SALEPUR: For his dedication, Gauri Shankar Ray is called ‘Karmaveer’ and the torch-bearer of Odia language. The Government, though, has been indifferent towards maintaining his ancestral house which lies in a dilapidated condition.
Though born in a Bengali Zamindar family, Ray had a keen interest in Odia language and started a crusade against the discriminatory policy of the British regime to revive the rich cultural heritage of Odisha.
Founder of Cuttack Printing Company and publisher of ‘Utkal Dipika’ in 1866 that aimed at promotion of Odia language, Ray had also launched the ‘Save Odia’ campaign in Cuttack. In fact, ‘Utkal Dipika’ was the first Odia journal that gave extensive coverage to the famine that ravaged the State in 1866 and it later went on to become the first Odia daily to be published in the State. A year later, he published the Odia almanac written by Pandit Chandrashekhar.
Ray also built the Town Hall of Cuttack with his own money and donated `30,000 at that time to Cuttack College which was later renamed as Ravenshaw College. He was the first Chairman of Cuttack Municipality. Ray had also opened the first girls’ school, Gauri Shankar Balika Bidyalaya, in 1914 at his native village Dikhitpada. He had also set up a charitable dispensary Gauri Shankar Databya Chikitsalaya at Asureswar to provide free medical services to the rural poor.
But today, these two institutions that were taken over by the State Government, are gasping for breath. They do not have accommodation facilities, staff and need maintenance.
Ray died in 1917. Every year on his birth and death anniversaries, ministers, political leaders and other VIPs offer floral tribute before his statue at Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. But his birthplace remains desolate. His ancestral home, a double-storey building at Dikhitpada village under Nischintakoili block where he was born on July 13, 1838, is now languishing in neglect. The house remains closed even on these two days.
The colour of the building has worn out and the structure is crumbling day by day due to lack of maintenance. Sources said it was mortgaged by his kin for loan to raise a dairy farm. Due to non-payment of the loan money, the Cutttack Central Co-operative Bank had filed a case and is now planning to attach the property. The bank has already filed an execution proceeding.
If no action is initiated to preserve the birthplace of the ‘Karmaveer,’ it will soon turn into rubbles and will be confined to the pages of Odisha history.
On the other hand, although `five lakh was sanctioned by the Culture department for installation of a life-size statue of Ray in Bhubaneswar four years back, no such step has been taken so far. “It’s a matter of regret that despite sanctioning of funds, the statue could not be installed yet,” said Indrajit Ghose, secretary of Karmaveer Gauri Shankar Smruti Sansad, Cuttack.
He said Ray’s ancestral home should be declared as a national memorial building and efforts should be made by the Government to revive ‘Utkal Dipika’.