7 May: Remembering Alluri Sitarama Raju on his Punya Tithi
Alluri Sitarama Raju (4 July 1897/1898 – 7 May 1924) was an Indian revolutionary who waged an armed campaign against British colonial rule in India.
A native of present-day Andhra Pradesh, he opposed the British in response to the Madras Forest Act of 1882, restricting the free movement of Adivasis in their forest habitats and preventing them from practicing podu farming.
Childhood and Early life
Alluri Sitarama Raju was born into a Telugu-speaking family in Andhra Pradesh, India. Venkata Rama Raju, his father, was a professional photographer who settled in Rajamundry for his vocation, and his mother, Surya Narayanamma, was a housewife.
The date of his birth is disputed, with some sources saying 4 July 1897, others saying 4 July 1898. He was born in Bhimavaram, according to an official report, but several other sources say he was born in Mogallu in West Godavari District.
He was a free-spirited man with a lot of self-respect. He finished primary school and went to high school in Kakinada. His mother’s hometown of Visakhapatnam is where he enrolled for his fourth form exam at the age of 15. He visited far flung areas in the Visakhapatnam district and got to know the tribal people there.
Around this time, he met a rich man’s sister, Sita, and developed platonic love for her, whose untimely death left him heartbroken. As a way to make her memory eternal, Rama Raju prefixed her name to his, and became known as Sita Rama Raju. Eventually, he dropped out of college. After giving up his schooling, he studied Telugu, Sanskrit, Hindi, and English literature privately. Although he didn’t have a great education, he took a special interest in astrology, herbalism, palmistry, and equestrianism before becoming a sannyasi.
Emergence as a leader
When the 1882 Madras Forest Act passed, it restricted the movement of tribal people in the forests, making it impossible for them to engage in their traditional podu agricultural system, a form of subsistence economy that involved shifting cultivation. The Raj authorities also emasculated the traditional hereditary role of the muttadars, who had until then been the de facto rulers of the hills as tax collectors for the plains-living rajas.
Rama Raju harnessed tribal discontent to fuel his anti-colonial zeal, while accommodating the grievances of those muttadars sympathetic to his cause, rather than those who were selfish in pursuing their own revival. Most of his followers were tribals, but also some muttadars who had exploited them at one time. However, many muttadars remained ambivalent about fighting for what he considered the greater good.
To gain people’s support, Alluri adopted aspects from the Non-Cooperation movement, like temperance and boycotting colonial courts in favor of local justice administered by panchayat courts. Although the movement died out in early 1922, it had already reached the plains by then. This is because he used some of the movement’s methods to help raise the political awareness of the hill people.
His actions caused him to be watched by police from around February of that year. However, neither the movement nor the British political leadership recognized that he was using them to foment an armed uprising.
Using his supporters, he built powerful and strong troops. Sporting traditional weaponry like bow-and-arrow and spears and employing tactics like using whistles and beating drums to exchange messages amongst themselves, the revolutionaries managed to achieve spectacular successes initially in their struggle against the British. Realising that traditional weaponry would be of not much use against the British, who were all well equipped with modern firearms, he thought the best way forward is to take them away from the enemy and started launching attacks on police stations.
In August 1922, he led a troop of 500 people to steal guns and ammunition from police stations at Chintapalle, Krishna Devi Peta, and Rajavommangi. He later toured the area, getting more recruits and killing a police officer who was trying to find him. He would sign a letter in the station diary after each raid, giving details of his plunder and writing the date and time of his attack, daring police to stop him.
Death and immortality
The British managed to capture Alluri in Chintapalle forests after nearly two years of fighting. He was tied to a tree and shot on 7 May 1924 in Koyyuru village.
A tomb of him currently lies in the village of Krishnadevipeta, near Visakhapatnam.
Legacy of Alluri Sitarama Raju
There are numerous leagcy of legend. Here are few among many:
- The 1974 Telugu-language movie Alluri Seetarama Raju, featuring actor Krishna, depicts his life.
- In 1986, the Indian Postal Department issued a commemorative stamp featuring him in the series ‘India’s struggle for freedom’
- Government of Andhra Pradesh celebrates his birthday, 4 July, annually as a state festival.
- Alluri Sitarama Raju Cricket Stadium in Eluru is named after him.