One of the more ignored aspects of the Indian freedom struggle has been the various tribal revolts that broke out against the British rule. Tribals were prohibited from cutting trees for firewood, their traditional Podu cultivation was banned.
And they were often exploited by contractors who used them as labor for building roads in those areas. Many protests broke out in the tribal areas of Eastern Indian, notably Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Western Odisha, Bengal, one of the more famous one was that of Birsa Munda.
The Agency area covering Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, is the name given to the tribal tracts of Northern parts of both the states, bordering Odisha, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, along the Eastern Ghats.
A vast area covering the districts of Vizag, Vizianagaram, Srikakulam, East and West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, and Khammam, Warangal, Adilabad, Karimnagar in Telangana, with it’s hills, valleys, thick forests and tribal living there.
The oppressive Madras Forest Act of 1882, was a curse for the tribals of the Agency Area, who were prohibited from cutting trees for firewood and carrying out their traditional occupations.
At such a time, Alluri Sitarama Raju emerged to fight for the tribal rights in Agency, and mobilize them for an armed revolution. At an age of 27 years,he managed to foment an armed uprising with limited resources and motivating the poor, illiterate tribal against British,
July 4th, the day when America became independent of British colonial rule, Ramaraju was born at Pandrangi in Vishakapatnam district in 1897 to a Kshatriya family. His ancestors originally hailed from Rajolu in East Godavari district, before they migrated outward. There is a photo of his from Mission School.
His parents Venkatarama Raju and Suryanarayanamma, were originally from Mogallu in West Godavari district. He had a sister Sitamma and a brother Satyanarayana Raju. His real name was Sriramaraju named after his maternal grandfather.
Raju lost his father when he was just 6 years old, and his family had to suffer a lot due to financial difficulties. His uncle Ramakrishna Raju helped the family both financially as well as assisting Raju in his education.
In 1909, he joined the Mission High School in Bhimavaram and would walk daily to it from Kovvada. He also learnt horse riding from his friend at Chinchinada a small village near Narasapur. He studied later at various schools in Rajahmundry, Rampachodavaram, Kakinada/When his family was at Tuni, in 1918, Raju used to tour the hills, valleys nearby, where he came into contact with the tribals living there, and saw their condition first hand.
The Brits imposed 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.
He had the nationalist feelings from an early age itself, and believed deeply in God. He would regularly do Puja to Devi, as well as spend long hours in meditation.
The turning point in his life came when he went on a tour to the North in 1916. He stayed with Surendranath Banerjee for some time, and attended the Congress session at Lucknow.He learnt Sanskrit during his stay at Varanasi, also visited Ujjain, Haridwar, Indore, Baroda, Amritsar.
It was a period of learning for him, when he read books on medicine, animal breeding,and also wrote some himself. In 1918 he again went on another tour, this time traveling through Nasik, Pune, Mumbai, Bastar, Mysore, before coming back to Krishnadevi Peta.
With his prowess in various martial arts,Ayurveda, Raju became a leader and inspiration for people living in the areas surrounding Tuni, Narsipatnam. He began to fight for the rights of the tribals in the Manyam region, and also led a campaign against alcoholism, casteism.
The lot of the tribals was miserable in the Manyam region, suffering exploitation from the Britishers in all ways possible. They were used as laborers, their lands taken over and their women folk were sexually exploited too.
They led a harsh life dependent on Podu(Shifting cultivation) and selling forest produce, and the exploitation made it even worse for them. In collaboration with contractors, the tribals were made to work as coolies for building roads, and were not even paid for their services.
The contractors would treat the tribals like slaves, making them work hard, not paying them, beating them up mercilessly. The tribals were made to carry the contractors from one place to another, their womenfolk were used sexually, it was a truly miserable existence for them.
Seeing the misery and exploitation, Alluri decided to stand along with the tribals, and fight for their rights. He bought awareness among them of their rights, infused courage and determination and motivated them to fight against the injustice meted out to them.
The tribals in turn turned to him for guidance and advice,and he soon became a leader for the 30-40 odd tribal villages there. He made them give up their habit of toddy drinking, taught them in guerilla warfare and combat.
The Gama brothers Gantam Dora and Mallu Dora, Kankipati Padalu, Aggiraju became some of his trusted lieutenants. Bastian, the Tahsildar of Chintappali divison( now in Vizag district) was the most sadistic of all the British officers.
He was notorious for his exploitation of the tribal coolies used for the construction of the road from Narsipatnam to Lambasingi. Tribals who demanded more pay were whipped to death, and Raju’s complaints to higher authorities fell on deaf ears.
The armed rebellion began in August 1922 when Raju led 500 tribals began looting, on consecutive days, of police stations. Raju adopted guerilla warfare to bring about a full-scale violent rebellion against the colonial police and army. He subsequently toured the area, getting more recruits and killing a member of a British police force that had been sent to find him.
The authorities in turn getting reports of increasing revolutionary activity began to spy on Raju at Narsipatnam, Addateegala, and for some time he was in exile to avoid detection.
With the help of Fazaulla Khan, the Dy.Collector of Polavaram, sympathetic to the tribal cause, Raju once again entered the Manyam region in 1922. For close to 2 years, Raju would lead one of the most intense uprisings against the British, that nearly shook them to the core.
With Mallu Dora, Gantam Dora, Padalu, Aggiraju, he lead a team of nearly 150 fighters against the British, a formidable armed uprising. August 22, 1922– The Manyam rebellion started with Raju leading the first attack on Chintapalli police station in the Rampachodavaram Agency.
