Bhubaneswar: India got freedom on August 15, 1947, ending an almost 200-year British rule. As we celebrate the 75th Independence Day on Saturday, let’s remember ten freedom fighters of Odisha, who contributed to the struggle to free the country from the tyrannical British rulers.
British occupied Odisha in 1803 and a year later, the first rebellion against the alien authorities was witnessed in Khurda during the tenure of minor king Mukunda Deva II. Jayee Rajaguru, the indomitable minister of the Raja, was hanged in 1805 for abetting the rebellion and became the first martyr of Odisha.
In 1817, some 400 Kondhs descended from the Ghumusar area to rise in revolt against the British. Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mohapatra Bharamarbar Rai or Buxi Jagabandhu, the military commander of Mukund Dev II, led an army of Paikas to join the uprising of the Kondhs. The Paikas set fire to government buildings in Banapur, killed policemen and looted the treasury and the British salt agent’s ship docked on the Chilika. They then proceeded to Khurda and killed several British officials.
The rebellion soon spread to Pipili, Harispur, Kujang and Pattamundai. The British employed vigorous military measures (proclamation of Martial Law) to suppress this rebellion. Bakshi Jagabandhu escaped to the jungles and stayed out of reach of the British until 1825 when he finally surrendered under negotiated terms. He breathed his last on January 24, 1829, at Cuttack.
When the blazing flames of Sepoy Mutiny engulfed the whole country in 1857 among the valiant leaders was Chakhi Khuntia or Chandan Hajuri. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had described Khuntia saying, “A ‘panda’ at Puri, Chakhi Khuntia was drawn towards freeing India from colonialism. He worked closely with the army of Rani Laxmibai”.
He played a crucial role in the fight of Rani Laxmibai against the British.
He was born while his father was dressing the Lord with sandal paste or chandan. That is how he was named “Chandan Hajuri” but he is better known as Chakhi Khuntia.
Chakhi was the Panda of Meropanth, the father of Manubai who later became Laxmibai after her marriage to Gangadhar Rao, the King of Jhansi. The valiant queen rose against the British when they prohibited her from adopting a son to inherit the throne of Jhansi after the death of her husband, and sought the assistance of Chakhi Khuntia at this juncture. He played a very crucial role by fomenting resentment among the Indian “Sepoys” and organised a mutiny, which subsequently took a violent shape.
He spent his last days in Puri, devoting himself to literary pursuits and religious rites relating to Lord Jagannath. He composed a lot of poems, most of which are devotional songs. Some of his songs express his great displeasure and deep indignation at the inhuman and suppressive measures of the British Government. Many of his writings are still unknown and might have been lost or damaged.
Sarala Devi, as a freedom fighter, joined the non-cooperation movement during the Indian freedom struggle in 1921.
She was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and strived hard to reform social evils and to upgrade the status of women.
As a part of independent India, she became the first woman who became a member of the Odisha Legislative Assembly. Sarala Devi was also elected to be the first female speaker of the Legislative Assembly and the first Odia woman who was selected as the delegate in the Indian National Congress.
Samanta Madhaba Chandra Samantaray
In 1827, the people of Tapangagarh under the leadership of Samanta Madhaba Chandra Samantaray rebelled against the oppressive rule of the British by refusing to pay them the rent. The British authorities sent an ultimatum to the Dalbehera of Tapang to clear the arrear rent immediately and surrender himself in the court at Khurda. When Dalbehera Madhab Chandra paid little heed to the ultimatum, Lieutenant Colonel Harcourt marched to Tapang with a contingent of the British force in June 1827 and repelled the rebels in the battlefield of Khandagoda near Tapang. Dalbehera subsequently surrendered to the British and was pardoned for his nobility and bravery.
Veer Surendra Sai
Veer Surendra Sai was born in 1809, in the small town Khinda about 21 miles from Sambalpur. Surendra Sai was a direct descendant from Madhukar Sai and therefore was legally entitled to be crowned as king of Sambalpur after the demise of king Maharaja Sai in 1827.
