Remembering Kali Bai Bhil - The 'Brave Girl' Who Ignited the Flame of Education Among Tribals in South Rajasthan

Despite her sacrifice, her story is not included in Rajasthan's educational curriculum. Senior historian Dr. Shree Krishna Jugnu, who has authored numerous educational texts, notes that while students learn about ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka and rebellions in Vienna, local heroes like Kali Bai are overlooked.
Kali Bai Kalasua
Kali Bai KalasuaHistorical Dungarpur

Jaipur. Before independence, a dark conspiracy sought to extinguish the light of education in the tribal areas of Rajasthan. Schools were shut down, and teachers were dragged out, beaten, and humiliated. In this atmosphere of governmental terror, Kali Bai Bhil, a young girl from the small village of Rastaapal in Dungarpur district, courageously stood up to the authorities to protect her teacher. Armed with only a sickle, she bravely confronted the soldiers alone.

Kali Bai Bhil lost her life while saving her teacher Sengabhai from the brutality of the oppressive regime. She was martyred by bullets on June 20, 1947.

Despite the introduction of the Kali Bai Bhil Scooty Scheme to promote education, her sacrifice is not taught in textbooks. This raises questions about why the history of her sacrifice has been forgotten. To delve into this, The Mooknayak spoke with Dr. Heera Meena, a former assistant professor at Delhi University and a tribal writer. Dr. Meena has often pondered why historians have neglected Kali Bai Bhil's story.

Dr. Meena explained that at the age of 13, Kali Bai Bhil risked her life, using a sickle to drive away a group of British soldiers and save her teacher Sengabhai. Yet, the history of such tribal heroes, who made immense sacrifices for the country, has been erased from the pages of history. She expressed that if Kali Bai Bhil's story had been taught, it would inspire today's young girls with patriotism and courage.

Two months before independence, under the conspiracies and orders of the British government and Maharawal Lakshman Singh of Dungarpur, the beacons of education in tribal regions were forcibly closed. They feared that educated tribal children would begin to demand their rights and not remain subservient. They wanted to keep them ignorant of their glorious ancestral history. The truth is, Dungarpur was established in the 13th century by the brave warrior Dungariya Bhil. The regions around the ancient Aravalli range and Dhundhad were once ruled by the descendants of the Indus Valley Civilization, the Bhils and Meenas, until Rajputs deceitfully took over.

Kali Bai Bhil was a young girl from Rastaapal village in Dungarpur district. Her parents, farmers Somabhai Bhil and Navli Bai, worked in fields near their village. Inspired by the ideals of Govind Guru, Somabhai Bhil started sending Kali Bai to school to eradicate social evils and bring enlightenment to the tribal community. After school, Kali Bai would help her parents with household and farming chores.

Before independence, tribals across the country fought hundreds of battles against British rule, challenging their authority and enduring severe repression. Acts like the Criminal Tribes Act targeted them, escalating cruelty and oppression.

On November 17, 1913, the massacre of Bhil-Meena tribals at Mangarh Hill saw over 1500 tribals killed, with many more wounded and dying later.

The Maharawal of Dungarpur wanted to prevent education in his state, fearing that an educated populace would become aware of their rights. Many teachers risked their lives to keep schools open. Nanabhai Khant and Sengabhai Rot ran a school in Rastaapal village despite warnings and violent repression from the Maharawal’s soldiers.

On June 17, 1947, a police officer arrived with soldiers, ordering the closure of the school and brutally beating Nanabhai and Sengabhai when they refused. Nanabhai succumbed to the violence, and Sengabhai was tied to a truck and dragged. Amidst this, 13-year-old Kali Bai arrived with a sickle, questioning the soldiers. When she learned that the teachers were being punished for running a school, she fearlessly confronted the officer, asserting that education was not a crime.

Inspired by Kali Bai’s courage, villagers began protesting. In a fit of rage, the officer shot Kali Bai, who fell wounded. Enraged, the villagers attacked the soldiers, forcing them to flee. Sengabhai was saved and taken to the hospital, but Kali Bai succumbed to her injuries on June 20, 1947, becoming a martyr for education and freedom.

Despite her sacrifice, her story is not included in Rajasthan's educational curriculum. Senior historian Dr. Shree Krishna Jugnu, who has authored numerous educational texts, notes that while students learn about ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka and rebellions in Vienna, local heroes like Kali Bai are overlooked. He mentions that although the National Book Trust and Rajasthan Adult Education Committee have published booklets on her, they are not part of the curriculum.

The contributions of Kali Bai and other martyrs remain unrecognized, even though they played crucial roles in lighting the torch of education in Rajasthan.

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