May 7th 1924 was the day Alluri Sitarama Raju (1897 July 4– 7 May 1924), a unique revolutionary involved in the Indian independence movement, was killed by the British armed forces.
He was one of the few Indian revolutionaries, who had developed a mass base and a mass movement, that culminated in a sustained armed struggle (1922-24), and adopted guerilla methods and tactics of struggle in which hundreds of tribals, mostly Koyas, joined and fought like a rudimentary army. The rebellion was finally crushed, drowned in blood, spilled by the British colonial power. Besides local armed police, hundreds of men of Special Armed Forces of Malabar Police, and Assam Rifles, back from World War I, were deployed. Finally, he was captured, tortured, tied to a tree, and shot dead at point blank range, on May 7, 1924, at Krishna Devi Pet village of Visakhapatnam Dt. That was one of the first encounter killings of modern India, so common in India post-1947. (See an extract from Pattabhi Sitaramayya’s work, later in this article, for a brief contemporary reference.)
Gamu Gantam dora, a co-fighter with Alluri, was killed on June 6, 1924 in a desperate fight. Gamu Mallu Dora, his brother, was caught and sentenced to life imprisonment . He later was elected Member of the First Loksabha (1952-57). That reflected the mass base of the adivasi movement led by Raju.
In spite of such stellar role and mass popularity, strangely, he and his story are less known to non-Telugus. It is a sad comment on historiography, and media in India.
Raju was born in the Telugu family of Venkata Rama Raju and Suryanarayanamma, and the family were of the Kshatriya varna. Contemporary reports indicate that he had an undistinguished education but took a particular interest in astrology, herbalism, palmistry and horse-riding before becoming a sanyasi at the age of 18. They note that as he then wandered around the Godavari Agency.These interests and his charismatic nature gained him a reputation among the tribal people as being someone possessed of magical powers and holy, even messianic, status – a reputation that was bolstered by myths created around his name.
He was fired with a desire to fight and overcome the British colonial presence, and he set out on a revolutionary path of armed struggle, with mass support and participation of around 200 men armed with native weapons, mostly bows and arrows. Later they acquired fire arms too.
His became a household name in Telugu states, Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Telangana (TS). The legendary fighter was referred to as Manyam Veerudu (Hero of the Jungle), with several books, in various genres – biography, drama, mono-action, songs, ballads, monographs and doctoral theses, cinema, burra katha, a folk art of story-telling with song and prose mixed with humour – written about him. The most recent was a well-written fictionalized biography (2017) by noted mediaperson and History scholar Dr. Goparaju Narayana Rao, who travelled extensively in all areas Alluri had worked. Titled Aaku pachcha Suryodayam (A Green Dawn), it has authentic material that was unknown earlier about Alluri.
His pictures and statues are found in several places, and crores of Telugus, irrespective of ideology, readily identify with him.
Not impressed by Congress
Alluri, as he was popularly called by his family name, had a schooling that was not impressive. His father was a middle class man, who had a photo studio that shifted places and reached Rajamundry town, a leading educational, cultural and political centre of Andhra then. After his school days, he left his home and village around age 18, wandered across many places, and observed life of people’s suffering under colonial rule. He remained unmarried, led a simple, spartan and pious life, saint-like, but dedicated himself to the anti-colonial, and pro-adivasi struggles he led.
He tried to understand politics of freedom struggle and had a few friends in freedom movement. Some say he apparently attended the A.I.C.C. session at Gaya in 1916 ( at age 19,); but more likely he got a detailed account of it from someone who attended it. AICC meet at Kakinada in 1923 ( at age 26,), was a grand affair, but he was not impressed by the Congress approach and Gandhian methods of non-violence. It is to be noted that Congress was not even formally committed to complete independence until 1929 December. That alienated a lot of people and more so youth. However, his exposure to politics helped him to learn and educate the adivasis about their rights. He worked to wean them away from heavy drinking and internecine quarrels, and led and organized them to unitedly and militantly fight for their rights.
