As the tenth story of the series ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence, I bring you the story of Sri Alluri Sitarama Raju. Belonging to Andhra Pradesh, he espoused the cause of freedom for the tribal population of the Visakhapatnam area from the slavery and drudgery they were subjected to by the British, though his larger vision was to ultimately send British out of our country.
He is fondly referred to a ‘Manyam Veerudu’ – the organizer of the Manyam rebellion (also known as the Rampa Rebellion).
Sitarama Raju was a Kshatriya, born to Alluri Venkitarama Raju and Narayanamma in the year 1897 at Vishakapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. He grew up at Mogalu village in West Godavari district. His father was a photographer by profession. He studied in the Narasapuram Taylor school at Ramachandrapuram and Kakinada Pitapuram Rajavari High school.
Sitarama Raju’s father died of cholera during the Godavari Pushkar in 1908 when Raju was barely eleven years old.
As Raju grew up, he understood how the British were exploiting and looting Bharat. Being rebellious by nature, these things disturbed him a lot. He started yearning for freedom from the British. As a first step he decided to learn to wield arms. He learnt archery, stick-fighting, sword-fighting and using a rifle. He learnt Hindi and English and became fluent in them. His other interests were palmistry and herbal medicine which also he mastered.
The freedom struggle had already begun many decades back and a number of freedom fighters had given up their lives for the cause of independence. However, not much progress had been achieved.
Sitarama Raju travelled the length and breadth of the country like a Sanyasi. Travelling upto Badrinath in the north and Chittagong in the east, he stayed at Varanasi for over a year and learnt Sanskrit. Through his interactions with the people, he came to know of the sufferings inflicted by the British everywhere. He was deeply moved by their plight. After meeting with some revolutionaries at Chittagong, he was convinced that the British could not be sent out of Bharat through peaceful means. His resolve to free the country from the British strengthened after this pilgrimage.
By this time the living condition of the tribal people in Andhra had deteriorated a lot. As a result of the Madras Forest Act of 1882 the tribal people were prohibited from cultivation, collecting produce and grazing their cattle in the forest. The tribal people used to practice the Podu method of cultivation and this Act had brought an end to that. There was also a ban on selling forest produce which led to the tribal people losing their only source of income.
The British started building roads inside the forests to transport their commercial goods and used the tribal people as forced labour for the construction activities. They were paid very meagre wages and the working conditions were appalling. This compelled them to borrow money at heavy rates of interest with no way to repay the same. This naturally led them to perennially live in debt.
Sitarama Raju became aware of the terrible situation the tribal society was in.
Though revolts and rebellions by the tribal people had started early, including the uprising in Gudem in 1886, due to lack of leadership, all the revolts had died down. But now, the tribal people realized that it was time to restart the revolts. In 1916, there was a revolt near Kondapalli, but the British arrested all the rebels and burnt up the village of Kondapalli.
In as much as the British kept trying to suppress the revolts, the spirits of the tribal people never sagged and they bounced back into action with renewed vigour.
A new Deputy Tehsildar by name Bastian, was appointed at Visakhapatnam. This person, in the name of laying roads, started harassing the tribal people by not paying their wages for the labour and treating them in the most inhuman manner due to which many people died. The tribal people met Gantam Dora who was the head of the village and requested him to initiate action against Bastian. Gantam Dora went with the people to meet Bastian.
Bastian not only did not listen to Gantam Dora but also kicked him. Gantam Dora’s brother Mallayya Dora was infuriated and wanted to kill Bastian. Gantam restrained him and they returned to their village. They then discussed on what to do next. There seemed to be no headway in their revolt against the British. Meanwhile they came to know about Alluri Sitarama Raju who was now living like a monk in the forests near the Tandava River, supported by the locals. With his knowledge of herbal medicine and amiable temperament, he had won the hearts of the tribal people living in those forests.
Gantam Dora, Mallayya Dora and a few other people went and met Sitarama Raju and pleaded with him to help find a quick solution to end their pitiable plight.
Raju made them understand that there were internal problems to be sorted out first. Illiteracy, addiction to alcohol and infighting among the various tribes were big stumbling blocks in their fight against the British.
