“At the stroke of the Midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom,” uttered Nehru as the two countries achieved freedom from colonial rule.
From the times of Jawaharlal Nehru riding with Edwina and Louis Mountbatten in a Rolls Royce to Narendra Modi’s Mercedes-Maybach S650, the history books have undergone a tremendous change.
There has been a constant debate amongst intellectuals and scholars over the inclusion of more personalities and leaders in our history books, who significantly contributed to the freedom struggle — sacrificing their dreams and lives while fighting against the Colonial tyrants.
1: Veer Narayana Singh
The Indian Freedom History often paints landlords or Zamindars in a negative color— demonizing them as British agents— which altogether is not false but there were even some exceptions, who led the banner of revolt against the redcoats.
Regarded as the ‘First Freedom Fighter from Chattisgarh’, Veer Narayana Singh was a landlord from Sonakhan, probably the youngest one in the entire region at the age of 35.
During a severe famine in 1856, he was arrested by the police after the latter looted a local trader and distributed the food grains amongst the people.
In 1857, he escaped the prison by digging an underground tunnel.
After the grand prison break, he returned to Sonakhan and raised an army of 500 men, consisting of the local peasants and villagers.
British authorities got wind of the rising anti-colonial sentiment and were determined to crush the revolt in this region.
Under the Third Regiment, Lt. C.B.L Smith was instructed to crush the revolt. The operation seemingly turned easy as Lt. Smith was being assisted by the local landlords and even the landlord of Deori, who was a close relative of Narayana Singh.
The Sonakhan army fought valiantly as the British army surrounded the area from three directions. Eventually, the British army overpowered the native rebels and Narayana Singh was forced to surrender for his fellow villagers.
He was publicly executed on 10 December 1857 in Raipur on charges of Rebellion and waging war against the Government. The cruel verdict shocked the region en masse and fomented anti-British sentiments which eventually transformed into Patriotic fervor.
2: Birsa Munda
“Abua Raj ete jana, maharani raj tundu jana” means – ‘Let the Kingdom of the Queen be ended and our kingdom be established, this popular slogan of Birsa Munda is still remembered in Jharkhand, Orissa, and Bihar.
Born in the Lohardaga district of Bengal Presidency — now in Khunti of Jharkhand, Birsa Munda was a Tribal Freedom Fighter, Religious leader, and Folk-hero.
Birsa and his father initially converted to Christianity under the influence of the German Mission but Birsa, was soon disillusioned by the Abrahamic faith and later even created a faith of his own which attracted the locals and many even reconverted.
Initially, he participated in various protests stemming from discontent against the authorities meddling with the traditional rights of the Munda community in the protected forests by introducing a different community of farmers, who eventually controlled most of the agrarian region.
Birsa organized protests and movements against the agrarian changes and proclaimed that the ‘Munda Raj’ has begun as the rule of Queen Victoria is now coming to an end.
He was arrested by the British on 24 August 1895 and imprisoned for 2 years. Birsa resumed his activities after being released from jail in 1898, eventually irking Christian Missionaries who even accused him of disrupting the Conversion of the tribals.
On the Christmas of 1899, 7000 men and women under the leadership of Birsa Munda, assembled and heralded a revolution to overthrow the British.
The Catholic centers were the main target of the Birsaites. On 5 January 1900, Birsa’s followers killed two police constables in Etkedih, On 7 January they stormed a police station, killing a constable.
A force of 150 men led by the local commissioner A. Fober, and deputy commissioner H.C. Streattfield, marched to Khunti to crush the growing rebellion. Birsa’s guerilla troops were defeated by the British army in Dumbari Hill but the latter failed to capture the leader.
Birsa was finally arrested on 3 February 1900 at Jamkopai forest in Chakradharpur. He was imprisoned and on 9 June died due to cholera, at the mere age of 25.
Though he lived a short life, the tribal leader amalgamated the tribal community against British rule and to date is celebrated as a Cultural hero and Freedom Fighter.
3: Alluri Sita Ram Raju
Nicknamed ‘Manyam Veerudu’ or the Forest of the Jungle, Alluri Sita Ram Raju was popularly nicknamed by the local villagers for his daring feats.
Though born to a Telugu-speaking Kshatriya family in Andhra Pradesh, throughout his life he fought for the rights of Adivasis and taught them how to fight against the Revenue and Forest officials, Police, and Christian Missionaries.
