF Battalion. In last five years several incidents of killings happened under this police station’s jurisdiction and the cases will get the award as “Not Guilty” as usual.

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

IMA vs Ramdev: Why what's good or bad for goose should be good or bad for gander

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* Baba Ramdev and his associate Balkrishna faced the wrath of the Supreme Court for their propaganda about their Ayurvedic products and belittling mainstream medicine. Baba Ramdev had to apologize in court. His apology was not accepted and he may face the contempt of court with harsher punishment. The Supreme Court acted on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

Govt putting India's professionals, skilled, unskilled labour 'at mercy of' big business

By Thomas Franco, Dinesh Abrol*  As it is impossible to refute the report of the International Labour Organisation, Chief Economic Advisor Anantha Nageswaran recently said that the government cannot solve all social, economic problems like unemployment and social security. He blamed the youth for not acquiring enough skills to get employment. Then can’t the people ask, ‘Why do we have a government? Is it not the government’s responsibility to provide adequate employment to its citizens?’

What's Bill Gates up to? Have 'irregularities' found in funding HPV vaccine trials faded?

By Colin Gonsalves*  After having read the 72nd report of the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on alleged irregularities in the conduct of studies using HPV vaccines by PATH in India, it was startling to see Bill Gates bobbing his head up and down and smiling ingratiatingly on prime time television while the Prime Minister lectured him in Hindi on his plans for the country. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Modi model, Hindutva icon 'justified' alliance with Muslim League before Independence

By Shamsul Islam*  Our PM describes himself as ‘Hindu’ nationalist and member of RSS. He proudly shares the fact that he was groomed to be a political leader by one of the two fathers of the Hindutva politics, MS Golwalkar (the other being VD Savarkar) and given the task of establishing Hindutva polity in India after eradicating secularism.

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site The article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.