He gave a rare interview that was published on April 24, 1923, in Andhra Patrika, the popular and venerable nationalist daily newspaper of the day,which was eagerly read by nationalists. His attitude towards Congress and Gandhi,mentioned above, could be seen clearly in that. The Chouri Choura verdict, just given by the Allahabad High Court on April 20, that pronounced death sentence to 19 convicts, and Life Sentence to110 people was a burning issue. MN Roy called the verdict a legalized murder. The civil disobedience movement was withdrawn, and Gandhi condemned the Chouri Choura violence. All these angered nationalists, more so the youth. This mood was reflected in Alluri, and in his interview.
Russian revolution,1917 with its reported egalitarianism had inspired many political workers and people in India, more so youth, irrespective of ideology. Formation of Communist Party of India at Tashkent (1920), took place but was yet to make a mark in India. However, Peshawar Conspiracy cases were getting into news by then. There was however no such ideological influence on Alluri, who had no higher education; he was more traditional in his outlook, but inspired by anti-colonial politics, and revolutionary means.
Rampa rebellion-1 of tribals during 1870s,which took place in the same and contiguous tracts, and in which tribals had revolted violently, must have left an impression on him, who came to lead Rampa rebellion-2 of 1922-24.
After his detention and before being shot dead, he was reportedly asked by the armed officers : What is your problem? He emphatically replied: colonial rule that must be ended.
Alluri preceded Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) by a few years, and was killed in 1924. However, Alluri was reportedly in touch with Ghadar Party, whose functionaries had met Raju.
He lived with, worked and died for adivasis, with anti-colonial goals
He had gone away from his village in plains of Godavari district, and lived amidst triblas in forest areas, worked for the welfare of adivasis who were being exploited by the British forest officers in the name of protection of forests. Adivasis then as now were carrying on podu (shift/jhum) cultivation, in forests and hills. In the name of protection of forests, they were being evicted from lands they cultivated. They were deprived of their rights on forest produce.
Through local contractors, British officers used to extract forced and free unpaid labor (corvee/vetti) for public works, like road-making, in forest areas and looted their homes lifting away their goats, fowls, honey, small forest produce etc, and violated their women.
There was enacted, ostensibly for the welfare and protection, of triblas and forests, Agency Tracts Interest and Land Transfer Act, 1917 (Madras Act of 1 of 1917) a so-called Tribal protection Act by the Madras Provincial Government. Non-tribals and outsiders were barred from buying properties in the Tribal Agency areas,among other provisions of this Act. That left the British with the opportunity to plunder forest wealth exclusively and loot the labor of the adivasis.
After the passing of the 1882 Madras Forest Act in an attempt to exploit the economic value of wooded areas, its restrictions on the free movement of tribal peoples in the forests prevented them from engaging in their traditional podu agricultural system, a subsistence economy which involved shifting cultivation. The changes meant that they faced starvation and their main means of avoiding it was the demeaning, arduous, foreign and exploitative coolie system use by the government and its contractors for such things as road construction.
All these moved Alluri, and he welded the adivasis into a strong resistance movement that led to Rampa rebellion-2.
Incidentally, the 1917 Act of colonial times is the mother of later day legislations of 1957, and the well-known Act 1 of 1971. All of them were preceded and occasioned by armed revolts of tribals and landless poor: The Rampa revolts, the Telangana struggle(1946-51), Naxalbari – Srikakulam struggles.Despite the laws, the adivasis and landless poor continue to be dispossessed of lands and other resources.
A statue of Alluri, with bow and arrows; this model is the standard depiction seen in most places. He is mostly presented in saffron robes of a Sanyasi.
The last picture of Raju, apparently a photo by the armed police, of the dead body soon after killing him. It is the model used for the postal stamp, as can be seen.
