The fourth of July marks the 125th birth anniversary of Alluri Sitarama Raju, one of India’s revolutionary heroes whose guerilla tactics and daring attacks struck terror in the hearts of the British. Let us bow our heads in the memory of such fearless heroes who did not get their due from recorded history. The occasion significantly coincides with the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations, commemorating the 75th year of Independence.
Born on July 4, 1897, the awe-inspiring revolutionary leader is revered across Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Karnataka as “Manyam Veerudu” or the “Hero of the Jungle”. He is a household name in these states. While his audacious exploits and lightning strikes against the British rattled the authorities of the day, turning him into a much-revered, larger-than-life hero in these states, our history books have not accorded him the stature and importance he merits.
Alluri, a born rebel, became a sanyasi at the age of 18. He is famously remembered for leading the Rampa rebellion in 1922-24 in the Visakhapatnam-Godavari agency area of the then Madras Presidency. He was then in his early twenties. After sending chills down the spine of the British, the fierce revolutionary laid down his life for the freedom of the motherland in 1924, at the young age of 27 years.
Fired by intense patriotism and a passion to free the nation from the clutches of the British, he opposed the exploitation of tribals by rulers in the wake of the Madras Forest Act, which had laid severe curbs on their movement in the forest area and prevented them from carrying out their traditional agricultural practice of Podu cultivation.
He galvanised the tribals to fight against the injustices of the British. His life is epitomised in the words of Babasaheb Ambedkar who famously said — “Life should be great rather than long”.
In April this year, I was fortunate to have visited Pandrangi village near Visakhapatnam where I also met some of the family members of the great leader. In the same village, the tall statue of this charismatic warrior, clad in ‘dhoti’ and ‘angavastram’, holding the bow and arrow, reminds one of Lord Rama who slew demonic forces and fought fearlessly against injustice and tyranny. His name ‘Sitarama’ truly symbolises the humility and kindness of Maa Sita and the courage and fortitude of Prabhu Shri Rama. He was a selfless freedom fighter who led an austere life devoted to the welfare and uplift of the underprivileged Adivasis in the Eastern Ghats region.
Born in a humble middle-class family, Alluri Sitarama Raju’s schooling was disrupted following the untimely demise of his father. Thereafter, the spiritual quest of the teenage Sitarama Raju took him on a pilgrimage to various parts of the country including Nasik, Gangotri and Chittagong (now in Bangladesh). While undertaking these long journeys, he could see and was moved by the deprived socio-economic conditions of his fellow countrymen, particularly the tribals, under colonial rule. His travels also opened his eyes to the savage exploitation of Indians, particularly tribals and the oppressed, by the colonial rulers.
Sitarama Raju made Adivasi areas of the Visakhapatnam and Godavari districts his home and began to work for the education and empowerment of tribal communities whose life was a picture of abject poverty. Moreover, these tribal communities faced constant harassment at the hands of the British police, forest and revenue officials. Slowly but surely, he began preparing the ground for a direct fight against the British authorities, who had infringed upon the livelihood and traditions of Adivasis.
Angered by the atrocities of the British against tribals, farmers and others, the ‘Manyam Veerudu’ built a strong team of followers to lead the historic Rampa revolt. The bravery and exploits of Sitarama Raju during the Rampa rebellion have, ever since, become part of the folklore in Andhra Pradesh and adjoining states.
His deep understanding of the forest terrain and skillful use of tribal war tactics made him a highly successful guerrilla warrior who struck fear in the hearts of the British forces. He led a series of daring attacks on the police stations. Speed and precision were distinctive features of his strikes. It is said that all these attacks ended in a unique fashion with a letter signed by Alluri Sitarama Raju himself, giving details of the raid in the station diary. In contrast to the merciless attitude of the police forces controlled by the British, Sitarama Raju is said to have once spared the life of a native police officer who was part of a team sent to capture him, admonishing him for siding with the oppressor rather than standing with the oppressed.
For close to two years, Sitarama Raju led one of the most intense uprisings against the British in India. Shaken by these attacks, the British called in a large contingent, the special Malabar force, to halt the rampaging Sitarama Raju and his loyal band of followers. Finally, after shining as one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of Indian freedom heroes, Sitarama Raju was martyred on May 7, 1924.
Undoubtedly, Alluri was one of the greatest sons that India has produced. But unfortunately, many such great leaders did not find their rightful place in our history books at the national level—a fact that needs to be corrected. I am glad that the Government of India has decided to commemorate the 100th year of the historic Rampa freedom struggle.
It is indeed appropriate that the Prime Minister, Narendrabhai Modi, will be participating today in the 125th birth anniversary celebrations and unveil a statue of the great leader at Bhimavaram in Andhra Pradesh.
As we celebrate Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, we must remember the stellar contribution of our tribal communities to the country's freedom struggle and nation-building. Our youth must learn the spirit of sacrifice and unwavering commitment to freedom and national dignity, unity and integrity from our freedom fighters. This would be a rightful tribute to these heroes who sacrificed everything for the sake of our freedom.