Despite being termed as a sleepy fishing hamlet, the people of Visakhapatnam have made significant contributions to the freedom movement in various forms.
Photo: Mahatma Gandhi in company of K.S. Gupta and Digumarthi Venkata Ramaswamy(circled)during his visit to Visakhapatnam in 1929 (file photo from the Gupta family),
Today, the country will be celebrating its 62nd Independence Day. To free itself from the 200-year-old British rule, it had seen many political movements, rebellions and sacrifice of individuals. Apart from the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny which is considered to be the first war of independence, there were many such rebellions and movements, prior and after, that contributed to the freedom struggle. A few to note were the civil rebellions and tribal uprisings before 1857, the Sanyasi Rebellion (1763-1800) that was immortalise by Bankim Chandra in his book ‘Ananda Math’, the Vizianagaram’ Raja’s revolt in 1794, Velu Thampi’s uprising, the Santhal rebellion led by Sido and Kanhu in 1854, the Peasant movement of Bengal (1859-60), the formation of Indian National Congress in 1885, the Swadeshi Movement (1903-1908), the Home Rule campaign and the Quit India movement.
In the backdrop of all the happenings, Vizagapatam or Visakhapatnam, which was termed by the English rulers as a peaceful fishing hamlet, had its own credible share in the freedom struggle.
The earliest freedom movement in Vizagapatam could date back to October 13, 1780, when a group of Indian sepoys rebelled against the English Raj. The sepoys not only shot dead Lieutenant Crisps, Cadets Kingsford Venner and Robert Rutherford and the paymaster and injured Captain Maxtone and Captain Lane, but were determined to liberate the district and join the forces of Hyder Ali. Thanks to betrayal, the leader of the rebellion Shaik Mohammed, a subedar among the sepoys, was caught and hanged and the rebellion was quashed.
he district saw another bloody rebellion led by the iconic figure of Alluri Seetharamaraju between 1922 and 1924. Treading the revolutionary route of armed struggle, he carried out his campaign in the border areas of East Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts. He organised lightning raids at the police stations of Chintapalli, Rampa Chodavaram and Annavaram with the aid of his few tribal followers. He was trapped by the British in the forests of Chintapalli and was tied to a tree and shot dead without a trial.
The political awakening in the district was initiated with the Vande Mataram movement in 1906. Bhupathiraju Venkatpathi Raju was instrumental in starting the movement. It gained momentum after Bipin Chandra Pal and N.S. Ramaswami addressed a public meeting at the Town Hall. To give fillip to the movement, Marepalli Ramachandra Sastry popularly known as Kavi garu started a Swadeshi shop.
After the Nagpur Congress session in 1920, a town Congress committee was formed with Kavi garu as its president and Butchi Sundara Rao and Kothanda Ramaswamy as joint secretaries.
In tune with Gandhi’s clarion call, the committee organised large scale khaddar sale and door-to-door campaign. Regular ‘prabhat bheri’ was an integral part of the political awakening. Digumarthi Venkata Ramaswamy and his wife Janakibai, V.J. Gupta, Kavi garu, Tenneti Viswanadham and others were regulars at the bheri. Patriotic songs written by Vaddadi Seetharamanjenaya Kavi and Garimella Satyanarayana like ‘Maaku oddu ee tella dorathanam’ and ‘dandalu dandalu bharat matha’ were sung by the activists. Farid-ur-Zama who was popularly known as Babulal, played the role of lead singer in the group.
Acts of defiance
The first act of real defiance came in the form of Salt Satyagraha. Following Mahatma Gandhi’s orders, a group of volunteers led by Kavi garu, Digumarthi Venkata Ramaswamy, Tenneti Viswanadham, Kolluru Suryam Gupta, Bhamidipati Chinayagnanarayana Sarma and Digumarthi Janakibai marched from Vizianagaram to the beach opposite the Town Hall (now where the Visakha Container Terminal stands) to manufacture and auction salt. All the leaders except for Janakibai were arrested. She took over the leadership and during the auctioning of salt, the then Tashildar Kothuru Paparao had to physically prick her hand to make her drop the salt that she had been holding as act of defiance. Janakibai joined her husband for four months of rigorous imprisonment. It was in the Bellary Jail that she was delivered of her first child.
It was during that time, another leader Kapuganti Chidambaram was taken into custody. To instil fear among the people, he was made to walk from the Hindu Reading Room to the One Town Police Station and was beaten and kicked all along the route by the police.
Despite the severe beatings, he went on to chant ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Gandhiji ki jai’ till he fell unconscious near the police station.
Kandala Sarweswara Sastry, Dr. M.V. Krishna Rao and Mallimadugula Jagannadha Rao broke the salt law at Balacheruvu.
During the Gandhian era, the Gandhi cap became the symbol of non-violent freedom struggle. The students of medical and engineering college took it as a challenge and joined the movement by wearing the Gandhi cap and khaddar to the classroom. Thirty students were suspended and a few quoted arrested but that did not prove to be a deterrent. The students joined Lanka Sundaram and K.V. Gopalaswamy in the mock parliaments conducted by them.
Gandhiji in Visakhapatnam
Gandhiji addressed a large gathering on the Khaddar Movement on April 28, 1929, at the beach opposite the Town Hall. Women satyagrahis out beat the men in attendance. It was during this meeting that the Father of the Nation was moved when the eldest daughter of K.S. Gupta, K. Sarojini, who was barely 10 years old donated her golden bangle for the cause.
Gandhiji also addressed a large gathering at the Waltair Railway Station in 1921, on his return journey to Calcutta from Vijayawada after the Congress session. He was accompanied by Maulana Mohammed Ali the pioneer of Khilafat Movement. The police arrested Mohammed Ali at the station. A few people tried to prevent the arrest and Gandhiji had to pacify the crowd.
(Inputs from Dr. S. Girija, Professor Department of History, AU, and veteran freedom fighters Digumarthi Saraswathi Devi and K.S. Sastry)