But he was not acceptable to the British power. Surendra Sai was a born rebel and an uncompromising enemy of the British Raj from a young age.
His revolution against the British commenced from 1827 when he was only 18 years and continued till 1862 when he surrendered and even after that until he was finally arrested in 1864- a period of 37 years.
He suffered imprisonment in Hazaribagh Jail for 17 years in course of his revolutionary career and after his final arrest for another term of 20 years including his detention of 19 years in the remote Asirgarh hill fort till he breathed his last there.
He was not only a great revolutionary throughout his life but also an inspiring leader of the people.
The aim of Surendra Sai was to drive the British out of Sambalpur.
He was the youngest martyr in the history of the freedom movement of India. He was killed by the British police for refusing to ferry them across the Brahmani river on the night of October 11, 1938, at Nilakanthapur Ghat of Bhuban in Dhenkanal district.
He had watched how mercilessly Dhenkanal King, Shankar Pratap Singhdeo was fleecing the poor villagers, including his mother of their earnings by using armed forces. So, when Baishnav Charan Pattanayak of Dhenkanal town, later, famous as Veer Baisnav, raised a banner of revolt against the King and founded Prajamandal, Baji joined it despite his tender age.
As an active member of the Banar Sena of Prajamandal (Party of the People), he had volunteered to keep a watch by the river at night. The British Police force ordered him to help them cross the river on his boat, which he refused. The police force then fired on him.
He lost his life to the bullet of a British soldier at the age of 12.
Laxmi Panda, the youngest member of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose in India of the national army, fought for the freedom of the country.
Laxmi was one of the youngest members of Netaji Bose’s Indian National Army. Perhaps the only Odia woman to have enlisted with the INA and joined its camp in what was then Burma. Bose personally gave her the new name of Indira, to avoid confusing her with the far more famous (Captain) Lakshmi Sehgal at that time.
She fought the British for the sovereignty of India. Laxmi’s parents were killed in a British air raid in 1943 and she and her younger brother were orphaned. She was determined to avenge the death of his parents and joined the INA.
Laxmi has cooperated with famous warriors INA as Janki Thevar, Gowri, Shah Nawaz Khan, Lakshmi Sehgal, and Dhillon.
Rama Devi was the first women freedom fighter of Odisha. She was born in 1899 in the small village of Satyabhamapur near Cuttack. She did not get proper education and got married at the age of 15 to Gopabandhu Chowdhury.
She and her husband joined the Indian independence movement in 1921. She was highly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and used to go from village to village to encourage women to join the independence movement. Others who influenced her were Jai Prakash Narayan, Vinoba Bhave and her uncle Madhusudan Das.
In 1921, she had met Gandhiji and with her husband joined the Non-Cooperation Movement. The same year they joined the Indian National Congress and started wearing khadi. In the year 1930, she took an active part in the Salt Satyagraha movement in Odisha.
She and other of her colleagues were arrested in November 1930 and put in different jails by British. She was arrested several times with other women independence activists like Sarala Devi, Malati Choudhury and others and was sent to jail.
She got herself actively involved in Harijan welfare. During the Quit India Movement of 1942, the entire family of Rama Devi including her husband Gopabandhu Choudhury were arrested.
After the death of Kasturba Gandhi, Gandhji assigned her the work of the representative of Kasturba Trust of Orissa Chapter.
She died on 22 July 1985.
Malati Choudhury, an inspiring freedom fighter of Odisha, is originally from Kamarakhanda in Bikrampur, Dhaka. But she had settled in a small village in Odisha. She married in 1927 to Nabakrushna Choudhury.
In 1934, Malati Choudhuri joined Mahatma Gandhi in his famous padayatra in Odisha and in 1946, she set up the Bajiraut Chhatravas at Angul and the Utkal Navajeevan Mandal in 1948 at Angul in Odisha.
Bajiraut Chhatravas was formed to spread education among the children of the freedom fighters, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and under-privileged sections of society.
In 1946 Malati Choudhury was selected as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. She accompanied Acharya Vinoba Bhave during Bhoodan Movement.