A postal stamp (S.No. 1192) was issued on 26/12/1986, and released in his native village, Mogallu of West Godavari Dt, AP. 10 lakh copies of the stamp were printed and sold out. The official biographical narrative, released on the occasion runs as follows:
Born on 4-7-1897, as a kashtriya , he fought against the mighty British war-machine, leading tribesmen of Andhra Pradesh with old traditional war weaponry and sacrificed his life true to his clan in the battle field. While he was studying at Kakinada he got his political contact with Sri Madduri Annapurnayya, a great freedom-fighter, and Rallapalli Atchuta Ramayya, a great scholar. At the age of 15, Raju was shifted to Vishakhapatnam for his studies. Though he had little inclination for school studies, he was very keen and began to acquire knowledge of political situation in India.
Sri Alluri Sitarama Raju went deep into Gond land where nearly a thousand tribals had sacrificed their lives during the first war of independence in 1857.
He attended the A.I.C.C. session at Gaya in 1916 ( at age 19,) and at Kakinada in 1923 ( at age 26,)… Raju inspired and organised the tribals to wage war against the British. Soon Raju’s plan of action took shape with vigour and quickness : on 22/8/1922 Raju’s Army raided Chintapalli Police Station, on 23rd Krishna devi peta Police Station, and on 24th Raja vommangi and captured a good number of guns, bayonets and cartridges and swords.
He set free the revolutionary, Veerayya Dora from jail. The British Army got alerted and platoons of Police and Army were sent to capture Sitarama Raju. At Peddavalassa, Raju attacked the British Army. They were defeated during this battle and suffered very heavy casualties and retreated.
From that day onwards there was a regular warfare between Raju and the Britishers. Raju came out triumphant in all. Virtually for two years from 1922 to 1924 Sitarama Raju ruled over vast agency area and became a terror to the British rulers.
Later British rulers deployed big contingents of Assam Rifles and others. Fighting a fierce battle, Raju laid down his life and attained martyrdom.
The Department of Posts is happy to issue a commemorative stamp on Sri Alluri Seetarama Raju in the series India’s struggle for freedom.
Details of Alluri Sitarama Raju’s early life vary. An official report suggests that he was born in Visakhapatnam District, in the village of Pandrangi, his maternal grand mother’s place, which lies in the Bheemunipatnam legislative assembly constituency. Several sources say he was born in the village of Mogallu, in West Godavari District, the native place of his father. .
His birth- date is also disputed. Several sources report it as 4 July 1897, but others claim he was born in 1898, same date.
Alluri in his student days.
Dr. Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sita Ramayya (1880-1959), prominent Andhra leader of Congress, close to Gandhiji, and its President for some time, wrote an official and authentic History of Indian National Congress, in two huge volumes. Volume 1 (itself was 700 pages) was published in 1935 December, about 11 years after Raju’s death. In it Pattabhi wrote :
…but the (British) government themselves attributed the rebellion in the Gudem agency – Godavari and vizagapatam districts of Andhra – under the leadership of Sitaramaraju to the subversive influence of the civil disobedience movement. They had made a similar mistake in regard to the moplah rebellion.
The gudem rebellion also started some time in 1922 but later than the moplah revolt but had nothing of the (Moplah’s) communal tension … Here also semi-military operations were necessitated and not much progress had been made by the end of the year 1923. In1924, the Assam Rifles were sent for, consisting of about 250 officers and other ranks. The rebellion was ultimately put down after nearly three years of Guerilla warfare between the mighty and puissant forces of the British government and Raju with the following of 200.
The saddest event was shooting of Raju on his alleged attempt to flee from arrest. The Government were challenged on many occasions to publish details and to produce the inquest report, but they would not accept the challenge. (Vol 1, Page. 294. History of Indian National Congress, volume 1).
Being published in 1935, it was a most contemporary account by a learned and well informed author. Perhaps it was one of the first fake Encounters where in Raju was captured, tortured, tied to a tree and shot dead at point blank range.
Raju was trapped by the British in the forests of Chintapalle. He was tied to a tree and executed by gunfire in Koyyuru village. His wounded and bleeding body was brought for formal recognition to Krishna Devi Peta village, where his last rites were performed in police presence. A tomb was later built there.
