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Freedom movement in Orissa

The Oriya leaders are to be credited for their splendid effort of being able to carry on with the nationalistic struggle of independence along with the struggle for Oriya domain at the same time while keeping them separate from each other. By the First World War, anarchical philosophies had taken root in Orissa. In the town of Baleshwar and in the Kaptipada forest areas in Mayurbhanj district, the Bengal territories with the active assistance of Oriya inhabitants worked for anti-Government activities in a daring spirit. Hardline leaders like Jatin Mukherji alias Bagha Jatin, Manoranjan Sengupta, Nirendra Dasgupta, Shasanka Sekhar Mukherji, Atal Behari Acharya and Bairagi Tripathy were responsible for carrying on successive operations against the government.

 Gopabandhu Das led the congress movement in OrissaBy the end of the first wold war, Utkalmani Pandit Gopabandhu Das had taken on the role of promoting the Congress Movement in Orissa alongwith a group of young patriots .They were responsible for carrying in the spirit of the struggle to the people at large. Among them were men like Harekrushna Mahtab, Gopabandhu Choudhury, Nabakrushna Choudhury, Bagirathi Mahapatra, Jagabandhu Singh, Mukunda Prasad Das, Nityananda Kanungo, Jadumani Mangaraj, Niranjan Patnaik, Dibakar Patnaik, Chandra Sekhar Behera, Nanda Kishore Das, Raj Krushna Bose and others. Pandit Gopahandhu Das was later elected as the President of the Utkal Provincial Congress Committee.

 Gandhiji gave on the call for the Non-Co-operation Movement and subsequently toured Orissa in March 1921.There was a huge response to his call from all sections of the people. Though the Mahatma visited a few places only, the message touched the hearts of the rural mass as well as the elite of Orissa. Visit of other nationalistic leaders like C. Rajagopalachari, Motital Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, among others, in 1922, gave a further impetus to the national movement in Orissa.

The strugle was taken to new levels in Western Orissa and Sambalpur by leaders like Laxminarayan Misra, Mahabir Singh, Bhagirathi Patnaik, Ghanashyam Panigrahi, Achyutananda Purohit and others.Leaders like Kastaram Ganda were successful in airing the views of the suppressed agrarian class.The most important feature of freedom struggle in Orissa was the involvement of people downtrodden.In places like Kanika, the movement took the form of agrarian uprising of the peasantry. Unlike the rest of the country where it was basically a movement by the educated middle class, freedom struggle in Orissa rested on a popular base drawing in a large number of economically deprivrd people.

 Gandhi’s call for the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930 aroused the entire nation and Orissa came forward for the most vigorous struggle of independence. Breaking of Salt Law which became the symbolic feature of the disobedience.Orissa’s long coastal belt was once a thriving region for salt production.However the Britishers had Hare Krushna Das led the freedom struggle in Orissa completely destroyed the industry by enacting special laws.People thus took to breaking of salt law with vigour. At Inchudi in Baleshwar district, Salt Satyagraha under Surendra Natha Das became only second to Gandhi’s Satyagraha in Gujarat in importance and impact. Other notable places that attracted government ire for breaking salt law included Kujang in Cuttack district, Kuhudi, Singeshwar and Latra in Puri district; and Huma in Ganjam district (at that time in Madras Presidency) . Smt. Rama Devi, Smt. Malati Choudhury, Acharya Harihar Das, Gopabandhu Choudhury, Atal Bihari Acharya, Govind Misra, Raj Krushna Bose, Smt. Sarala Devi, Smt. Annapurna Devi, Narayan Birabar Samanta, Birakishore Das, Lakshmi Narayan Misra, Smt. Binapani Devi, and Surendra Nath Patnaik, among many others, became the leading spirits of the Civil Disoebedience Movement.

 Apart from these nationalistic uprisings in Orissa proper, there were revolutions elsewhere in the Princely states or the Garhjat satates. There were five such risings in Bamra, (Bamanda) three in Talcher, one in Mayurbhanj, one in Dhenkanal, and one in Nilagiri, besides a dangerous rising of the Kondha in Dashapalla during the period above mentioned. It is with much brutality, that the respective authorities could manage to restore order in their areas.