During his school days, he was particularly moved by the hardships faced by Koyas, the hill tribe. During his travels, he visited sacred places of Gangotri and Nasik and met with revolutionaries in Chittagong.
Finally, he settled down in the Papi hills near the Godavari district, which had a considerable tribal population. With his charismatic and Saint-like personality, he became widely respected among the tribals.
In a bid to isolate the Tribesmen, Alluri was even approached by the British, bribing him with a huge expanse of fertile land for his abode but he refused the lucrative offer and withstood among the people.
With his supporters, encompassing the tribal peasants — grieved by the 1882 Madras Forest Act — and Muttadars, who had their roles as de facto rulers stripped off recently, he formed an army that initially obtained victories against the British.
Later on, in the need for modernizing his army, Alluri targeted local police stations with his men, looting their firearms and other modern weapons. During these raids, he often left a note at the incident site and wrote about the stolen items, and daringly challenged the police to stop him.
The Police greatly struggled to arrest him due to the unfamiliar terrain and the loyal masses — who often assisted and supported the rebels.
After a daring adventure of outmaneuvering the British, Rama was ultimately arrested in the forests of Chintapalle. He was tied to a tree and executed by shooting on 7 May 1924.
The heroic and daring feats of Alluri fighting an all-out war against the British empire received recognition from everyone and begrudgingly the British admitted him as one of the ‘Greatest Tacticians of Guerilla Warfare’.
The very fact that the operation to nab Alluri Sita Ram Raju cost the British exchequer a baffling amount of 40 Lakh Rupees, speaks volumes about the caliber of a man he was.
4: Rani Gaidinliu
Titled “Rani Gaidinliu” by the late Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Gaidinliu Pamei was a Naga spiritual and political leader.
Gaidinliu was born in Nungkao, Manipur on 26 January 1915 in the ruling clan of the village. At the tender age of 13, she joined the Heraka movement led by his cousin Haipou Jadonang, who recently emerged as a local leader.
The Heraka movement spearheaded by Jadonang, turned into a political movement to oust British rule from Manipur. Inspired by the teachings of Jadonang, Gaidinliu joined his cousin in the movement against the British.
After the arrest and subsequent hanging of Jadonang by the British in 1931, Gaidinliu publicly emerged as his successor. From a very young age, she was gifted with a natural talent for leadership.
The daring, young leader openly rebelled against the British authorities, forcing the British to launch a man-hunt to arrest her. The authorities announced monetary prizes and declared that the village passing information about her whereabouts will be exempted from tax for 10 years.
On 16 and 18 February, her forces clashed against the Assam Rifles in the North Cachar Hills and the Hangrum village. In October 1932, Gaidinliu moved to Pulomi village where her followers attempted to build a wooden fortress.
The fortress was attacked by a contingent of Assam Rifles during construction and Gaidinliu, along with her followers were arrested near the Kenoma village. She denied any involvement in the attack on Hangrum post and the construction of the wooden fortress.
Gaidinliu was convicted of murder and abetment of murder after facing a trial, which lasted 10 months. She was sentenced to life imprisonment under the charge of abetment for murder while most of her followers were either jailed or killed.
While in prison, Jawaharlal Nehru visited her in 1937 and apparently was shocked by the situation and promised to manage her release at all cost.
Even after the assurance of her release by Nehru, it actually didnt happen till the Independence, 10 years later when she was finally released from prison in 1947.
Post-Independence she fiercely opposed the secessionist Naga National Council (NNC) forces. She also tried to revitalize the traditional Naga religion, forming an image of a Nationalistic Tribal leader which grealty irked the Naga insurgents and missionaries.
In 1982, she was conferred the Padma Bhushan and Vivekananda Seva Award in 1983.
In 1991, Rani Gaidinliu returned to her birthplace Longkao, where she died on 17 February 1993.
5: Ram Prasad Nautiyal
Known as the Kaptaan Sahab to many of his followers, Ram Prasad Nautiyal hailed from Kanda village in Pauri district, Uttarakhand (then part of the United Provinces).
He had two siblings and it is said that one of his brothers was tortured in Lahore after his anti-British activities got revealed. He died after sustaining mortal wounds.
