Adivasi Jallianwala Bagh: The Mangarh massacre of 1913 that PM Modi spoke of in Rajasthan

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“Over 1,500 tribals were killed in firing by the British on 17 November 1913. But unfortunately, in the history written post-Independence, this was not given its due place.

“Now, the country is correcting the mistake committed decades ago,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday as he addressed a public meeting at Mangarh Dham in Banswara district of Rajasthan.

He also asked Rajasthan and neighbouring state governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to draw a roadmap for developing Mangarh Dham, a memorial to a tribal uprising against the British which he said has not been given its due place in history.

Speaking at the event, Prime Minister Modi also praised Govind Guru, who had led the 1913 uprising, saying, “Great freedom fighters like Govind Guru were the representatives of India’s tradition and ideals. He lost his family but never lost his heart and made every tribal person his family. He fought against the British for the rights of the tribal community and also campaigned against the ills of his own community as he was a social reformer, spiritual leader, a saint and leader. His intellectual and philosophical aspects were as vibrant as his courage and social activism.”

For many Tuesday’s event was seen as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s outreach to the tribal community ahead of the Assembly polls in Gujarat in the next few weeks and in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh next year.

However, what’s the Mangarh massacre all about? Who is Govind Guru? We dig deep into history and give you the answers.

Background to the massacre

It’s important to understand what was the situation on the ground prior to the massacre. According to history, the Bhils, a tribal community living across Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh faced great troubles at the hands of the rulers of the princely states and the British. By the end of the 20th century, the Bhils living in Rajasthan and Gujarat became bonded labour.

The great famine of 1899-1900 across the Deccan and Bombay Presidency, which killed over six lakh people, only made the situation worst for the Bhils.

From this tragedy emerged social activist Guru Govindgiri, also known as Govind Guru. He served as a bonded labourer in the princely state of Santrampur. He realised that the socio-economic setup and prevalence of alcohol addiction was to blame for the plight of the Bhils.

In an attempt to improve their condition, Guru Govind began the Bhagat Movement in 1908 in which he propagated practices such as vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol. He also asked his supporters to reject bonded labour and fight for their rights.

As the Bhils became more aware of their rights, the rulers of the princely states of Dungarpur, Banswara and Santrampur began getting wary. The growing awareness among the Bhils and their demands for better wages upset the local rulers and the British.

According to Arun Vaghela, a professor of history at Gujarat University, Govind Guru’s movement had, as its religious centrepiece, the concept of a fire god, which required his followers to raise sacred hearths in front of which Bhils pray while performing the purifying havan called dhuni.

In 1903, Govind Guru set up his main dhuni on Mangarh Hill, situated in the middle of dense forests on the border of Banswara and Santrampur. Mobilised and trained by him, the Bhils placed a charter of 33 demands before the British by 1910 primarily relating to forced labour, high tax imposed on Bhils and harassment of the guru’s followers by the British and rulers of princely states.

The Bhils rejected the British’s attempt to placate them and refused to leave Mangarh Hill, vowing to declare freedom from British rule.

According to the book A History of Rajasthan, the British then asked the Bhils to leave Mangarh Hill before 15 November 1913. But that didn’t happen and the princely kingdoms of nearby Dungarpur, Banswara and Sunth pressured the colonial government who then sent in the Mewar Bhil Corps to attack the Mangarh Hill.

The Mangarh massacre

The British political representative of the region RE Hamilton deployed the combined forces of British, Santrampur, Dungarpur, Banswara and a detachment of Mewar force moved towards Mangarh.

According to a book published by the Gujarat Forest Department titled Govind Guru, The Chief Actor of the Mangadh Revolution, “Machine guns and canons used in the attack were loaded on donkeys and mules and brought to Mangadh Hill and neighbouring peaks under the command of British officers Major S Bailey and Captain E Stoiley.”

On 17 November 1913, the British Indian Army fired indiscriminately on Bhil protesters and it is said that over 1,500 people, including women and children died in the tragedy.

Virji Parghi of Khuta Tikma village in Banswara was quoted as telling India Today that his father Soma would recount to him how the British placed ‘canon-like guns’ on donkeys and made them swivel in circles while firing so that more people could get killed.

In the same report, Matha Jithra Garasia, who lost his grandfather Var Singh Garasia and his aunt in the massacre, said, “The killings created such a scare that Bhils stopped going to Mangarh for several decades after Independence.”

Following the killings, Govind Guru was captured, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. Owing to his popularity and good conduct in jail, he was released from Hyderabad Jail in 1919 but banned from entering many of the princely states where he had a following. He settled down in Kamboi near Limbdi in Gujarat and died in 1931.

Forgotten tragedy?

The legend of Govind Guru and Mangarh massacre is etched in the memory of the Bhils. For their descendants and historians, this tragedy is more gruesome than the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.

However, today most people are unaware of this incident and it finds no mention in school history books.

However, since 1952, an annual fair has been instituted in Mangarh in memory of Govind Guru and his disciples. As a tribute to Govind Guru’s legacy and his teachings, the Govind Guru University was established in Godhra, Gujarat in 2015.

With inputs from agencies

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Adivasi Jallianwala Bagh: The Mangarh massacre of 1913 that PM Modi spoke of in Rajasthan
Adivasi Jallianwala Bagh: The Mangarh massacre of 1913 that PM Modi spoke of in Rajasthan
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