Alluri Sitarama Raju: Freedom Fighter Who Killed Several British Officers and Martyred at 26
He was born into a Telugu Kshatriya family at Bhimunipatnam taluk, Visakhapatnam. He played an instrumental role in India’s freedom struggle in the early 1920s. He fought for the cause of the tribals of the Godavari-Rampa region of coastal Andhra Pradesh, leading the Rampa Rebellion. He was successful in killing several British army officers until he was caught and executed. He attained martyrdom at a young age of 26 years. Like many other unsung freedom fighters, his name is in oblivion in History text books! He was Alluri Sitarama Raju.
Alluri Sitarama Raju was born to Alluri Venkata Rama Raju and Suryanarayanamma on July 4, 1898. His father was an official photographer in the central jail at Rajahmundry. Alluri Sitarama lost his father during his childhood. He studied at different schools – Vullithota Bangarayya school in Rajahmundry, National School in Ramachandrapuram and PR High School in Kakinada. He grew up under the care of his uncle, Rama Chandra Raju, who was a tehsildar in Narsapur in the West Godavari district. He was then enrolled at Taylor High School in Narsapur. He studied Sanskrit, Vedas and Astrology in Kotananduru in Tuni mandal. Later he moved along with his mother, brother and sister to his maternal home town Vishakhapatnam at the age of 15. He enrolled at Mrs. A.V.N. College. Raju did not complete his college education.
Since his teenage days, Alluri Sitarama Raju nurtured hatred against the British. He was familiar with the problems of the tribal people of his region. 16 years before his birth, i.e. in 1882, the British passed the Madras Forest Act. Their objective was to use the forest lands of the Godavari region. The tribals of the area, numbering around 28,000 depended on shift cultivation for their livelihood. They followed the traditional method of cultivation in the hills and jungles whereby each year some areas of jungle forest were burned to clear land. It was known as the podu system.
The hilly Rampa area in the Godavari region comprised an approximate 700 square miles. The Madras Forest Act hindered the farming activities of the tribal people, putting restrictions on their shift cultivation and even objecting their movement in the forest area. Economically affected, they started looking for alternate sources of livelihood. While many worked as labour in the construction of roads in that area, a number of them started working as coolies. The British cleared the forests, using the timber for building railways and ships. They ignored the needs of the tribal people. British officials harassed the tribal people every other day.
According to a 1922 government memorandum that recorded an Agency Commissioner’s opinion, “the country had suffered from too severe restrictions on jungle clearance, that various restrictions had been overdone and much population and food grains lost for the sake of forests of doubtful value.”
The young Alluri Sitarama Raju was disheartened seeing the condition of the tribal folks. He could have led a peaceful life doing a job. But he gave up everything to fight against the British for the freedom of the country. Raju held meetings with the tribal leaders. He started devising plans to oust the British from the region. He was instrumental in uniting the tribals of the region and fight for a common cause against the British. The British were superior in number, ammunitions, and in military tactics. Alluri Sitarama Raju suggested use of Guerrilla warfare techniques using bows and arrows and stolen guns and ammunition. He himself trained them.
At the age of 24, Alluri Sitarama Raju led the Rampa Rebellion, following Guerrilla warfare technique. The Guerrilla warfare involved involvement of a small group of combatants in ambushes, hit-and-run tactics, sabotage, raids, etc. using arms. He and his followers stole guns and ammunition from the British and used them against the enemies. The tribal volunteers under the leadership of Gam Mallu Dora and Gantam Dora and more leaders used bows and arrows.
Alluri Sitarama Raju heard a lot about freedom fighters from Bengal. Drawing inspiration from their activities, he with few of his followers raided several police stations. Few of the police station locations worth mentioning were Addateegala, Narsipatnam, Chintapalle, Rampachodavaram, Dammanapalli, Krishna Devi Peta, Rajavommangi, and Annavaram. The group stole guns and ammunition from the police stations and used these in ambushes against the British.
Rampa Rebellion continued for months. The young freedom fighter killed several British officers during a period of a few months. Soon he became a terror for the British forces. He also killed two British army officers namely Scott Coward and Hites. The British deployed forces to trap him, but in vain. He remained in hiding for some time, but again successfully attacked the British time and again. Alluri Sitarama Raju was eventually trapped by the British in the forests of Chintapalli on 7 May 1924. The British tied him to a tree and shot him dead. He was then aged only 26 years!
Following the martyrdom of Alluri, the Rampa Rebellion lost its momentum.
Salute to Alluri Sitarama Raju! Jai Hind!!
4. V.G. Balakrishna: Freedom Movement in Andhra Pradesh
5. Bandlamudi Nageswara Rao (2014): Mapping the Tribal Economy: A Case Study from a South-Indian State
Featured image courtesy: South Report and Eitacies.