Some heroes remain unsung yet they remain etched in the memories of their people. Unfortunately, Indian history textbooks have always totally ignored or worse painted national heroes with the same brush as the British by Marxist historians who dominated the education sector.
No wonder tribal leader Tantya Bhil fashioned as Robinhood of India and revered by the people as mama (uncle) is not even known to people outside the tribal populations of Madhya Pradesh (MP). He was loved by the people as he helped them with subsistence, providing money during occasions such as marriages of daughters and also coming to the aid of the people facing atrocities. It was a feeling of gratitude and affection that made Robinhood Tantya Bhil a favorite of the masses.
Tantya, born in 1840, lost his mother at a very young age and was brought up by his father who did not marry a second time to take care of Tantya. He belonged to a poor tribal family whose sustenance depended on a small piece of land under their ownership. However, the vagaries of nature affected income earned through farming making it difficult for them to pay the land revenue and their farm was seized by the village head.
Tantya rose in rebellion against this injustice angering the local administrators and the police who then brought false charges upon him. He was sent to Khandwa jail. This was when he resolved to fight against the foreign rule and its agents who oppressed the common Indian masses.
To fulfil this resolve, he broke out of the jail and made the forest his home. He became the leader of the masses whom he encouraged to rise in rebellion against the oppressive British Raj and free themselves from slavery of the foreign rule. He also became the leader of those freedom fighters who had participated in the 1857 first Independence struggle but had to flee to the forests after the British brutally crushed the movement.
Having gathered the necessary manpower, Tantya was now able to raid the zamindars who acted as British agents and distributed the wealth among the poor. He naturally became a protector of people’s rights which led the British officials, their Indian agents and the British press to refer to Tantya as Robinhood.
Although he was made out to be a thug by the British, for whom our revolutionaries were terrorists, this was far from the truth. He was a patriot in every sense of the word who wanted nothing but to free the country from the foreign rule.
He mastered the guerilla warfare technique due to his association with 1857 war hero Tatya Tope and had several body doubles which enabled him to attack and raid multiple locations at the same time without getting caught. He was so adept in guerilla warfare that he received a mythical status as people began to narrate tales of Tantya having superpowers such as the ability to appear and disappear at will.
He was well-versed with the forest terrain and that made it all the more difficult for authorities to capture him despite the fact that they had formed a dedicated police force known as Tantya Police Brigade which remained a futile exercise as he never fell into the British hands till the time he was betrayed and turned in by none other than his trusted lieutenant Ganpat Rajput.
He was presented before the Jabalpur Deputy Commissioner on 26th September 1889 and hanged on 4th December 1889 following a court trial. He still lives on in the memories of the people who celebrate 4th December as Robinhood Tantya Martyrdom Day and visit his memorial near Patalpani railway station located in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore City. It is, however, important to bring such national heroes into the national memory rather than just confining them to the tribes and/or states or regions they belonged to.