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Hero Of His Homeground - Jaipal Singh Munda

AN ACCOMPLISHED WRITER, A HOCKEY WIZARD, AN UNCOMMON PATRIOT AND AN INDEFATIGABLE CHAMPION OF THE ADIVASI CAUSE. 

26th January, 2021

Written by Shreya Gupta

Artwork by Niyoshi Parekh

“As a jungli, as an Adibasi, my common sense tells me, the common sense of my people tells me, that every one of us should march in that road of freedom and fight together.”

He strongly demanded the inclusion of “more Adibasis” in the national legislature to represent their interests. A firm believer in gender equality among the tribal communities, he said, “I mean, sir, not only (Adibasi) men but women also.

“We will have nothing less, we will be content with nothing less than a station of honour in the national life of India” said the man who brought the state of Jharkhand to life.

Jaipal was born on 3 January 1903 in Tapkara, a Munda village. Birsa’s struggle had carved out a permanent space in history for Jaipal. Jaipal Singh Munda was born three years after Birsa Munda’s death. Jaipal too belonged to the Khunti subdivision of Ranchi district (Khunti is now a district carved out of Ranchi in Jharkhand). Birsa Munda was born in the Khunti subdivision of Ranchi district on 15 November 1875. He lived little less than 25 years, breathing his last on 9 June 1900 in prison. His short life left a deep imprint on the tribal communities.

Jaipal’s family had embraced Christianity. Missionaries of the SPG Mission, Church of England, had noticed early sparks of his talent and leadership qualities. After initial schooling in his village, Jaipal was admitted to St Paul’s School, Ranchi, run by the missionaries. His amiable character and qualities enamoured all those who came in touch with him. Early in his youth, his exceptional calibre as a hockey player shone. The principal of St Paul’s became his patron and sent him to Oxford University, England, for higher education. Jaipal did not take much time to demonstrate his mettle as an ace hockey player in the celebrated university and was soon part of the Oxford University hockey team. The hallmarks of his game as a deep defender were his clean tackling, sensible game-play and well-directed hard hits. He was the most versatile player in the Oxford University hockey team. His contribution to the university hockey team earned him recognition and he became the first Indian student to be conferred the Oxford Blue in Hockey.

At Oxford, Jaipal’s literary talents exploded as a prolific sports – particularly hockey – columnist. He regularly contributed to leading British journals and his articles were widely acclaimed by readers. In 1928, the Netherlands hosted the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. Jaipal was chosen to captain the Indian hockey team for this event. But he had a choice to make: either turn down the offer to play for India or face expulsion from the prestigious Indian Civil Service. He then took the Indian Civil Service (ICS) examinations conducted by the British in India for bureaucracy aspirants. Those Indians who had qualified before him hailed from rich, land-owning aristocratic families. Jaipal was a striking exception. He entered the ICS with the highest marks in the interview.

He was placed in a dilemma – whether to play for the country or hold on to the straitjacketed ICS – and he picked the former. Subhash Chandra Bose has said that nobody from India before him voluntarily forgo an opportunity for a career in the ICS which held in store great opportunities, social recognition, unprecedented dignity, a secure life and an unquestioned authority with the British at the helm of power. Sadly, Subhash Chandra Bose had erred in overlooking this sacrifice of Jaipal Singh Munda.

Jaipal responded to the dictates of his heart and defied the established conformism. He left for Amsterdam fully aware of the consequence – for he stood virtually dismissed. Such indiscipline on the part of any probationer is not tolerated, much less so by the India Office at the time, which remotely-controlled the Government of India from London. Indeed, such brazen defiance by a probationer was considered unbecoming of a budding ICS. The Indian hockey team in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics won the country’s first gold medal under Munda’s captaincy. 

Teaching assignments took Jaipal to different places – from Raipur (the present capital of Chhattisgarh) in the Central Provinces and Berar, to the Gold Coast in Ghana, Africa, and finally, to Rajputana. In Raipur, he became the principal of Rajkumar College. Here, he became the target of caste hatred and discrimination, despite his outstanding educational qualifications; accomplishments, including those in sports; competence; and leadership qualities. When he returned to India, he was appointed Colonization Minister and Revenue Commissioner in the princely state of Bikaner. This stint, in which he was unimpeachable, earned him further laurels. He was elevated to the post of Foreign Secretary of the state of Bikaner.

At this stage, he felt a profound urge to do something for his people - the neglected and exploited tribal communities in Chota Nagpur in Bihar. He returned to Bihar and met Dr Rajendra Prasad, president of the Bihar Provincial Congress Committee, at Sadaquat Ashram in Patna. The Governor of Bihar and Orissa, Sir Maurice Hallet, who requested him to become a member of the Bihar & Orissa Legislative Council, opened the door. He, however, politely declined the gracious offer. Then, both the Governor and Robert Russell, the chief secretary, advised him to take up the cause of the tribal people who were already in a restive mood. Jaipal Singh went to Ranchi, where Tribals gave him a warm and tumultuous welcome. 

In 1946, Jaipal was elected to the Constituent Assembly from a general constituency in Bihar. The 296-member Constituent Assembly was tasked with drafting the Constitution. Jaipal spoke for the first time in the Assembly on 19 December 1946. Introducing himself as a “jungli” – a forest dweller – he spoke of the “unknown hordes – of unrecognized 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 jungli – that is the name by which we are known in my part of the country.” Speaking for the people living in the Chota Nagpur plateau, he supported the resolution that articulated the aspiration and sentiments of “more than 30 millions of the Adibasis” (amid cheers), because it was also “a resolution which gives expression to sentiments that throb in every heart in this country”… He added, “As a jungli, as an Adibasi, my common sense tells me, the common sense of my people tells me, that every one of us should march in that road of freedom and fight together.”

In a stirring speech, Jaipal Singh told the Constituent Assembly, “You cannot teach democracy to the tribal people; you have to learn democratic ways from them. They are the most democratic people on earth.” This country should be proud of the tradition of democracy prevalent and practised by the tribal communities – free from inequality, discrimination and disadvantages imposed on one section by another without any reason and logic. “What my people require, sir, is not adequate safeguards … they require protection from the ministers. That is the position today. We do not ask for any special protection. We want to be treated like every other Indian,” he said. 

Jaipal noted that the tribal communities are a living example of an egalitarian society. He said, “There is no question of caste in my society. We are all equal.” Their unabated exploitation, he said, exhibited the dominant paradigm of the social-economic and political culture. He strongly demanded the inclusion of “more Adibasis” in the national legislature to represent their interests. A firm believer in gender equality among the tribal communities, he said, “I mean, sir, not only (Adibasi) men but women also. There are too many men in the Constituent Assembly. We want more women …” Jaipal Singh was definitely one of the first to press for the participation of women in shaping and building independent India.