Tilka Manjhi

Baba Tilka Manjhi was an Indian Freedom Fighter and the first tribal leader from the Santhal Community who took up arms against British rule in 1784. Determined to defend his people, he organised the tribals (or Adivasis) into an army trained in using bows and arrows to fight against the resource grabbing and exploitation of the British. He was the first to blow the bugle of revolt against the British around 70 years before Mangal Pandey.

Tilka Manjhi was born in February 1750 in Tilakpur village in Sultangunj (Bihar). He was known as ‘Jabra Pahadia’, as mentioned in the British records of that time. Since childhood, he saw the tyranny of the British on the tribal people. The British occupied the poor tribes’ cultivated land and wild trees.

In 1770, there was a severe famine in the Santhal region, due to which people were dying of hunger. Instead of providing food and relief to the drought-affected people, the British East India Company in power started exploiting the tribal communities. To protect the people, Tilka Manjhi looted the treasury of the Company and distributed it among them. Inspired by this noble act of Tilka, several other tribals joined the rebellion. With this, the revolt of the Santhals (Santhal Hool) began.

Tilka organised the tribal communities under one armed group to fight against British exploitation and tyranny. He continued to attack the British and their allies. From 1771 to 1784, Tilka Manjhi never surrendered. He circulated a message on ‘Sal leaves‘ to tribal groups, asking them to unite to save their lands. The rebellion came to be known as Manhji Revolt.

To stop the Manhji rebellion, the then Governor-General Warren Hastings sent 800 British soldiers under the command of Captain Brook. Brook suppressed the Tilka-led rebellion for the next two years, followed by James Brown.

In 1778, the tribal people, united under the leadership of Tilka Manjhi, attacked the Punjab Regiment of the Company stationed in the Ramgarh Cantonment (present-day Jharkhand). As a result, the British fled the Cantonment.

Following this, the British realised that if not handled properly, tribal people could become a real threat to their interest in the forest areas of Bengal. They appointed 29-year-old Augustus Cleveland as the administrator of the East India Company in the Bengal Province. He became the Collector of Revenue in the Bhagalpur, Munger and Rajmahal districts. Cleveland was hostile towards the tribal communities.

In 1784, Tilka Manjhi decided to strike Bhagalpur and took the British completely by surprise. On 13 January 1784, Tilka attacked Augustus Cleveland with a ‘Gulel’ (a weapon similar to a slingshot), in which Cleveland was fatally wounded and died a few days later.

The death of Augustus Cleveland was a wake-up call for the East India Company, which sent a British force under Lieutenant General Eyre Coote to capture Tilka and suppress the Manjhi revolt. Tilka Manjhi disappeared in the Tilapore forest and began guerilla warfare against the British. The British forces surrounded the Tilapore forest from which he operated, but he and his men held them at bay for several weeks.

When the British finally caught Tilka Manjhi in 1784, they tied him to the tail of a horse and dragged him all the way to the Collector’s residence at Bhagalpur, Bihar. His lacerated body was hung from a Banyan tree.

After Indian Independence, his statue was erected at the spot where he was hanged and named after him. Also, the Bhagalpur University was renamed after him – Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University.

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