Recently, a dispute in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district over hoisting of a flag on the statue of Rana Punja Bhil, a historical figure considered as a hero by the tribal Bhil community, has triggered tensions between Adivasi groups.
What is the present dispute about?
- On the occasion of World Tribal Day on August 9, when members of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Mahasabha gathered near a statue of Rana Punja Bhil in Udaipur, they objected to a flag hoisted on it.
- Tribal leaders have alleged that a saffron flag was put up by the BJP and Sangh Parivar on the statue, which is against the culture and identity of the community.
Who was Rana Punja Bhil?
- According to historians, Rana Punja Bhil was a contemporary of 16th century ruler of Mewar, Maharana Pratap. While tales of Pratap’s bravery are synonymous with Rajasthan, Punja is considered to be a significant character who bolstered the strength of Pratap during his battles with Mughal emperor Akbar.
- When Maharana Pratap was readying for the battle with Akbar, the tribal Bhil community voluntarily came to his assistance and at the time the Bhil army was commanded by Punja.
- Owing to his status as a commander, he was bestowed the title of Rana.
- Bhils are an ancient tribe, whose history goes back to even mythologies. Due to their unmatched knowledge of the hills and forests of Mewar, the community has always exercised a strong influence in the region.
- During Maharana Pratap’s campaign against Akbar, including the battle of Haldighati, Bhils played a crucial role.
- Much like Maharana Pratap, Rana Punja Bhil too has become a character with various political parties wanting to appropriate his legacy.
- In the past three decades, Punja has been styled as a tribal icon and this positioning of him has coincided with the rise of political parties such as the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), which talks of tribal assertion.
- The demand for a separate Bhil Pradesh comprising the tribal districts is also related to the issue, wherein legacies of historical figures are being claimed by one political party or another.
Why did Bhils exercise significant influence in Mewar?
- Historians say that the Bhil community-classified as a scheduled tribe in Rajasthan-, which is a forest dweller group has exercised significant influence in the Mewar region and throughout the past, the Rajput rulers of the region have forged alliances with the tribal group.
- Bhils have always had control over the forest produce from Mewar which is rich in natural resources.
- The Bhils were also adept in guerilla warfare with bows, arrows and slingshots and were a significant part of the Rajput resistance against the Mughal Army during the battle of Haldighati owing to their knowledge of the region’s topography.
- Later during the British period as well, the Bhils and the colonial powers were often engaged in confrontations.
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