About ALLURI Sitarama Raju, freedom fighter of Andhra Pradesh

  • By Ratnakar Sadasyula
  • April 9, 2022
  • 2356 views
  • Sitarama Raju fought an armed rebellion against the British that was triggered by their exploitation of the tribals.

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, Chhattisgarh, Western Odisha, Bengal, one of the more famous one was that of Birsa Munda in Jharkhand.

 

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, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, along the Eastern Ghats.  A vast area covering the districts of Vizag, Srikakulam, East and West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, and Khammam, Warangal, Adilabad, Karimnagar in Telangana, with their hills, valleys, thick forests and tribals.

 

The oppressive Madras Forest Act of 1882 was a curse for the tribals of the Agency Area. They 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 the age of 27 years he managed to foment an armed uprising with limited resources and motivating the poor, illiterate tribals against the British empire.

 

Ramaraju was born on July 4, 1897 at Pandrangi in Vishakapatnam district to a Kshatriya family. His ancestors originally hailed from Rajolu in East Godavari district before they migrated outwards. 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. In course of time he came to be called as Sitaramaraju. As per some sources it is believed that he adopted the name of Sitarama Raju after the woman who loved him but whom he could not marry.

 

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 and assisted Raju in his education. In 1909, he joined the Mission High School in Bhimavaram and would walk to it daily fom Kovvada. He also learnt horse riding from his friend at Chinchinada a small village near Narasapur.  He studied later at schools in Rajahmundry, Rampachodavaram, Kakinada and Pithapuram. His mind was never in studies, and he was restless always moving from one place to another, failing exams, often getting beaten up by his teacher. In 1918 when his family was at Tuni, Raju would tour the hills- valleys nearby. There he came in contact with the tribals and saw their condition first hand. 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 and also visited Ujjain, Haridwar, Indore, Baroda, Amritsar, Badrinath. Over time he learnt many languages.

It was a period of learning for him. He read books on medicine, animal breeding and also wrote some himself. In 1918 he went on another tour, this time traveling through Nasik, Pune, Mumbai, Bastar, Mysore, before returning to Krishnadevi Peta where he stayed with his mother.  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.

The lot of the tribals was miserable in the Manyam region, suffering exploitation from the Britishers in all ways possible. They were used as labourers, lands taken over and women folk sexually exploited. They led a harsh life dependent on Podu (Shifting cultivation) and selling forest produce. The exploitation worsened their condition. In collaboration with contractors, the tribals were made to work as coolies for building roads. The contractors treated tribals like slaves, made them work hard, would not pay them and beat them mercilessly.  The tribals were made to carry the contractors from one place to another and their womenfolk used sexually. Sporadic revolts broke out in the Manyam region called Pithuri, one of them was at Lagarayi led by Verayya Dora, who was arrested at Rajavommangi.

Seeing the misery and exploitation, Alluri decided to stand along with the tribals, and fight for their rights. He made them aware of their rights, infused courage and determination and motivated them to fight against injustice. The tribals in turn turned to him for guidance and advice. Soon he became a leader for the 30-40 odd tribal villages there. He made them give up their habit of toddy drinking, taught them in guerrilla warfare and combat. The Gama brothers, Gantam and Mallu Dora, Kankipati Padalu, Aggiraju were some of his trusted lieutenants.

Bastian, the Tehsildar 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 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 two 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 it was 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 the records, and took away the arms and ammunition from there. 11 Guns, 5 swords, 1390 cartridges were taken away, 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 it was overcome. Verayya Dora, a freed prisoner, joined Raju in his struggle.

The British struck back sending Cabard and Haiter, who began to comb the Chintapalli region for Raju and his associates. They were killed in a guerrilla attack by Raju thus the rest of the party had to beat a retreat. With this victory the people now supported Raju and his team of revolutionaries.  

One of the most daring attacks by Raju was on the Addateegala police station which was heavily secured by the British.  They overpowered the police and took 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 admonished and asked to go. The British however began to use spies and 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. Four of Raju’s close associates died in that battle. In further raids eight more of Raju’s men were killed. For some time 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 government was determined to capture Raju and used spies to track him down. Regular clashes broke out between the forces tracking down Raju and his supporters. There was a pitched battle fought in September 1923 between Raju and the forces under the command of Underwood, which resulted in the latter’s defeat. 

Later his trusted lieutenant Mallu Dora was captured. However, the British could not find Raju. Mallu was later shifted to Andamans Cellular Jail.  The government now cracked down even more harshly. Tribals were beaten up and tortured to reveal Raju’s whereabouts. The entire Manyam region was sealed off, it became a huge prison. Food supplies were cut off. Women, children and old men were killed mercilessly.

In the meantime raids by Raju and his men continued at Paderu and the army camp at Gudem. The government appointed Rutherford as the Special Commissioner, to the Manyam region since he 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 government that he was at Koyyur and asked them to arrest him there. Raju was captured by the police, and on May 7 shot dead by a senior British officer Gudal. It was clear treachery by the British, who promised him amnesty if he surrenderedAt 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 welcomed the suppression of the Rampa revolt and his assassination. The Swatantra weekly magazine 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.  It is another thing that after his death the same magazines praised Raju as another Shivaji, Rana Pratap, while the Satyagrahi called him another George Washington.

The best tribute to Raju was paid by Netaji Subash Chandra Bose.  “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.

 

Article was first published in www.historyunderyourfeet.wordpress.com and Here eSamskriti has got permission to share.

 

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