His first encounter with the British police took place when he was just 15 years of age and was caught with several other students chanting Pro-India slogans. He faced 3 weeks of imprisonment and later was rusticated from his school.
After the abrupt end of his Educational life, Ram Prasad served a brief stint in the British Army where he was sent to Balochistan in the Supply Division. The skills he acquired from his days back in the army helped him a great deal in his revolutionary days.
Ram Prasad left the army after he read about the disrespectful death of Indian Political Veteran Lala Lajpat Rai. Filled with rage and anguish, he left for Kolkata to attend the session of the Indian National Congress on the advice of Dr. Kichloo and Dr. Gopinath.
His days in the Congress were not without any troubles. He was arrested while he was participating in the procession during Lahore congress session. Later he was released after an agreement between British Government and Congress.
He had to leave Lahore after Bhagat Singh and his associates killed John Saunders as police started arresting every satyagrahi in Lahore.
Absconding from one hideout to another, he reached a mathh in Sahpur where he met Sukhdev and Jagdish Chandra Jain, who themselves were underground after the Lahore Conspiracy. Afterward, he shifted to a nearby Arya Samaj Temple, where unfortunately he was arrested by the police.
He was moved to Lahore jail, already filled with many young revolutionaries who were being tortured to confess their crimes concerning the murder of British officer John Saunders. The Police failed in their attempts to make Ram Prasad an accused in the case and were forced to release him.
Later on, he moved to Duggada, near Kotdwar, and made it his base of operations for revolutionary activities. Ram Prasad protested against the unjust British practices in the area, which earned him more followers.
While being underground and continuing his activities, he was arrested in Pauri by the police and sentenced to 2 years of Imprisonment.
One of the most famous incidents of his life came when he was in prison on charge of assaulting DCP Ibbotson. The Judge MS Gill, “What do you want to say in your defense?”
He replied, “I don’t consider myself a British citizen, and saying anything in British court would be a dishonor for me.”
The country was in a turbulent time in 1942 as Gandhi launched the ‘Quit India Movement’ and gave the slogan ‘Do or Die’. Taking inspiration from the Movement and daring slogan, Ram Prasad Nautiyal along with many revolutionaries planned to overthrow the British authority in the cantonment town, Lansdowne.
Thousands of people from across the area were marching on the due date for the planned coup but Ram Prasad halted most of them on the way as British authority in Lansdowne had already got a wind of the plan by a mole.
The plan was aborted but the British were irked and recklessly began arresting individuals by will and torturing them.
The police finally caught him when he arrived to see his ailing father, who was in his twilight years of life.
Post Independence, he started his political career by contesting from the Lansdowne seat in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections in 1951, which is won easily. He was again voted to power in 1957. During his tenure, he focused on improving Road connectivity and establishing financial institutions like Cooperative banks.
As he turned in 60s, he was already established as a visionary leader. He spent his final solitary days in Kotdwar after detaching himself from the active politics. On 24 December 1980, he breathed his last in Lucknow while undergoing treatment.
6: Tilkha Manjhi
Decades of years before Mangal Pandey lifted the banner of revolt, a son of the soil in Bihar had emerged as a leader, opposing colonial injustice.
The Tribal leader popularly known as ‘Baba Tilkha Manjhi’ belonged to the Santhal community. To protect his land and resources from British exploitation, he organized the Adivasis into a cohesive force, training them in the use of bows and arrows.
In 1770, a fierce famine struck the Santhal region resulting in many deaths. To help his people, Tilkha looted the treasury of the company and distributed it among those in need.
This noble act earned him many followers from the tribal community and his band of men continued to grow. He was absconding from the authorities from 1771 to 1784 and was never apprehended.
In 1784, the first armed rebellion against the British started. Augustus Cleaveland, an administrator from East India Company was fatally wounded by Tilkha Manjhi, who later succumbed to his injuries.
After death of Cleaveland, the English Government went into panic mode and sought quick action.
The British forces surrounded the Tilapore forest, the base from where Tilkha operated. Tilkha’s men valiantly fought till their last breath, keeping them in the bay for several days until finally, the British Army pushed their way through.
He was caught and tied with the tail of a horse and dragged all the way to the collector’s office in Bhagalpur, where he was hanged till death.
After Independence, a statue was erected in his honor on the same spot where he was hanged.