By: Amitabh Dixit, Editor-ICN
Who was Tantya Mama
Tantya Bhil was born as a very thin and weak but little long child in 1842 in Badda village of Pandhana tehsil of East Nimar (Khandwa) district in the then CP province. Tantya’s father, Mau Sing, vowed to his wife at the threshold of Navagaja Pir in childhood that his son would avenge the humiliation of his Bhil caste sister, daughters and daughters-in-law. Navagaja Pir was the favored deity of the Muslims as well as the Bhils.
Because of being this and bein long he was called “Tantya” like the dried tall & thin sorghum plant.
In his early childhood, Tantya’s mother died. His father Bhaou Singh did not remarried. He focused on the upbringing of the child. The father trained Tantya to run lathi-fight games and arrow-command. Tantya acquired proficiency in archery, also mastered lathi running art. He was tied up in family bonds in his youth by marrying with kagajbai & father entrusted him with the responsibility of farming. Tantya was thirty years old, he was cherished by everyone in the village, was an undeclared hero of the youth. His tact and demeanor made him popular.
In barren land, the crop is dependent on rainfall. Natural outbreaks add the further difficulty and bring even more bad days. The farmer is also forced to starve. Tantya also faced such a situation. The father died at such a time. Even the four year “Lagaan” (agriculture rent) of the land became outstanding. “Malguzar” (agriculture rent collection officer) evicted him from the land. There was a problem of survival in front of him. At such a time, he remembered ‘Pokhar’ where his father Bhau Singh’s friend Shiva Patil used to live and who jointly bought the land along with his father, which was looked after by Shiva Patil.
Tantya went to Shiva Patil. Shiva respected Tantya but did not approve of his father’s legal right over the land.
After Shiva turned away, Tantya reached Badda. He raised some cash by selling houses, bullock cart. He appealed against Shiva’s fraud in the Khandwa court, but had to face defeat in this too. Court has given the decision in favor of Shiva on the basis of those evidences which were all false.
Tantya became furious. After beating the Shiva’s servants with sticks, Tantya took the possession of the land. A police complaint was against Tantya. The police arrested and framed the case, in which he was sentenced to one year rigorous imprisonment.
Seeing the inhuman treatment of the detainees in the jail, Tantya got distraught, her sense of rebellion started reviving in her mind. After one year of jail, the spark inside Tantya was slowly becoming fire. After getting released from prison, he started living in Pokhar by working as a laborer, but there he was not allowed to live peacefully. In that region if any in appropriate incident happens, always a conspiracy is hatched to implicate Tantya.
He became fed up and left the Pokhar, he came to Hirapur, but very soon he was arrested on false charges of theft. He and his friend Bijania Bhil and Tantya became so angry and they injured several soldiers with the sword as retaliation against this false theft charges. In this case he was sentenced to three months.
Leaving Badda-Pokhar behind, Tantya started living in Jhirnya village (Khargone). A criminal took his name in the case of theft, again police started searching for him.
Tantya decided to take revenge; he formed a gang of those people who were victims of Sahukars –Malguzars (Local money lenders and agriculture rent officers).
He started looting these sahukars and rich land lords. On 30 June 1876, He robbed a local Zamidar (Land Lord) Himmat Singh & Himmat Singh was shot dead. Tantya was caught in a conspiracy and arrested along with his trusted confidants. On 20 November 1878, he was produced with his partners Dauliya and Bijounia in the court of Khandwa.
Tantya’s fame was at peak at that time. Hundreds of Bhils gathered to see him. Himmat Patel testified & witnessed against Tantya, who was threatened by Tantya in court.
He was kept in Khandwa jail, from where he planned to escape. On the night of 24 November 1878, after crossing twenty feet high jail wall, he along with 12 companions fled towards the forest.
Tantya wandered from village to village. He started becoming a companion in people’s happiness and sorrow. Helping the poor, marrying poor girls, helping the helpless people, Tantya Mama became the darling of everyone. He became the leader of the exploited and oppressed Bhils, and they started worshiping him. He used to distribute the goods looted by hoarders who thrived under the umbrella of the British, to the hungry-bare and exploited tribals.
People started respecting him like a king. His virtue of service and benevolence made him ‘Jannayak'(People’s Hero). His power continued to grow. He started organizing the youth. The moneylender began to terrify after hearing the name of Tantya.
Tantya looted the train carrying the treasure of the British many times, and then distributed those treasures to the poor and needy.
Tantya had expertise in gorilla fighting, balancing, knife-wielding, & using guns. Actually Tatya Tope was so impressed by his valor and indomitable courage that he made Tantya master of guerrilla warfare. For this reason, he could not be caught. The police keep searching but unable to catch him. People called him a dacoit, but whatever he looted as a revolutionary, he used it against the British. He was the first rebel Bhil youth of Nimar. He was a very powerful young man. He had miraculous wisdom power. He was even called an Avtari (incarnation person). He could not see the shame of a woman.
