India’s Freedom Struggle and Baji Raut, the Youngest Martyr

Much has been written about the anti-colonial struggles of Indians which finally ensured that the Sun indeed set on the British Empire. 1947 steadily but surely set the world on a new order to march for freedom with rekindled hopes.
Ironically, the first martyr of this struggle was not some giant figure of world history ever studied (like Gandhi, Nehru, Bose etc), but a 13-year young revolutionary from Orissa, whom the historians have conveniently let go from the collective memory.

Historians, they say, are more powerful than God. They have the power to even change the past. So the mainstream history teaches us how to be passive, how to live by leaders, how to wait and watch, how to calm down to pragmatism, how to compete for our own survival. It teaches us to be mature like the successes, not restless like failures. For it tells us who the successes in the world were and how history is always narrated through their voices. And yes, we have learnt from history, that not all of us are capable of standing up against the mighty. Only a few clad in guerilla coats or declared communists or mothers of war victims do stand up and be losers. It teaches us October revolution was a failure, Indian experiment was unique to its own, and Kennedy was a hero who changed the shape of the world. What it does not teach us is that each of us is capable of bringing the mighty down, when we the people, collectively take action. In the past, we have demonstrated that. It just takes us to acknowledge that this had been indeed the case. It just takes the history books to recognize that common people, irrespective of their social locations have had uncommon roles, from which we have everything to learn.

Lest we have a shaky foundation with a mutilated past, we must not forget that most resilient struggle against the most powerful empire on earth was borne out of a childlike innocence, simplicity, non-compromising attitude, the deep anger, rebellious emotion, stiff resistance, and proud self.

The children in us are often compromised at the alter of adult wisdoms, or as Freud would argue, at a forced direction. But if we can learn from our own selves, our individual and collective spirits of humane defense, the realization of our suppressed potential, our ability to be educated, agitated and organized, just the way the selfless children do, just the way Baji Raut did, without any thought control of modern individualist class-promoting education, we would have learnt the first few steps of life correct.

Here is the most comprehensive and an extremely valuable article on Baji Raut, the hero who must live in all of us, who must inspire us no end, by SCP from Orissamatters.com.

By Subhas Chandra Pattanayak for Orissamatters.com


“NUHEN BANDHU, NUHEN EHA CHITA,
E DESHA TIMIRA TALE E ALIBHA MUKATI SALITA”

(“It is not a pyre, O’ Friends! When the country is in dark despair, it is the light of our liberty. It is our freedom-fire”.)

When the dead body of BAJI RAUT was burning in the pyre, Sachi Rautroy, who was one of the seven Marxist revolutionaries whom time had chosen to be immortal by burning the mortal remains of THE YOUNGEST MARTYR OF INDIA, had, in the light of the pyre, on the cremation ground of Khannagar, Cuttack, in the night of an unforgettable October 10, 1938, had given this wordy expression to the inconsolable cries of his heart, while his other comrades: Baishnav Pattanayak, Ananta Pattanayak, Govinda Mohanty, Rabi Ghosh, Motilal Tripathy and Bishwanath Pasayat were doing the last service to his co-martyrs: Hurushi Pradhan, Raghu Nayak, Guri Nayak, Nata Malik, Laxmana Malik and Fagu Sahu.

The stanza quoted above is the first stanza of Sachi Rautroy’s famous poem ‘BAJI ROUT’, which translated into English by Harindranath Chattopadyaya, had set the entire nation on an unprecedented motion for freedom of people from the Kings of princely States. People in various States were agitating against their respective ruling chiefs. But the supreme sacrifice the thirteen-year-old boy Baji Raut had given the necessary momentum to the movement that ultimately wiped out kingship from India.

Baji Raut, the light of liberty, was born in 1925 in the Village of Nilakanthapur in Dhenkanal, His father Hari Raut, had passed away when he was a tiny tot. He was brought up by his mother who was thriving on wages earned by rice-husking in the neighborhood. He had watched how mercilessly the King of Dhenkanal, Shankar Pratap Singhdeo was fleecing the poor villagers including his mother of their earnings by using armed forces. So, when Baishnav Charan Pattanayak of Dhenkanal town, later famous as Veer Baisnav, raised a banner of revolt against the King and founded Prajamandal, Baji joined it despite tender age.

Baishnav Charan Pattanayak deliberately joined as a painter in the Railways in order to be able to move from place to place free of cost by using a railway pass he was to obtain. Taking advantage of this Pass he not only started moving from place to place along the Railway track, instigating people against the King, but also established contacts with leaders of National Congress at Cuttack and attracted their attention to the plight of the people of Dhenkanal.

