The Sanyasi who died for the country : Alluri Sitarama Raju

The historians of independent Bharat have forgotten him. The politicians do not worry about him because his name does not command votes. The British feared him and had him executed by a firing squad. Alluri Sitarama Raju was a Telugu sanyasi who led the Rampa rebellion of the Koya tribals in border areas of East Godavari and Vishakhapatnam districts.

Statue of Alluri Sitarama Raju

Alluri Sitaram Raju was born on 4th of July in either 1897 or 1898. His father had a photo studio in Rajahmundry town. After a brief traditional education, he apparently took sanyasa at the young age of 18. He became a parivrajak (wandering sanyasi) and became quite popular in the Godavari area. Reports from the time described him as having a charismatic personality. It is to be noted that such legends had also grown about the leader of Ulgulan revolution, Birsa Munda and indeed Mahatma Gandhi himself.

Readers interested in history will also appreciate how both Birsa Munda and Alluri Sitarama Raju were Hindu religious figures who led tribals against the colonist British. Now, when there is a concerted effort to distance tribals from Hindu Dharma and portray Birsa Munda as fighting against Hindu Dharma, we must remember that he was a deekshit shishya( initiated disciple) of a Vaishnava guru and his grievances were against Christian missionaries apart from British rule.

Tribal exploitation

The British rule in Bharat was invariably accompanied by the exploitation of natural resources and evangelical activities of Christian missionaries. Forest laws were enacted which interfered with the traditional life of the Koyas. For example, now they could no longer practice shifting cultivation, locally known as Podu. Similarly, they could not cut trees in the forest for domestic use or graze their animals in the forest land. By one stroke of the pen, all that was made illegal. The traditional rights of tribals over forests, which were respected by Hindu Rajas were abolished.

With this new system came the obligation to pay tax to the govt. As the land was not very fertile and taxes high, moneylenders loaned them money at high rates. British also introduced liquor in tribal areas and forced them to provide labour for free. Christian missionaries also abused the local Gods and were trying to convert them. All these conditions led to a sense of anger and despair.

The politics of Congress and Alluri Sitarama Raju

The politics of Congress disappointed Alluri Sitarama Raju. Although he apparently attended the Gaya session of the Congress in 1919, he was not happy with the way Congress planned to fight the British. It is to be remembered that Congress asked for complete independence for the first time in 1929. The non-cooperation movement was taken back by Gandhiji in response to Chauri-Chaura incident on 10th of March, 1922. The whole nation was shocked. Even his devoted followers like Jawaharlal Nehru have criticized him for stopping the agitation. Many young men from that movement joined revolutionaries in near future. The patriot Sitarama Raju was a young man of 23-25 years at that time, how could he remain silent?

Rampa Rebellion

In an atmosphere charged by Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the Ghadar movement and brutal treatment of accused in Chauri-Chaura incident, Koyas started a rebellion under the leadership of Alluri Sitarama Raju in August of 1922. On 22nd August,  Raju’s Army raided Chintapalli Police Station, on 23rd Krishnadevipeta Police Station, and on 24th Rajavommimangi and captured a good number of guns, bayonets and cartridges and swords. He also set free the revolutionary, Veerayya Dora from jail.

The British army was alerted, and at Peddavalasa, Raju attacked the British Army and defeated it. It was an unthinkable feat. For the next 2 years, he engaged in guerrilla warfare against British and defeated them many times. Besides local armed police, hundreds of men of Special Armed Forces of Malabar Police, and Assam Rifles, back from World War I, were deployed to defeat and capture him.

Capture and Death

Ultimately, Sitarama Raju was captured in the forests of Chintapalli in 1924 . He was deemed so dangerous that he was not tried in a court, but tortured, bound to a tree and shot point-blank in the jungle itself. He was about 26-27 years old at that time. Despite many demands, the details of his death were never published by the British.

alluri sitarama raju death
The dead body of Sitarama Raju was photographed. Govt issued a photograph based on this photo.

Reactions of Leaders

The then leaders of Congress used to call him a ‘dacoit’, but when he died, they were the first ones to send messages of condolences. This pattern can be seen in their treatment of revolutionary heroes including Chandra Sekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh.

At his death, Gandhiji said, “though I do not approve of his armed rebellion, I pay my homage to his bravery and sacrifice.” Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru said, “ Raju was one of the few heroes that could be counted on fingers.”  Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose proclaimed that “ the grim determination, unparalleled bravery and supreme sacrifice of Raju spread his fame and name far and wide.”

Legacy

The popularity of Alluri Sitarama Raju outlived him. Only one of his associates, Gam Malludora, survived the British rule. Gam Malludora spent about 14 years in Andaman Jail. He was elected as a member of Loksabha in 1952, on an independent ticket.

Conclusion

The tradition of bravery of Hindu Sanyasis is not new. During British rule, Sanyasis fought in Bengal in the eponymous Sanyasi Rebellion(1770-1802). The rebellion does not receive much interest now, but our National Song, Bande Matram, comes from Anand Math, a novel based on this rebellion.

Similarly, the contribution of Hindu Sanyasis like Swami Shraddhanand, Swami Sahajananda Saraswati, Baba Ramchandra etc. is either forgotten or secularized. Such is the narrative, that one may be excused for thinking that Baba Ramchandra and Sahajananda Saraswati were communists.

Similarly, the contributions of Alluri Sitarama Raju are either forgotten or secularized. Very few non-Telugus know about him, and fewer know him to be a Hindu Sanyasi. Much research and publicity is needed to correct the wrongs of historiography in Bharat.


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About the Author

Pawan Pandey
Pawan Pandey is an Educator based in Dehradun, currently working as Senior Staff Writer with HinduPost. He is an Engineer by training and a teacher by passion. He teaches for Civil Service Exams as well as for Common Law Admission Test. He has deep interest in politics, economy, culture and all things Bharatiya. He fancies himself to be a loving husband and doting father. His weakness is Bharatiya food, particularly sweets. His hobbies include reading, writing and listening to Bharatiya music.