Tantya was not really a robber, but a rebel who had vowed to uproot the foreign power. He was like a youth icon for the youth. Tatya Tope had taught Tantya Bhil how beneficial it is to keep look alike in his group. History is a witness to how quickly one can succeed in his cause by possessing a gun. Tantya also used to be a part of his team. In order to harass the police, Tantaya put together five or six opposite directions. At that time, among the Bhil rebels who were with Tantya were Mahadev Shalya, Kaal Baba, Bhima Nayak etc.
When once Tantya Bhil was caught by the police, he released himself from the hands of the police persons and jumped into the flooded Narmada River & asked the police person to catch him. But later on considering the helplessness of poor Indian police man he himself made him arrest by saying that hold me I won’t run.
Later some more people were caught. After spending three months in jail, he started planning to escape from jail after getting a message from the Ally Popli, Jasudhi & then he escaped by breaking prison.
A man named Sangram was posted on duty in the jail. He was friendly to Tantya. He used to provide him correct information. He was being taken from prison to Khandwa. There he jumped with a soldier’s gun and then survived it even when fired. Once he entered the forest, no one was daring to catch him.
The police made a special squad to arrest Tantya, in which skilled policemen were hired. The Police’ raided many places, but Tantya could not be caught. In 1880, Tantya shook the British rule, when he robbed in twenty-four villages, in different directions and areas, Tantya rose to fame as a miraculous great man.
He used to give jewelry, grains, and to the poor. The police arrested and hanged his associate Bijania in order to end Tantya’s gang, which reduced Tantya’s strength.
Big advertisement was published to arrest Tantya, in which the huge reward was declared. Tantya cut the nose of a well-known police officer from England who came to catch Tantya.
In 1888, Tantya Police and Malwa Bhil Karpas Bhopal Platoon launched a joint campaign against him. The impact of Tantya spread to the hilly areas of Madhya Pradesh, CP region, Khandesh, Hoshangabad, Betul, Maharashtra, and to the rocky region of Malwa. Tantya robbed grains being carried in government trains & distributed among the victims of the famine. “No poor would remain hungry in Tantya Mama’s area” this belief was spread among the Bhils.
Tantya put had done more than 400 robberies in his rebel life and distributed the goods of loot to thousands of families. Tantya was a strong opponent of unnecessary killing. Those who were unfaithful, he used to punish them by cutting their noses. The joint campaign by British and Holkar government started minimizing the power of Tantya with the help of special officers in Nimad. The tantya gang weakened due to absence of brave companions – Bijania, Daulia, Modiya, Hiriya. Who were caught and killed by police.
Thousands of people were arrested and hundreds were sent to jail for helping Tantya Mama.
He was cordoned off by the police from all sides. He had to run into the forest after being hungry and thirsty. He remained absolutely hungry for several days had to survive on wild fruits. To overcome this situation, Tantya contacted Ganpat Singh of Baner who introduced him to Major Ishwari Prasad in the forest of Patalpani (Mhow), but nothing happened.
How was tantya mama caught-
On the day of Raksha Bandhan, being celebrated on the auspicious occasion of the full moon day of Shravanmas on August 11, 1896, Ganpat requested & invited Tantya to get Rakhi tied on his wrist being offered by Ganpat’s wife as a brother.
Tantya along with his six companions went to Ganpat’s house. After giving a warm welcome Ganpat offered the seats to his fellow members in veranda/courtyard, and asked Tantya to come inside the room where the soldiers were already present to capture the unarmed Tantya. Realizing the danger, the companions ran into the jungle by firing bullets. Tantya was held in handcuffs and fetters.
After being kept in Central India Agency Jail Indore located in the British Residency area, tantya was taken to Jabalpur in the tight legs of the police by putting huge shackles and kept in chains in Jabalpur jail. Here the British rulers tortured him fiercely and heavily.
A large crowd gathered to see him when he was being sent to Jabalpur under strict guard.
Tantia was sentenced to death by Sessions Court, Jabalpur on October 19, 1889. It is still unknown till today that when and on which date Tantia was hanged because the British government had a fear of public insurrection; but it isa common belief that his martyrdom took place on December 4, 1889.
After hanging, his body was thrown away near the Patalpani railway station located on the Khandwa railway route near Indore and a wooden statue at a mausoleum built there & that is believed to be the burial place of Tantya Mama, where later a temple has been erected in his memory known as Tantya Mama’s temple. Even today the train driver stops the rail for a few moments to salute the maternal uncle on Patalpani.
Tantya Mama is remembered even today in the folk tales of Nimar region. The works performed by Tantya Mama in Nimar, Malwa, Dhar –Jhabua, Betul, Hoshangabad, Maharashtra, Gujrat and Rajasthan were included in their folk consciousness in the same way as the folk gods were worshiped.
The most popular saga of Tantya Mama is composed in Nimar Zone but Malva, Marathi Gujarati Rajasthani region also sings the character saga of Tantya Mama. Mama is not among us today, but his deeds still thrill their people.
The name Tantya Bhil is taken with utmost respect even after hundreds of years. The name of Tantya Mama, who revolted against the British authority, is inscribed in the pages of history with the gold letters.