Gujarat’s tableau for the Republic Day parade this year has been themed on tribal revolutionaries from the state who devoted themselves to India’s independence struggle, with a special focus on an event that took place in Sabarkantha in 1922 that some historians refer to as “Gujarat’s Jallianwala Bagh”.
The tableau, which is 45 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 16 feet high, comprises a seven-foot statue of Motilal Tejawat, one of the heroes of the event “who was regarded as the ‘Gandhi of Koliyari’ by the tribals.
The tragic incident, in which some 1,200 Bhils were massacred, happened in the Pal-Chitariya and Dadhvaav villages of the district, then part of Idar state.
On March 7, 1922, the day marking Amalki Ekadashi, just before Holi – a major festival for the tribals, villagers from Pal-Chitariya and Dadhvaav gathered on the banks of Her river under Tejawat’s leadership to protest against the land revenue tax (lagaan) imposed by the British and feudal lords.
Born into a merchant family in the adivasi dominated Koliyari village in the Mewad region of Rajasthan, Tejawat was employed by a landlord where he worked for eight years. “During this period he saw closely how the landlords exploited tribals and would threaten to beat them with shoes if they did not pay the tax”, write author and chairperson of the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi, Vishnu Pandya, and his late wife Arti Pandya in their book ‘Gujarat na Krantiteertho’ (2009). Outraged by the atrocities and exploitation of tribal people he quit the job in 1920 and devoted himself to social work and reform. Tejawat had also mobilised Bhils from Kotda Chhavni, Sirohi and Danta to participate in the event.
The impact of the protest was felt in Vijaynagar, Dadhvaav, Poshina, Khedbrahma, which are now talukas of Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts, Banaskantha, Danta of Banaskantha district, Kotda Chhavni, Dungarpur, Chittor, Sirohi, Banswada and Udaipur of Rajasthan, all of which were under princely states then.
The Mewad Bhil Corps (MBC), a paramilitary force raised by the British that was on the lookout for Tejawat, heard of the gathering and reached the spot.
“After Tejawat’s fiery speech, nearly 2,000 Bhils raised their bows and arrows and shouted in unison- ‘we will not pay the tax’. In response, MBC commanding officer HG Sutton ordered his men to fire. Bullets rained on them but where would they go? There was a stampede,” the book narrates.
Some fell to the bullets and others jumped into two wells – Dhekhadiya and Dudhiya, says Pandya, who collected information on the incident from government gazettes and accounts of local chroniclers.
While the British claimed 22 people were killed, the Bhils believe around 1,200-1,500 of them died in the battle.
Tejawat, who was also shot twice, was taken to safety by the villagers on a camel. However, he “returned to the spot to christen it Veerbhumi”, the book says.
The tribals recount this incident to this day in songs sung at weddings and fairs. One such song is “Hansu dukhi, duniya dukhi”.
Gujarat’s tableau will also include a statue of officer Sutton, besides six other statues. Six artistes will also perform to bring to life “the pain of the tragedy”.
There are five mural artworks around the tableau depicting scenes from the 1922 tribal congregation. There are also the two wells on both the sides of the tableau “illustrating the corpses of the martyred tribal people,” the release says. There will also be four-foot-tall statues of four tribal freedom fighters carrying torches as the symbol of revolution. “These statues showcase the bravery, courage, and devotion of the tribal people in the Independence struggle,” the release said.
“In this part of Sabarkantha district, tribals offer idols of horses made from clay to their shrine in a ritualistic manner with the intention that their wishes will get fulfilled someday. Hence, two such horses are presented on both sides of the tableau,” the release further said.
Ten tribal artists, dressed in traditional attires, will perform Gair (a popular folk dance) describing the event in folklore to music composed by artists from Sabarkantha with traditional instruments.
A song sung in the folklore by the tribal people addressing Tejawat as ‘Koliyari no Vanio Gandhi’ will also be presented along with the tableau, designed and constructed by Siddheshwar Kanuga, owner of Smart Graph Art Private Limited.
Interestingly, it was Narendra Modi who “brought this crucial chapter of history before the world” when he was the state chief minister, says a note from the Gujarat government. During his tenure, a memorial for Tejawat was also built at the massacre site surrounded by a Smriti Van.
According to Pandya, it was PM Modi’s idea to theme the Gujarat tableau on this incident.