The history of the Indian freedom struggle is full of stories of courage and determination. There are many places which played a pivotal role in the freedom movement. Papadahandi in Nabarangpur district is one such place which still carries the scars of one of the bloodiest massacres in Indian history. In one of the most tragic incidents to have occurred in the pre-independence era, as many as 19 people were killed and 300 injured when police opened fire August 24, 1942. Ahead of the 72nd Independence Day celebrations, Sunday POST visited the place to get a ringside view of its history.
It was during the 1940s that opposition to British rule gained momentum in the state. Under the direction of local Indian National Congress leaders, the adivasis of what was then the undivided Koraput district rallied to the freedom movement and were imprisoned. Mahatma Gandhi called upon every Indian to join the Quit India Movement on August 24, 1942, which found an echo in Nabarangpur, Koraput and Malkangiri. Tribal-dominated Nabarangpur district played an important role in this nation-wide movement. Protests against the British Raj reached their peak after Laxman Nayak, a feared revolutionary of the time and tribal leader of Tentuligumma in Malkangiri subdivision, was falsely implicated in a murder case when he was leading a non-violent procession.
According to reports, Harekrushna Mahatab and Radhakrushna Biswasray (better known as Gandhi of Koraput) from Orissa had gone to attend a meeting addressed by Mahatma Gandhi in Bombay. The Quit India Movement resolution was passed in the meeting. Biswasray was determined to launch the Quit India Movement in Odisha. He shared details of his plan with three prominent leaders – Radhamohan Sahoo of Jeypore, Laxmichandra Das of Nabarangpur and Biswanath Patnaik of Kujendri.
Laxmi Das started working on the tasks assigned with support from Sadashiv Tripathy, Mohammad Baji, Simanchal Behera, Annaji Rao and Jagannath Tripathy. After a meeting at the house of Baji, they distributed hundreds of anti-British leaflets across the district.
Madhab Pradhani, a local leader convened a meeting of the freedom fighters August 14, 1942 and conveyed the messages of Gandhiji. Two days later, another grand meeting was held at Patraput and a decision was taken to demolish the bridge at Chikili. Accordingly, about 200 tribals from Patraput, Badakumuli, Sanakumuli, Tanda, Urdi and Phulabasini villages led by Pradhani dismantled the wooden bridge at Chikili. Cases were registered against them. Similarly, over 700 members under tribal revolutionary Sanu Majhi demolished another bridge at Jatabala.
Subsequently, about 500 freedom fighters assembled at Baghasiuni village August 23 and resolved to march towards Papadahandi the next day to demolish the bridge on River Turi. Apart from spreading Gandhi’s message, the freedom fighters were protesting the arrest of Laxman Nayak. Sanu Majhi with his 700 followers also joined them on the way. On getting information about this rally, circle inspector Ramakrushna Rao alias Kala Naag of Nabarangpur police station with the help of Jeypore reserve police force and forest officials rushed to stop them. They put a cannon in the middle of the bridge to deter the revolutionaries. A scuffle ensued when the nationalists tried to force their way across and a policeman got mildly hurt. Mistaking it as an attack by the freedom fighters on the police force, the officer-in-charge at the site ordered firing on the revolutionaries. Eleven tribals died on the spot and eight others succumbed at Nabarangpur hospital. Hundreds of others jumped into the river out of fear. More than a hundred people were rendered physically disabled from the injuries suffered in the incident. The police arrested 140 nationalists and registered cases against them. The incident sparked outrage and several youths in the state joined the freedom struggle following the massacre.
Those who sacrificed their lives in the firing were Bhagaban Pujari of Mantriguda, Bikram Bhatara of Daleiguda, Khagapati Amanatya of Kangra, Ananda Gauda of Dukhaguda, Bali Soura of Dhandara, Ratan Randhari of Turunji, Budu Amanatya of Turunji, Mangulu Utara of Umuri, Jagannath Amanatya of Patraput, Sukru Muduli of Murlabai, Sahadev Pujari of Murlabai, Sadashiv Rana of Manchagaon. Ramachandra Amanatya of Phupugaon, Ratan Pujari of Usuripadara, Ghasi Jani of Nuagaon, Dinabandhu Jani of Nuagaon, Sudu Utara of Nandahandi and Shyam Sundar Gauda of Saruguda.
The days of the independence struggle saw the emergence of leaders like RK Biswasray, RK Sahu and Sadasiv Tripathy. Tripathy, from Nabarangpur town, went on to become the Chief Minister of Orissa.
Former governor Biswamber Pande inaugurated Sahid Minar in memory of the martyrs who were massacred in the Papadahandi firing August 24, 1980. Besides, a protective boundary wall on the bank was constructed. In 1984, former culture minister Jugal Kishore Patnaik repaired the Minar and re-inaugurated it. Statues of 26 martyrs were installed there. Apart from Independence Day, Republic Day, Gandhi Jayanti and Sahid Divas are celebrated there every year.
What locals say
Bijay Kumar Mishra, lecturer: Papdahandi witnessed a very barbaric incident during the pre-independence era and we lost 19 brave heroes of our motherland. We are lucky to have Baji sir among us who is a true Gandhian and nationalist. Post-independence, he spearheaded the Bhoodan movement so that adivasis are not deprived of their land rights. He never runs after power. I salute him for sacrificing his life for the sake of the nation. Apart from the district administration, each and every dweller of Papadahandi is concerned about the maintenance of the area where the people were martyred.