With 300 rebels, Raju attacked the station, tore apart the records, and took away the arms and ammunition from there. 11 Guns, 5 swords, 1390 cartridges were taken away from there, and Raju personally noted this in the register.
And soon it began to spread, Krishnadevipeta was attacked next and arms taken from there. On August 24, Rajavommangi was attacked, and after some resistance from the police there, it was overcome. Verayya Dora who was a prisoner there was also freed and he joined Raju.
The British struck back sending Cabard and Haiter, who began to comb the Chintapalli region for Raju and his associates. They were both killed in a guerrilla attack by Raju, and the rest of the party had to beat a retreat.
The British struggled in their pursuit, in part because of the unfamiliar terrain and also because the local people were unwilling to help them and often outright keen to materially assist Raju, including with shelter and intelligence.
The people were now fully in support of Raju and his team of revolutionaries, with this victory. One of the most daring attack by Raju was on the Addateegala police station which was heavily secured by the British.
He along with his associates attacked the station, overpowered the police there, and took away all the weapons. It was a huge blow to the British authority in the Manyam region.
Rampachodavaram police station was attacked on Oct 19, and after overpowering it, the people there turned out in huge numbers to greet Raju who by now had become a folk hero in the Manyam.
He was turning out to be a thorn in the flesh for the British, who sent a huge force under the command of Sanders to capture him. In a pitched battle Raju defeated the forces and made Sanders retreat.
Whenever Raju captured policemen who were Indian, they were not killed, but rather admonished and asked to go. The British however began to use spies as well as lure some of Raju’s associates who were captured to track him down.
The first blow to Raju came on Dec 6, 1922, when in a pitched battle at Peddagadepalem, the British used cannons against his army. 4 of Raju’s close associates died in that battle, and the forces captured some of the weapons.
In further raids by British forces, 8 more of Raju’s men were killed too. For sometime there was a lull amidst rumors that Raju had died, but the British still kept tracking him.
Finally Raju was again seen in Annavaram on April 17, 1923, where the people gave him a huge welcome. The Govt was more determined than ever to capture Raju, using spies to track him down. Regular clashes broke out between the forces tracking down Raju and his supporter.
There was a pitched battle fought on Sep, 1923 between Raju and the forces under the command of Underwood, which resulted in latter defeat. Later his trusted lieutnant Mallu Dora was captured, however the British could not find out the whereabouts of Raju.
Mallu was later shifted to Andamans Cellular Jail, and also represented Vizag in Lok Sabha in 1952. The Govt now cracked down even more harshly, tribals were beaten up, tortured to reveal Raju’s whereabouts, the entire Manyam region was sealed off, it became a huge prison.
In the meantime, the raids by Raju and his men continued at Paderu and the army camp at Gudem. The Govt appointed Rutherford as the Special Commissioner, to the Manyam region, who had a history of suppressing armed revolts.
Aggiraju, one of Raju’s bravest lieutenants was captured after a fierce encounter and deported to Andamans. Rutherford sent out an order, that unless Raju surrendered in a week, the people in the Manyam region would be massacred en masse.
Raju was staying in the house of the Mampa Munsab at that time, and when he came to know that the tribals were being harassed to reveal his whereabouts, his heart melted. He did not want the tribals to suffer for his sake and decided to surrender to the Government.
But with none willing to surrender Raju to the Government, he himself decided to do so on his own. Finally on May 7, 1924 he sent an intimation to the Govt, that he was at Koyyur, and asked them to arrest him there.
May 7, 1924 Raju was captured by the police, and on May 7, 1924, shot dead by a senior British officer Gudal. It was clear treachery by the British, who promised him amnesty if he surrendered.
He was trapped in the forests of Chintapalle and was tied to a tree in Koyyuru village and shot to death by a firing squad. His tomb currently resides in Krishna Devi Peta village, Visakhapatnam district.
The British had to raise Special Malabar Force trained in guerilla tactics to catch this elusive rebel. The clueless foreigners even attempted to incite or incentivise locals to turn against him and his band of rebels, but nothing pierced the loyalty he incited in them.
That the British Government had to spend over Rs 40 lakhs in those days to capture the Freedom Fighter #AlluriSeetharamaraju speaks volumes about the fear he installed in them. Such was the might of Alluri Sitaram Raju, hell-bent on eliminating the British threat. He was referred to as “Manyam Veerudu” (“Hero of the Jungle”) by the Tribals of Yesteryear Telugu People.
At 27 years, Alluri Sitarama Raju became a martyr, but not before he threw a formidable challenge to the British influence in the Manyam region. Sadly Raju got no support from the Congress, they in fact welcomed the suppression of the Rampa revolt and his assassination.
The Swatantra weekly magazine, in fact claimed that people like Raju should be killed, and the Krishna Patrika said that police, people should be given more weapons to protect themselves from the revolutionaries.
Was left to Netaji to pay Alluri Sitarama Raju the best tribute “I consider it my privilege to praise the services of Alluri Sitarama Raju to the national movement, the youth of India should see him as an inspiration”
Alluri Sitarama Raju’s legacy lives on in Telugu states, his statues can be seen in every town, village and city. There are many localities, colleges, schools named after him. He is a legend among most Telugu people. #AlluriSitaRamaRaju
The 1974 movie Alluri Sitarama Raju, starring Krishna, was a major success and is considered a classic in Telugu cinema. Rajmouli’s latest movie RRR has Ram Charan playing the role of Alluri.
On this date when Alluri Sitarama Raju made the supreme sacrifice for the freedom of the nation, take time to pay a tribute to this great hero, the man who shook the British with his tribal revolt. #AlluriSitaRamaRaju