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Explained | What Was the 1913 Massacre of Mangarh That PM Modi Spoke About?

Over 1,500 tribals were killed in firing by the British on 17 November 1913

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Explained | What Was the 1913 Massacre of Mangarh That PM Modi Spoke About?
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Mangarh Dham in Rajasthan — a place revered by Bhils from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh — on Tuesday, 1 November, is being viewed as a major tribal outreach programme by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of assembly elections in Gujarat this year, as well as in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh next year.

"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 Modi addressing a public meeting at Mangarh Dham.

What was the Mangarh massacre? Why did Bhil tribals and the British come into conflict? The Quint will answer all these below

Explained | What Was the 1913 Massacre of Mangarh That PM Modi Spoke About?

  1. 1. Who Are The Bhil Tribals?

    According to history, the Bhils, a tribal community living across Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh faced oppression at the hands of the rulers of the princely states and the British.

    The Bhils of southern Rajasthan (and neighbouring parts of Central India, Gujarat Agency and Bombay Presidency states) were subjected to exploitation not just from local landed fief-holders, but also from money-lenders and traders.

    By the end of the 20th century, the Bhils living in Rajasthan and Gujarat became bonded labourers, according to A History of Rajasthan by Rima Hooja.

    The great famine of 1899-1900 which claimed the lives of over 6 lakh people, only worsened the situation for the Bhils. As it has been mentioned in the book, "the rapidly modernising world around them was not particularly kind to the Bhils in the early years of the twentieth century".

    Social activist Guru Govindgiri, also known as Govind Guru, who known as the pioneer of the Bhagat movement emerged in this background. He realised that the socio-economic setup and prevalence of alcohol addiction wich was was the reason behind for the plight of the Bhils.

    In an attempt to improve their condition, Guru Govindgiri 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.The epicenter of this agitation was Dungarpur and Banswara, densely populated by Bhils.

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  2. 2. What is the 1913 Massacre?

    However, his work seems to have brought him into confrontation with Dungarpur state in 1912-13, and he was arrested for a while. In April 1913, wary of the hold he had over the Bhils, the Dungarpur authorities exiled Govindgiri from the state. He moved his base to Bela Rojda in Idar state, from where he shifted to Mangarh, in Banswara state, in October 1913 with his followers.

    According to The History of Rajasthan, by this time, either Guru Govindgiri himself, or his disciple, Punja Dhirji, had visions of a grand restoration of the Bhil people to their once-famed indigenous kingdoms or governance — a ‘Bhil Raj’.

    Therefore, in consultation with other Bhil leaders, it was decided to take some definite steps towards attaining a Bhil Raj. Messages were sent out to Govindgiri’s followers to congregate for a religious fair at Mangarh hill on 13 November 1913. Bhils from many parts of Dungarpur, Banswara, Kushalgarh, Kherwara, Sunth, etc., reached Mangarh.

    Expand
  3. 3. How Important is the Tribal Belt Politically for the BJP?

    The analyst added that Mangarh Dham has become a matter of pride for the tribals and PM Modi's visit will certainly strike an emotional connect with the voters.

    The killing of tribals by the British in Mangarh in 1913 was more gruesome than the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel said at the event.

    As Vaghela said, Mangarh lies between Rajasthan and Gujarat, literally. "Both Rajasthan and Gujarat wanted to stake a claim to the history of Mangarh and there was a geographical dispute between the two states over it," told The Quint

    "Mangarh came into prominence around 10-15 years ago. Before that, it was not really in the limelight," he added.

    Over the past decade, Mangarh has remained the epicentre of tribal politics in the region.

    In Rajasthan’s 200-member Assembly, 25 seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST). In the Assembly polls in 2018, the BJP emerged victorious in only eight of those seats making it the second weakest region for the party after eastern Rajasthan.

    In the Gujarat Assembly, 27 seats are reserved for STs. In the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress won 15 of these seats; two were won by the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), which was then in alliance with the Congress; and nine by the BJP. According to the 2011 Census, in Gujarat about 15 percent of the total population is tribal.

    Expand

Who Are The Bhil Tribals?

According to history, the Bhils, a tribal community living across Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh faced oppression at the hands of the rulers of the princely states and the British.

The Bhils of southern Rajasthan (and neighbouring parts of Central India, Gujarat Agency and Bombay Presidency states) were subjected to exploitation not just from local landed fief-holders, but also from money-lenders and traders.

