Everybody knows Gandhiji, Nehru, Patel, Netaji, Bhagat Singh and many others who played a stellar role in the freedom movement and the founding of our republic. But many, many others, including most of the 299 who made our Constituent Assembly and gave us this wonderful constitution, are forgotten. ThePrint’s new weekly series, ‘Forgotten Founders’, is our humble contribution to honour them by introducing them to millennial India.
We launch the series with humble Jharkhand tribal Jaipal Singh Munda – a fascinating story of how he chucked the coveted ICS, captained India to its first Olympic hockey gold and then, as a member of the Constituent Assembly, saved us all from compulsory prohibition.
Through his organisation Adivasi Mahasabha, Munda, in 1938, also raised the demand for a separate state of Jharkhand.
New Delhi: Actor Akshay Kumar’s latest Independence-Day release Gold, inspired from Indian hockey’s 1948 Olympic gold win, celebrates the legacy of Kishen Lal who captained the Indian team to win their first gold as an independent nation.
India’s first post-Independence victory, however, came on the back of three consecutive gold medal wins for the country while under British occupation. The first one of those victories, in 1928, started the fable of Indian hockey.
The legend of Jaipal Singh Munda, the man who captained the team which won Indian hockey’s first gold, was such that he later ended up on India’s Constituent Assembly.
Born to a Munda community tribal family in Takra Pahantoli, a village in then Bihar, on 3 January, 1903, the future Indian captain came to the notice of the missionaries in his village at an early age.
The principal of St. Paul’s, his school in Ranchi, took him under his wing and sent him to Oxford University for higher studies.
Munda’s talent in hockey was recognised there and he got a chance to not just represent but captain the Indian hockey team at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. At this point, he was under probation as an Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer in London. But he had to make the difficult choice between playing for India and keeping the prestigious and cozy ICS job. He chose the former.
He then went on to captain the team to its victory march. However, owing to differences with the team manager, Munda opted out of the final match. Vice-captain Broome Eric Pinniger led the team which clinched the gold medal, a first for India.
Return to India
After the Olympics, Munda took up teaching assignments abroad but returned to India in 1937. Gradually, he became a voice for the rights of the tribal people and formed the Adivasi Mahasabha in 1938 which raised the demand for a separate state of ‘Jharkhand’ for the tribals to be carved out of Bihar.
Munda’s demand for the state later earned him the title of ‘Marang Gomke’, meaning ‘great leader’ in Mundari, a regional language in Jharkhand.
But his astounding journey didn’t end there. He went on to be elected from a general constituency in Bihar to the Constituent Assembly in 1946.
Contribution to the Indian Constitution
As part of the Constituent Assembly, responsible for drafting the Indian Constitution, Munda ensured that voices of the tribal people were heard in the new nation.
Speaking for the first time in the Assembly on 19 December, 1946, he owned up proudly to his tribal heritage. Calling himself a ‘Jungli’, Munda called tribals ‘the original people of India’ and refused to apologise for their distinct culture and identity.
“I rise to speak on behalf of millions 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 Jungli, 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,” he said.
Munda ensured the culture and traditions of the tribals didn’t get lost amid other overwhelming voices from the rest of the country. For instance, during a debate on 24 November, 1948, when Prohibition (on intoxicating drinks) was included as a directive principle in the Constitution, he said, “as far as the Adibasis are concerned, no religious function can be performed without the use of rice beer.”
As a result of his efforts along with others, the Constitution included multiple safeguards for tribals, recognised the community as a minority and provided them reservations among other things.
His dream of a separate state for the tribals was realised on 15 November 2000, when Jharkhand was created, but he wasn’t alive to cherish it.
However, Munda will always be known as the man who brought the story of the tribals to the centrestage of Indian politics.