Uprisings in Garhjat Prajamandals

Oriya people residing in the Garhjat areas were leading a life of constant oppression.Popular democratic movement, thus started taking roots in these areas as well. In 1931 the Orissa state’s People’s Conference was organized at Cuttack and by 1936-37 this organization proceeded to enquire into the people’s grievances in the states. The ruling chiefs vehemently opposed such moves and in some of the states, they restored to repressive measures in order to strike terror in the minds of the people, so that they should not speak anything against the establishment. These anti-people measures in turn paved path for organized popular movements, such as the non-violent Satyagraha of the Nilagiri Prajamandal to secure civil liberty for the people, resulting in large scale arrests of the Satyagrahis, lathi charges and firings. In Dhenkanal, in September 1938, the movement took such serious turn that a gathering of forty thousand people, agitating with demands, had to be dispersed with severe police action. It was a people’s uprising all over the state, but suppressed by repressive actions .The relentless action of the armed forces forced thousands of people to escape from their homes while countless houses were destroyed.Revolutionaries like Sri Baishnav Charan Patnaik in Dhenekanal,Pabitra Mohan Pradhan in Talcher were responsible for keeping th spirit of independence burning in the hearts of people in their respective princely states.

In other ex-states like Athagarh, Tigiria, Baramba (Badamba), Narasinghapur and Nayagarh, the Prajamandals launched civil resistance movements and offered Satyagraha to press for the liberation of the people from antiquated feudal systems. A remarkable feature of all these Prajamandal movements was that side by side with their political aspects, the people were moved to action for economic and agrarian reasons. It was the peasantry everywhere which spearheaded the movements.And everywhere the people were dealt with so brutal treatement that led to incalculable loss of life and property.In Ranpur,for example the stayagraha was dealt in with such severity that the British Political agent Major Bazelgette in January 1939 was brutally murderd by the peole. This incident was followed by extreme police and military action and a virtual reign of terror in the region that forced thousands of people to escape for life.

C.F.Andrews cociliated talks between Ruling chiefs of prajamndals and their subjectsThe serious nature of the Orissa State People’s agitation drew the attention of the Indian leaders, and eminent persons like Rajendra Prasad, C.F. Andrews, Agatha Harrison, N.G. Ranga and Hare Krushna Mehtab set themselves to bring about conciliation between the ruling chiefs and their agitating people. Mahatma Gandhi took up the matter himself. He advised the people to suspend the Satyagraha and advised the authorities to find out ways and means for a constitutional settlement.

Orissa: From 1942 to 1947

During the Quit India Movement in August 1942, Orissa shot into prominience with uprisings led by people in the absence of its leaders who had been arrested and put in jail. At many such places, the British administration almost vanished for sometime. It was during this time that the famous massacre of Eram in the district of Baleshwar took place.It was here that the largest number of people died in a single police action as compared to any such action in whole of India. Eram also proved how the revolution in Orissa was an affair of the poor and common people in far-away villages who required no leadership to rise, but possessed a spontaneous will to take part in revolution.Similarly in the district of Koraput, the revolution was carried on under the leadership of Lakshman Nayak.He had taken the revolution to the grass root level and the tribal inhabitants had risen spectacularly in defiance of the British rule. At a place named Maathili several people fell victim to the police firing and Nayak was injured, arrested and subsequently hanged to death.

Sir Richard Clement Atlee liquidated teh British rule in IndiaThe end of the World War in 1945, brought in a new government in the Great Britain headed by Sir Richard clement Atlee .He was quick to realize the realities of the Indian situation and decided to liquidate power in the subcontinent. General elections were held to Indian Legslatures in 1946. In Orissa, the Congress Party won 47 seats out of 60 seats and formed its ministry under the leadership of Harekrushna Mahtab. The other ministers of the Mahtab Cabinet were Nabakrushna Choudhury, Pandit Lingaraj Misra, Nityananda Kanungo and Radhakrushna Biswasroy. With the independence in August 1947 the issue of the merger of the states was taken up immediately for which the grounds had long been prepared by the Praja Mandal Movements. The leaders of Orissa and of India could not have allowed the princely chiefs to continue to rule as before. Hare Krushna Mahtab, therefore, took the initiative for the merger of the states without any further delay. The unrest in the ex-state of Nilagiri forced him to intervene and the ex-state was merged with Orissa in November 1947. This alarmed the other rules while it encouraged the people to stand up boldly for their political emancipation. The developing crisis made the central intervention imperative, and Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel came to Orissa in December 1947. His statesmanship and strength bore result when all the princely states, except Mayurbhanj, signed the agreement handing over the administration of their states to the Government of India in perpetuity. The princely states, thus, except Mayurbhanj, were amalgamated with Orissa with effect from 1 st January, 1948. Mayurbhanj, too, was merged with Orissa a year later. However, the two Oriya-speaking ex-states of Seraikela and Kharsawan were placed under Bihar in spite of strong resentment from the entire Oriya-speaking population.