By the end of the 20th century, the Bhils living in Rajasthan and Gujarat became bonded labourers, according to A History of Rajasthan by Rima Hooja.

The great famine of 1899-1900 which claimed the lives of over 6 lakh people, only worsened the situation for the Bhils. As it has been mentioned in the book, "the rapidly modernising world around them was not particularly kind to the Bhils in the early years of the twentieth century".

Social activist Guru Govindgiri, also known as Govind Guru, who known as the pioneer of the Bhagat movement emerged in this background. He realised that the socio-economic setup and prevalence of alcohol addiction wich was was the reason behind for the plight of the Bhils.

In an attempt to improve their condition, Guru Govindgiri 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.The epicenter of this agitation was Dungarpur and Banswara, densely populated by Bhils.

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What is the 1913 Massacre?

However, his work seems to have brought him into confrontation with Dungarpur state in 1912-13, and he was arrested for a while. In April 1913, wary of the hold he had over the Bhils, the Dungarpur authorities exiled Govindgiri from the state. He moved his base to Bela Rojda in Idar state, from where he shifted to Mangarh, in Banswara state, in October 1913 with his followers.

According to The History of Rajasthan, by this time, either Guru Govindgiri himself, or his disciple, Punja Dhirji, had visions of a grand restoration of the Bhil people to their once-famed indigenous kingdoms or governance — a ‘Bhil Raj’.

Therefore, in consultation with other Bhil leaders, it was decided to take some definite steps towards attaining a Bhil Raj. Messages were sent out to Govindgiri’s followers to congregate for a religious fair at Mangarh hill on 13 November 1913. Bhils from many parts of Dungarpur, Banswara, Kushalgarh, Kherwara, Sunth, etc., reached Mangarh.

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This worried the British and the state authorities of Dungarpur, Banswara, Kushalgarh and Sunth.

On 31 October, Punja Dhirji captured two policemen from Sunth, as they approached Mangarh Hill. One was killed and the other taken captive. Negotiations were opened between the British political officers posted at Rewaskantha and Mewar, and Govindgiri on 9 November.

The latter’s representatives submitted a charter of demands and a list of 33 against the Rajput states.

The British called upon the Bhils to leave Mangarh Hill before 15 November but that did not happen. On the morning of 17 November, the Mewar Bhil Corps and forces of the Dungarpur, Banswara and Sunth states attacked Mangarh Hill. Arun Vaghela, a professor of history at Gujarat University, told The Quint that the operation started at 8 am and lasted for two hours.

The book states that according to the "Bhil oral traditions and later accounts hold that more than 1,500 men, women and children were killed, and many hurt. in the indiscriminate firing on the tribals". The incident is also reffered to as "Adivasi Jallianwala".

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The analyst added that Mangarh Dham has become a matter of pride for the tribals and PM Modi's visit will certainly strike an emotional connect with the voters.

The killing of tribals by the British in Mangarh in 1913 was more gruesome than the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel said at the event.

How Important is the Tribal Belt Politically for the BJP?

As Vaghela said, Mangarh lies between Rajasthan and Gujarat, literally. "Both Rajasthan and Gujarat wanted to stake a claim to the history of Mangarh and there was a geographical dispute between the two states over it," told The Quint

"Mangarh came into prominence around 10-15 years ago. Before that, it was not really in the limelight," he added.

Over the past decade, Mangarh has remained the epicentre of tribal politics in the region.

In Rajasthan’s 200-member Assembly, 25 seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST). In the Assembly polls in 2018, the BJP emerged victorious in only eight of those seats making it the second weakest region for the party after eastern Rajasthan.

In the Gujarat Assembly, 27 seats are reserved for STs. In the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress won 15 of these seats; two were won by the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), which was then in alliance with the Congress; and nine by the BJP. According to the 2011 Census, in Gujarat about 15 percent of the total population is tribal.

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At 21.5 percent and 14 percent respectively, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which are to go to the polls in November-December 2023 — months ahead of the 2024 General Election — also have significant tribal populations.

"Acknowledgement of the sacrifice made by the tribals at Mangarh Dham is one of the key issues that have shaped the the tribal politics in the region in the past decade. It has seen the emergence of Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP) in Gujarat and Rajasthan, challenging the region’s bipolar state of politics," a political analyst told The Times of India.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from explainers

Topics:  PM Narendra Modi   Mangarh Dham 

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