Somnath Bisoi, President of Sahid Smruti Committee: August 24 is a memorable day for the residents of Nabarangpur because we lost 19 bravehearts on the day. Apart from educational institutions, both government and non-government organisations hold meetings to commemorate the martyrs. A mandap will soon be erected at the place so that people can spend quality time there and remember the contribution of freedom fighters. The district administration has sanctioned funds for the purpose and work will start soon.
Muna Tripathy, state freedom fighters’ Sahid Smruti Sansad executive president: Families of martyrs who sacrificed their life for the Quit India movement at Nabrangpur are still leading a life of penury because of government apathy. They have not been given any government assistance so far. The government should also give a facelift to Sahid Minar and the old jail.
A true rebel
Every Indian, whether living in India or abroad, celebrates August 15, a golden day in the history of India when our country ultimately got the gift of freedom. This day, unarguably, is deeply inspiring for everyone. Today we live in a free nation because of the sacrifices made by freedom fighters. Mohammad Baji is among the few living freedom fighters. He witnessed the Papadahandi massacre which claimed 19 lives. Sunday POST interviewed him recently.
Born to Mohammad Kasim Sharif and Chand Bibi in 1917 in Koraput district, he joined the freedom movement during his schooldays. At the age of 19, he joined Shanti Sainik under the leadership of freedom fighter Radha Krishna Biswaray and became a devoted Satyagrahi. He joined the Congress Party in 1936 and became president of its Nabrangpur unit (then a part of Koraput district). He enlisted 20,000 members for the Congress. He was a devout follower of Mahatma Gandhi. At the age of 101, Baji still holds Gandhian principles close to his heart. During his schooldays, it was his dream to meet Gandhiji one day. And his dream was fulfilled when he met Gandhi at the age of 21 in 1940 at Wardha Ashram. He spent five days at Gandhi’s ashram beginning January 5, 1940.
“We had no money. But, I was determined to meet Gandhiji. So, one of my friends, Lakshman Sahu, and I cycled around 350km through forests and hilly terrain to reach Raipur in Chhattisgarh. From there, we boarded a train for Wardha from where I went on to Sevagram. Many great people were present in his ashram. We were worried whether we would be able to meet him. We contacted Gandhiji’s secretary Mahadev Desai who told us to talk to him during his evening walk. I was so happy and excited to have a leisurely meeting with him. But he walked so fast, I was literally running after him. Finally, I could no longer keep up and appealed to him: ‘Please stop: I have come all the way from Odisha just to see you’.”
“He said testily: ‘What will you see? I too am a human being, with two hands, two legs and a pair of eyes’,” recollects the 108-year-old freedom fighter.
“Gandhiji then asked me if I was a Satyagrahi. When I said I had pledged to be one, he asked me to face the British lathis and work for freedom. Gandhiji also advised me to take the slogan of non-violence to the masses. I, along with a group of about 30 people, travelled to many villages to spread the message of Satyagraha and non-violence among the masses,” he says, describing the most memorable day of his life.
Baji returned to Nabarangpur with a changed mindset. He performed individual Satyagraha in an anti-war protest outside the Nabarangpur masjid. He was sent to jail for six months in Koraput and fined Rs 50. Baji went on a hunger strike in jail in an act of noncooperation with the British government. He was released from jail October 30, 1941. He was imprisoned several times for working for the Quit India movement and persuading people to join it.
He was so involved with the freedom movement that he decided not to get married and dedicated his life for the service of his motherland.
Asked about his experience of being a witness to the Papadahandi firing, he says, “On August 24, 1942, around 6,000 Congress workers from Daleiguda, Nandahandi, Tanda, Usuripadar, Murlabai, Kangra, Patraput, Padeiguda, Umurigaon, Dukhaguda, Mantriguda, Saruguda, Basaguda, Nisanahandi, Amalabhata, Usuripadar and Ghataguda villages were proceeding to Dabugam to decide their future course of action following the unlawful arrest of the tribal leader of the district, Laxman Nayak. The crowd was intercepted at Turi river bridge near Papadahandi. Unable to escape the unprovoked lathicharge and firing by the police, many jumped into the flooded river. Nineteen people were killed on the spot in police firing. Many died thereafter from their wounds. Over 300 were injured. More than a thousand were jailed in Koraput district. Police arrested me on the fourth day of the incident.”
Baji’s shoulder was shattered in the violence. “I then spent five years in Koraput jail. There I met Laxman Nayak before he was shifted to Berhampore jail. He was in the cell in front of me and I was with him when his execution order came. When I asked if he wanted me to convey any message to his family, his reply was, ‘Tell them I am not worried. I am only sad that I will not live to see the Swaraj we fought for.’” Baji was released just two days before Independence Day — “to walk into a newly free nation.”
During the 1952 general elections, many of his former colleagues, including the then chief minister, Sadashiv Tripathy, became MLAs. But, Baji believed in helping people in a different way. “Gandhiji’s motto was to serve mankind and I don’t think we always need power and position for that,” says Baji.
Post-Independence, from 1955-67, he was adviser to the Koraput District Bhoodan Board. He played a prominent role in collecting about four lakh acres and distributing that among the landless. Though a Muslim, he launched a movement against cow slaughter. “I donated 14 acres during the bhoodan movement,” Baji says. In 1968, he established an ashram at Bijapur to house adivasi and Harijan students. It is now a high school for tribal students, and each month Baji donates a certain percentage of his freedom fighter’s pension to the school.
“What hurts me is that people have forgotten Gandhiji’s principles. Gandhiji had dreamt of creating a Ram Rajya, which is still unfulfilled. But, I still believe that the India that Gandhiji had visualised will be realised one day,” he says. RASHMI REKHA DAS, OP