THOOTHUKUDI: In the wee hours of September 20, 1942, over 26 youths from Udangudi, Kulasekarapattinam, Arumuganeri and Tiruchendur banded together to plan an attack against the then British assistant inspector of salt Wilfred Loane, who had been treating the residents cruelly and harassing women.
The youths, led by Rajagopal and Manthirakonar, had attacked the British-controlled salt pan and tied up the workers. Wilfred had opened fire at them from a nearby bungalow, however, the youths surrounded, hacked him to death, and took away the weapons, narrated one C Perumal – a government school teacher – the history behind the now-abandoned memorial built in Udangudi to honour their acts of patriotism.
For the murder, the freedom fighters were later jailed for several years. V Gunaselan, the grandson of freedom fighter Puvalingam, said that his grandfather had told him of the tortures that he had enduredin the prisons. “Manthirakonarhad built the memorial, however, the building has been abandoned, with the inscriptions inside damaged. It has become a den for antisocial elements,” he added.
‘Patriotism in the air’
On February 6, 1943, Perumal said, 11 of them were acquitted, while the rest convicted; death sentence was awarded to Rajagopal and Kasirajan Nadar. A relative of a freedom fighter said that the then congressman Rajagopalachari, who went on to become the last viceroy of Madras Presidency, appeared for their appeal and commuted the death penalty to a life sentence. All the detainees were released on April 10, 1946, they said. Post-independence, the government provided all the 26 freedom fighters with pension.
Recalling the attack on the British officer, freedom fighter Benjamin's son Ashokan (71), whose mother still receives the pension, said that “it was a time when Gandhiji initiated the Quit India Movement, with freedom struggle at peak”. The Congressmen were kindling the patriotic spirit of the public in Udangudi, he said.
‘Build a manimandapam’
With the symbol of honour in a dilapidated state, several Udangudi residents and the relatives demanded the State government construct a manimandapam, honouring the 26 freedom fighters. Besides building a memorial, the relatives urged the government to include an account of the events in the academic textbooks.