Great Indian Patriots, volume 2, written by P.Rajeshwar Rao(1991) has an article on Alluri which gives his background and evolution:
Raju was schooled at Kakinada, where he became friendly with Madduri Annapurnayya, who later became prominent fighter in the freedom struggle. Madduri was a Gandhian and a socialist .
Alluri’s heart melted at the pitiable plight of the koyas (a tribe of Andhra). British rulers in their zeal to exploit forest wealth drove them from pillar to post and reduced them to the position of serfs, (forced to live) on the mercy of the forest department, manned by corrupt and cruel staff. Very often false cases were foisted on them to extort money and material (like goats, fowls, forest produce).
He wandered far and wide, in hilly areas… It appears he visited Himalayas and met daring revolutionary Prithvi Singh, who once escaped by jumping from running train, while in fetters under heavy guard. It seems both of them went to Chittagong, now in Bangladesh, a great Revolutionary centre with number of conspiracy cases (against freedom fighters) and the famous armoury raid. He knew the use of firearms.
He studied the grievances of hill tribes He persuaded them to give up drink and to resort panchayats for peaceful settlement of their disputes. He often saved them from the clutches of police and forest officials and (christian) missionaries who wanted to convert them, which he believed would help the British. He was naturally regarded as a Saviour of the people. Gantam brothers (local koya tribal community leaders) became his disciples. They were deprived(by the British) of their fertile land and the post of village Munsif earlier, for their resistance to the illegal oppression.
Continued oppression (of tribals) became intolerable. The patience of the people was exhausted . There was no other alternative than rebellion. They learnt from earlier rebellions (narrated by Raju). When the situation exploded in 1922, Raju became their natural leader. Government wanted to win him over by a grant of 60 acres of fertile land, for his Ashram in that area. He refused and stood by the people. He resisted force with counter force and successfully raided the police stations serving prior notice of his raids, and got plenty of fire arms. He was assisted ably by Aggi Raju who became his lieutenant.
Then began the Battle Royale between forces of British imperialism and Hill tribes. Local police and Malabar special police failed to control the situation. Army was requisitioned. The fight became news in India and abroad, continued for over 2 years. Feeling helpless against the terrain, (endemic) malaria and social boycott (by people), armed forces began to hit the people below the belt, burning villages, looting crops, cattle, and violating women folk. The district collectors Mr Bracken of East Godavari and R T Rutherford of Visakhapatnam colluded and adopted all possible means, fair and foul.
The article quotes some leaders’ remarks about Alluri:
Gandhiji said, “ though I do not approve of his armed rebellion, I pay my homage to his bravery and sacrifice. Jawaharlal Nehru said so far as he was aware “ Raju was one of the few heroes that could be counted on fingers.” Netaji Subhas Bose proclaimed that “ the grim determination, unparallelled bravery and supreme sacrifice of Raju spread his fame and name far and wide.”
SS Batliwala( prominent Congress Socialist) had to face prosecution on a charge of sedition for eulogizing the services of Raju during the regime of the first congress ministry in 1938.
(Quoted from the book the Great Indian Patriots volume 2 written by P.Rajeshwar Rao 1991) .
The above quotes are more an acknowledgement of his popularity than a reflection of their sincere views about Alluri. For, they often not only demarcated themselves from him, quite understandable, but never helped to protect him or the movement he led. In fact, when local Congress leaders gave telegrams about danger to his life, they were chided by Congress leaders – some of them called him a dacoit – and warned to keep away. A story similar to Bhagat Singh’s death sentence.
After the passing of the 1882 Madras Forest Act, its restrictions on the free movement of tribal people in the forest prevented them from engaging in their traditional podu agricultural system, which involved shifting cultivation. Raju led the Rampa Rebellion of 1922, during which a band of tribal people and other sympathisers fought in the border areas of the East Godavari andVisakhapatnam regions of Madras Presidency, in present-day Andhra Pradesh, against the British Raj, which had passed the law.
Sources include Wikipedia, apart from works mentioned in the article.
(The author is a Telugu media person)