He associated himself with the only revolutionary journal of those days, THE KRUSHAKA (the Farmer), which was being produced and published by the Marxists. Thus, while educating himself in Marxist revolutionary theory and practices, he prevailed upon local intellectual Hara Mohan Pattanayak and founded the people’s movement called “Prajamandala Andolana”. The tortured people of Dhenkanal joined this movement with rare and unheard of courage. Soon, subjects of adjoining Princely States also formed Praja Mandalas in their respective States.

Seeing this, many other kings offered their cooperation to the king of Dhenkanal to suppress the people’s movement. King of Bolangir R.N.Singhdeo, King of Kalahandi P.K.Deo, Shankar Patap’s father-in-law who was the King of Sareikela and the king of Keonjhar sent their armed troops to Dhenkanal to terrorize the people. The British authorities also sent from Calcutta a platoon of soldiers comprising 200 gunmen to assist him. The King of Dhenkanal unleashed a reign of terror to suppress the mass movement.

For maintenance of these outside forces, Shankar Pratap clamped another tax on the people, called ‘Rajabhakta Tax’ or Loyalty Tax. He declared that whosoever fails to pay this tax, shall be adjudged a traitor and punished accordingly.

The houses of the people who did not pay the Rajbhakta Tax were being razed to ground by use of royal elephants and all their properties were being confiscated. Such repressive measures failed to deter the people from joining the movement.

Deciding to crush the movement forever, the king pressed his entire force against the leaders of the movement. All the ancestral properties of Veer Baishnav were confiscated. Hara Mohan Pattanayak and other top leaders were taken into custody in a surprise raid on September 22, 1938. But the royal forces could not arrest Veer Baishnav Pattanayak.

While frantically searching for him, news reached the palace that he was camping in the Village of Bhuban. The armed forces of the King attacked Bhuban on October 10, 1938 for the third time and destroyed many houses by using the elephants and tortured many a persons. But they could not elicit any information on Veer Baishnav despite use of all sorts of brutality.

They arrested as many as eight persons and let loose terror to elicit information on Baishnav Pattanayak. At this stage a source informed that he has escaped by jumping into the river Brahmani and swam across to the villages on the other side. The troop started immediate chase. People obstructed. To disperse them, they started firing. Two of the villagers lost their life on the spot. The troop rushed to the nearest ferry at Nilakanthapur on River Brahmani.

Baji Raut was on the guard at the Ghat at that time. He was ordered by the troop to ferry them across. He refused.

By that time he had heard from those who fled from Bhuban details of the brutality the troop had resorted to there and had understood that if Veer Baisnav Pattanayak was to be protected, the troops were to be obstructed. He therefore refused to comply with the command.

The royal troop threatened to kill him if he did not ferry them across immediately. He rejected their orders again. Surrender to the Pajamandal first, he retorted.

A soldier hit his head with the butt of his gun that fractured his skull severely. He collapsed. But he rose. He collected whatever little strength was left in him, and raising his voice to the highest pitch beyond even his strength, warned his villagers of the presence of the royal troop. A soldier pierced his bayonet into the soft skull of the brave boy even as another fired at him. Somebody who was watching this cruelty run to the people and informed them. Charged with wrath and contempt, people in hundreds rushed to the spot like angry lions. Seeing them, instead of running after Baisnav Pattanayak, the panicked troop fled for life.

Taking hold of Baji’s boat after killing him, the troop oared away in utmost haste; but while escaping, opened fire on the chasing masses causing four more deaths.

Baishnav Pattanayak collected the corpses and brought them by the train to Cuttack. The news spread like wild fire. People rushed to the Cuttack Station and received the dead bodies raising revolutionary slogans with Lal Salaam to the martyrs. Post mortem tests on bodies of the martyrs were conducted at Cuttack medical. Eminent leaders of freedom movement like Sarangadhar Das, Nabakrshna Chowdhury, Bhagabati Panigrahi, Gouranga Charan Das, Sudhir Ghosh, Surendra Dwivedy and Gurucharan Pattanayak discussed with Veer Baisnav Pattanayak and it was decided to lead the last journey of Baji Raut and his co-martyrs to Khannagar crematorium through the lanes of the town so that everybody in Cuttack including the women and children could have glimpses of the immortal sons of Orissa, who sacrificed their lives to emancipate their people from tyranny in the dark State (Andhari Mulaka) of Dhenkanal.

