By Sheshu Babu*
“I rise to speak on behalf of unknown hordes – yet very important – of unrecognised warriors of freedom, the original people of India who have variously been known as backward tribes, primitive tribes, criminal tribes and everything else, Sir, I am proud to be a ‘Jangli’ that is the name by which we are known in my part of the country. As a ‘ jungli’ , as an Adibasi, I am not expected to understand the legal intricacies of the Resolution. You cannot teach Democracy to the tribal people: you have to learn democratic ways from them. They are the most democratic people on earth”.
— Jaipal Singh Munda speaking for the first time in the Assembly on 19 December 1946 , he owned up proudly his tribal heritage
While many personalities like Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar are known for their immense contribution to the freedom struggle as well as framing constitution, but about 299 persons who were involved in constituent assembly to frame constitution are not well known. One such person who had a key role in the framing of constitution is Jaipal Singh Munda.
His early life Jaipal Singh Munda also known as Pramod Pahan (03 January 1903 – 20 March 1970) was born in a Munda tribal family in Takra Pahantoli, village (now Khunti dstrict) near Ranchi, Bihar province (now in Jharkhand) of British India ( en.m.wikipedia.org). His job was to look after cattle herd. After initial schooling in the village church school, he was admitted to St Paul’s college, Ranchi run by the christian Missionaries of SPG Mission of the Church of England.
He was a brilliant student and a gifted hockey player and exhibited exceptional leadership quality since his early years. The missionaries recognised his talent and took him to England for studies to university of Oxford where he graduated with Honours in Economics from St. John’s College, Oxford. He was selected to Indian Civil Service from which he later resigned. In 1934, he became a teacher at Prince of Wales College, at Achimota, Gold Coast Ghana. In 1937, he returned to India as a principal of Rajkumar College, Raipur. In 1938, he joined Bikaner princely state as foreign secretary.
With his rich experience, he thought that he could be more useful in education sector. He wrote to Congress president Rajendra Prasad to allow him in Bihar’s educational sector but of no avail. In the end of 1938, he visited Patna and Ranchi and decided to enter politics seeing the poor condition of tribal people. Singh was the president of his party Adivasi Mahasabha formed in 1937 (later, after the independence changed to Regional Jharkhand Party). The party accommodated non- tribals to achieve its long- term goals of separate state.
Activities and education
As president of the Indian Oxford Majlis, he interacted with personalities like C. F. Andrews, Annie Besant and Lala Lajpat Rai. A contemporary N. G. Ranga of Swatantra Party president recalled, “Even in those days Jaipal would never tolerate denigration of Indians by the British, he was unique in many ways.” (“Jaipal Singh Munda and Jhar khand and tribals…” tribalzone.net). In 1927-28, he was selected as Indian Civil Service probationer that required two years stay at Oxford. During the period, he was appointed as captain for the first Indian national hockey team to play at Olympics in Amsterdam in 1928 where India won the gold. He led all the matches and won but he didn’ t participate in the final as he returned to London to appear for ICS final.
Writer and reformer
He was a prolific columnist on sports, particularly, Hockey. (Jaspal Singh Munda, http://www.frontierwekly .net). He voluntarily had to resign from ICS as he was asked to take an extra year probation due to his absence. He felt that this would amount to compromise of self-dignity. He became voice of the tribal people and from sportsman, he switched on to become a ‘Marang Gomke’ — Mundari for the great leader. On July 22, 1947, the day when India got its own flag, Jaipal reminded the country, “Sir, most of the members of this house are inclined to think that flag hoisting is the privilege of the Aryan Civilised. Sir, the Adibasis had been the first to hoist flags and to fight for their flags. Each village has its own flag and that flag cannot be copied by any other tribe … ” (“A ‘ Jungli’ in the constituent Assembly”, updated January 20, 2017, ndtv.com). He insisted on the need to be sensitive to culture of tribals and their lives.
Jaipal Singh was a staunch supporter of the idea of reservations. As Ramachandra Guha in ‘India after Gandhi: The history of the World’s Largest Democracy (p 115) depicting the Adivasi (Adibasi) movement of Jaipal Singh points out, when the first report on the minority rights was made public, in late 1947, it made provisions for untouchables only. As expected, Muslims were left out. One member regretted that ‘ the most needy the most deserving group of adibasis (tribals) have been completely left out of the picture.
The person was Jaipal Munda, himself an adibasi. He opposed compulsory Prohibition in Directive Principles of constitution. He felt that as far as Adibasis are concerned, no religious function can be performed without the use of rice beer. (“This tribal leader who opposed prohibition also led India to first Olympic Hockey Gold, Sakshi Arora, , 14 August 2018, theprint.in). His dream of separate Jharkhand was realised much later after his death in 1970. But his struggle for a state of social justice remains unfulfilled.
Jaipal Singh Munda was truly a genius who made the voices of tribals felt by the whole country. By becoming a member of constituent assembly and assisting in drafting constitution, he contributed a lot to India and its present constitution. His depth in studying the conditions of adivasis and their economic status cannot be undermined or underestimated. His scholarship and power of oratory made him a champion of adivasi politics and empowerment.
*The writer from everywhere and anywhere supports jal, jangal and jameen — the genuine demands of adivasis in the country