Sitarama Raju, with the help of the Dora brothers started night schools for the tribal people and taught them to read and write. He inspired them with his narrations of the historical accounts of our legendary warriors. He educated them about the ill-effects of alcohol and many got out of the habit of drinking. Sense of cleanliness, hygiene and discipline were instilled in the people and slowly training was given to them in archery, stick-fighting, sword-fighting and using guns. Gradually, the tribal people became an empowered lot and a mighty force to reckon with.
Finally, in August 1922, Sitarama Raju decided that they were capable enough to take on the British. On August 22, 1922, they attacked the Chintapalli Police Station, on 23rd August, the Krishnadevipeta Police station and on 24th the Rajavommangi Police station. In all these places they plundered the arms and ammunition. In Rajavommangi, they released Muttam Veerayya Dora who had been arrested earlier. Veerayya gathered many men and joined Sitarama Raju’s forces.
It is very interesting to note that initially Sitarama Raju attacked places only after giving prior notice. And still the British were not able to counter him.
Being a brilliant strategist he then started guerilla warfare and assaulted many British officials in the process. The rebellion was now referred to as Manyam or Rampa Rebellion and was being talked about all over the country.
On September 24, 1922, Raju’s men ambushed a battalion of the Reserve Police which was being led by Scott Coward and Hayter. They had come to the Chintapalli forests to suppress the rebellion. Directed by Gantam Dora and Raju, both Coward and Hayter were shot dead in one go.
Now the British trembled at the mention of the name of Sitarama Raju. They deployed Assam Rifles and Malabar Police to capture him.
These army men started torturing the innocent tribals to disclose the whereabouts of Sitarama Raju and his band of men. Still they could not succeed. Instead there were attacks by the tribal men at Addateegala, Chodavaram and some other police stations with Chilli bombs resulting in the British suffering heavy losses.
On April 17, 1923, Sitarama Raju and his men publicly visited the famous Satya Narayana temple at Annavaram. At Annavaram, he was interviewed by a journalist where he made it clear that the revolution was to free Bharat from the shackles of the British. He also, in no uncertain terms made the British understand that with proper training of mind and body, nothing was impossible for the tribal people. It was also announced that the rebellion would continue till the British left Bharat.
The Rampa Rebellion continued with the same vigour and the next attack was on Malkanagiri Police station.
The British Army started putting immense pressure on the local people traumatising them. Mallayya Dora was captured and sent to jail at Andaman. People were beaten and tortured and their houses burnt. Old people, women, children, none were spared from this agony.
Sitarama Raju was horrified at the gruesome happenings and was overwhelmed with grief. His heart melted for innocent people who were rendered homeless by the tyrannical British.
Now the British appointed one Rutherford as Special Commissioner for suppressing the Rampa Rebellion. Rutherford called a meeting of all the tribal people in Krishnadevipeta. He threatened them saying that if they do not help in capturing Sitarama Raju within a given deadline, they would all be tied to trees and burnt alive. Alternatively, if they succeed in capturing him, there would be a reward of Rupees ten thousand (which was a fancy princely sum in those days).
Sitarama Raju came to know of the threat issued by Rutherford. He felt that by sacrificing his life, hundreds of lives could be saved. He disclosed his mind to his men and said he was going to surrender. Gantam Dora and his other men pleaded with him not to, as there would be nobody to lead them to victory. But Sitarama Raju was firm that he wanted peace for the innocent tribal people first rather than victory for himself. Nobody could make him change his mind.
At daybreak on May 7, 1924, Sitarama Raju, having made up his mind to surrender, came down from the hill in the village of Mampa, where he had been hiding. He surrendered to the Intelligence officer there and was taken to Koyyur where one Major Goodall had come with Assam Rifles. Sitarama Raju expected a fair trial, but true to their nature, the British treacherously shot him, tied him to a cot in standing posture and took the body in a procession to Krishnadevipeta, all the while announcing that the rebellion had ended.
Sitarama Raju’s body was cremated on May 8, 1924.
That was the end of yet another brave son of Bharat Mata.
2022 was the 125th birth anniversary of this great son of India and the 100th anniversary of the Rampa Rebellion. To commemorate this, a thirty feet tall bronze statue of his was unveiled by our honourable Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi at Bhimavaram.
Note: References for this story have been taken from public domain including material from the Tribal Cultural Research and Training mission, Visakhapatnam and from the Dictionary of Martyrs published by the Ministry of Culture and Indian Council of Historical Research.