Then such a thing happened which has no parallel in our history. You can take it as the rarest of the rare events of our freedom movement. People volunteered to carry the bodies of the martyrs in their bullock carts in a procession to the cremation ground. Quite unusual it was. The peoples of Orissa worship bullocks. One cannot imagine that a person of Orissa can allow his bullocks to carry a corpse. But this happened. Such a thing had never happened earlier and has never happened thereafter. Patriotic fervor was so high. Ah! How it pains to feel that we have now become a different people altogether!

Sachi Rautray, Anant Pattnaik, Govind Ch Mohanty, Bishwanath Pashayat, Rabi Ghosh and Motilal Tripathy drove bullock carts carrying the martyrs’ bodies. Thousands and thousands of people thronged the streets to join that unheard of obituary march led by Veer Baisnav Pattanayak and other luminaries of our freedom struggle like Bhagavati Panigrahi, Prana Nath Pattanayak, Guru Charan Pattanayak, Nabakrushna Chowdhury, Surendranath Dwivedy, Pranakrushna Padhiari, Sarangadhara Das, Gouranga Charan Das and Sudhir Ghosh etc. Excepting only the occasion of cremation of Kulabruddha Madhusudan Das, (the immortal Madhubabu) Cuttack had never, and has never, witnessed such an obituary procession.

Sachi Rautroy took several days to regain his composure to finish his poem Baji Raut that he had started on the cremation ground itself in the light of the pyre.

When, after elapse of long sixty-seven years, this episode strikes the mind, somebody from within cries helplessly at the ghastly fall of our society where the supreme sacrifice of this splendid boy has been lost in the labyrinth of vested interests that has taken over our beloved motherland.

Time has changed. Our democracy has changed into plutocracy. Shankar Pratap, the very person under whose tyrannical grip Baji Raut had lost his life has been immortalized as a man on whose “sad” demise, the Parliament of India had to rise in respect.

I must make you note that the people of Dhenkanal had not sent him to the Parliament. But he had become a member of our Parliament by the help of his old collaborators in crime, R.N.Singhdeo and P.K.Deo, who had formed a political outfit of their own and by corrupting election process had succeeded in capturing so much seats in the State Assembly that they could send tyrants like Shankar Pratap to the upper chamber of Parliament. What more disrespect to the memory of Baji Raut could have been committed in this Country?

We have, as a people, failed. Therefore, not only the tyrant Shankar Pratap, but also his wife and son have occupied seats in the ramparts of our democracy many a times!

We have, as a people, measurably failed. Therefore, history has witnessed that those, who were sabotaging our freedom struggle, have befooled us to the extent of becoming Prime and Deputy Prime Ministers of our country.

Those who have redefined our independence to be dependant on foreign powers have grabbed the highest political posts in our Country. And, those who should have opposed this mischief have allied with them in the style of safeguarding secularity! Those who should have remained unfazed on the issue of political economy of capitalism vrs socialism, have, only in order to remain in close proximity to power, been parading new ideas of political philosophy of secularism versus communalism! All the traitors!

Commission agents have basked in various top positions. Even in the very State of Orissa where boys like Baji Raut had never hesitated to lay down life for benefit of fellow beings, commission agents have occupied Chief Minister Gadi many a times.
Time has taken a turn towards the worse. Our brilliant boys have been leaving our Country in search of better living avenues in foreign lands.

In such a situation, when Baji Raut comes to mind, if every iota of patriotism is not extinguished, how can one suppress his agony?

Before parting, I would like you to know the following three aspects of Baji, which the history has not yet noted. They are:

(a) He is the youngest martyr of India in the in the struggle for her freedom.
(b) History did not create him. He created history. And,
(c) It is he, for whom alone the India we see now has been able to take this form.

Let me elaborate.

(a)Born in 1925, he was killed on October 10, 1938. (Who’s Who of Indian Martyrs, compiled and published by Government of India, Vol.2, p.271) He was 13 then. No Indian patriot has sacrificed life at more a tender age in the way Baji did. I have searched the Who’s Who of Indian Martyrs in its entirety and found none to compare with Baji. Hence he is the youngest martyr of India of his genre. The world should be made aware of this unique position.

