Kaneganti Hanumanthu: Revolted Against British Tax Policy Imposed on Farmers; Martyred at 30
‘Neeru pettava, Natu vesava Kota kosava, Kuppa nurchava Endhuku kattali ra sisthu?’
‘Have you ever irrigated the land, or planted a seed in your life? Ever harvested or trashed a field? Why would I pay you any tax for what is mine?’
This was the slogan, the rebellion cry of Kaneganti Hanumanthu against the British against paying of taxes.
Who was Kaneganti Hanumanthu? What was the Pullari Rebellion? Why was he shot at by the British?
Not much information is available about Hanumanthu’s birth, childhood, and education. He was born around the year 1891 in Minchalapadu in Durgi mandal of Palnadu in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. Palnadu has a rich historical legacy dating back to several thousand years.
India was and is primarily an agricultural country with majority of the population involved in farming for sustenance. Before the British established their rule in India, Indian cottage industry flourished overseas owing to good agricultural output. The British destroyed India’s cottage industry and crippled the prosperity of farmers by levying heavy taxes irrespective of whether the yields were good or bad. They introduced new systems of land tenures and policies of tax collection, which were against the farmers.
Besides collection of heavy taxes, the British also tortured the farmers. Many farmers lost everything they had to the Britishers. Besides, the British also imposed draconian forest laws on forest produce. Kaneganti Hanumanthu grew up watching the atrocities of the British on the peasant community in Palnadu.
Kaneganti Hanumanthu started holding secret meetings with the farmers of Palnadu. He started revolting against the British in small groups and refused to pay tax. He influenced the farmers to stop paying taxes. In this context, the British arrested him several times and warned him of dire consequences if he led any future revolts. But Hanumanthu did not pay heed to the warnings. He continued with his activities.
He led two key movements against the British:
1. Pullari Movement
2. No-Tax Campaign.
The British collected taxes even on forest produce. Under the draconian law, farmers of the forest villages were forced to pay tax to use the forest produce and even to collect fodder from forest. Free cattle grazing in the fields and forest was prohibited by the British. They collected tax for it too. Kaneganti Hanumanthu with the help of his associate Ellampalli Seshu started visiting the farmers in the forest villages regularly and asked them to stop paying taxes on forest produce and on cattle grazing.
The farmers, following the footsteps of Kaneganti Hanumanthu, resisted the British laws and revolted. They openly and socially boycotted all the government officers including the collector of the district. The farmers also stopped providing milk, vegetables and other crop produce to the District collector and other British officials who were on tour or residing in that region. The farmers also stopped supplies to revenue and police officials. Villagers employed by the British for tax collection stopped doing their duties. It was termed the Pullari rebellion.
Alongside the Pullari rebellion, Kaneganti Hanumanthu also started a no-tax campaign. He was able to convince the farmers of the region to stop paying taxes on farm produce. He openly questioned the British when they came to collect taxes, “Have you ever irrigated the land, or planted a seed in your life? Ever harvested or trashed a field? Why would I pay you any tax for what is mine?” Every farmer started giving a similar statement.
More leaders joined the cause. Kaneganti Hanumanthu, Ellampalli Seshu, and more leaders and farmers were arrested and put behind bars. This led to hartal by the farmers condemning the arrest as well as demanding their release. Kaneganti Hanumanthu was let free with a warning.
The agitation took a serious turn within months. There were regular scuffles between the tax collectors, police officials and farmers. They forcibly tried to snatch away the grazing cattle to which the farmers led by Kaneganti Hanumanthu strongly resisted. It was then that the British decided to use brutal force.
The police seized a large number of cattle in Minchalapadu village on 16th February, 1921. Few peasants keeping guard of the cattle alerted the other farmers and Kanneganti Hanumantu. They immediately marched forward and tried to resist. In retaliation, the British opened fire. Few bullets hit Kanneganti Hanumantu and he breathed his last in the grazing field. He was only 30 years old. It was British General Rutherford who shot at him. Many peasants were martyred.
The next day the District Collector raided the forest villages with a huge force. He arrested every male member and took them into custody. The accompanying British police looted all the movable property of the farmers in this raid.
Salute to Kaneganti Hanumanthu! Jai Hind!
Primary Ref: History of AIKS in Guntur pages.
Featured image courtesy: Alchetron and freedomfighters.co.in