(b)Many martyrs have been made by history. The two villagers of Bhuban who succumbed to firing by police as noted above were martyrs created by history. There are many such instances. But Baji was different. He obstructed the royal troops to protect the Prajamandal leader. He could have saved his life by complying with the orders of the troop. But he bravely refused to heed to them, even though he knew that the bloody bruits were capable of killing him. He stood loyal to his people till he breathed his last and although injured beyond endurance, he never forgot to make people aware of the arrival of police so that they could hide their leader in a safer place. He dared death to defeat the evil design of the tyrant king. Therefore, he was a martyr whom history did not make but who made history.

(c)All of us know that there were 618 Princely States in India when we gained our independence. All of us know that the British Crown had restored sovereignty in all of them at the time we got our freedom. But none of us acknowledge that Baji Raut was the basic factor behind merger of all those States with the new independent India. Had he not been born, the India of now might never have taken this geographical form.

His heroic sacrifice inspired all the people of Princely States who, being highlanders, once provoked, were beyond control of the kings. The tyranny of the king of Dhenkanal having been convincingly exposed by Veer Baishnav Pattanayak and exposure of oppressions let loose in other Princely States having come to lime light by the Praja Mandal organizations of those States, the National Congress also formed a fact finding committee headed by Harekrushna Mahtab in Orissa. This Committee was convinced that unless the Princely States are taken over, plight of the majority people of Orissa (because most of Orissa was under Princely rule) would not end. With independent patches of land having their own sovereign rulers at various parts of Orissa, and for that matter, of the country, shall also play havoc with administration when India becomes independent, the committee concluded.

The Kings of Orissa met in a conference in July 1946 at Alipore and resolved to form a Feudal Union. It was clear that they shall not allow their people to be free from their rule.

In sharp reaction to this evil design of the kings, Veer Baishnav Pattanayak took the first militant steps against Shankar Pratap, the King of Dhenkanal. He transformed the passive Praja Mandal movement to armed revolution. It is to be noted that people of Nilagiri where a brother of Shankar Pratap of Dhenkanal was also the king, heightened their militant attack on the Palace under leadership of famous Marxist leader Banamali Das, compelling the King to flee. In most of the Princely States of Orissa, militant attacks were made by Praja Mandal activists on the Kings and their cronies causing panicky in them. The kings felt that if they do not merge their States with India, the Praja Mandal activists will eliminate them, their protector, the British, having left the Country. Hence under that extraordinary situation, they agreed to surrender their kingship and to merge their respective State with independent India. Kings of Dhenkanal and Nilagiri were the first persons to agree. On watching this development, Mahtab prevailed upon Sardar Patel to come to Orissa finalize merger terms. He came along with V.P.Menon, the then Secretary in the Department of States to Cuttack on December 13 and on the next day held a detail discussion with the Kings. Finalization of the terms and conditions of merger took a fortnight and On January 01, 1948 all the Princely States except Mayurbhanj merged in Orissa. The later volunteered to merge on January 1st in the following year. The Orissa experience prompted all the Kings in all other provinces to merge their respective States with Independent India to escape violent uprising of their people. And thus, with merger of all the 618 Feudal States, left as Sovereigns by the British, the modern India became able to take this new form.

If the people of Orissa had the English Media at their command, and had the historians been able to interpret events without fear, martyrdom of Baji Raut could have been recognized as the main factor behind elimination of Kingdoms and creation of the new geographical shape of the modern India. The Peoples Movement in Dhenkanal being basically lunched and led by a Communist revolutionary was never to be given its due importance by post-independence intelligentsia. In consequence, Baji Raut has not yet been properly evaluated, even though he is mentioned in the Who’s Who of Indian Martyrs, published by Government of India.

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

2 thoughts on “India’s Freedom Struggle and Baji Raut, the Youngest Martyr

  1. Native People’s Party believe in the thoughts and teachings of Dharmatma Kabir, Mahatma Phule, Father of Nation , Mahatma Gandhi and Bharat Bhagya Vidhata Dr. Ambedkar .We have great respect for Baji Raut , the youngest martyr of India. Native People’s Party has started Native HERO Award in the memory of Baji Raut from 2011 .

    Nativist D.D.Raut, President, Native People’s Party

    Massage to Nation : Janeu Chodo Bharat Jodo

  2. Native People’s Party believe in the thoughts and teachings of Dharmatma Kabir, Mahatma Phule, Father of Nation , Mahatma Gandhi and Bharat Bhagya Vidhata Dr. Ambedkar .We have great respect for Baji Raut , the youngest martyr of India. Native People’s Party has started Native HERO Award in the memory of Baji Raut from 2011 .

    Nativist D.D.Raut, President, Native People’s Party

    Massage to Nation : Janeu Chodo Bharat Jodo

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