SECOND JALLIANWALA BAGH(RAKTA TIRTHA)
By Upagupt Mohanty
Sipping my beverage at a café, as I was catching up with a few buddies on my phone I could over-hear a conversation taking place at the adjoining table. Interesting to start with, the feeble voiced discussion became intriguing to such a point that I couldn’t help but eavesdrop! The ‘2nd Jallianwala Bagh’ was anyway enough to keep my ears tuned to their words. That evening I rummaged through several websites, little did I know that the episode would have a remote connection with Odisha. To my shock & horror I’d stumbled upon a massacre which was second only to the ill famous one at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, during our independence struggle. As the details of the morbid episode started unfolding, I struggled to hold back my emotions. Eram, a remote rural spot in the district of Balasore (presently Bhadrak) in Odisha, had become the focal point of the ‘Quit India movement’ in this part of the country and the activism had reached a tipping point wherein the locals under the leadership of freedom fighters were trying to set up a parallel government to stop paying taxes to the British & dues to the landlord. They protested by burning the uniforms of village Chaukidars and Dafadars and not sell paddy to the government agents but to distribute paddy among the distressed people by seizing it from well-to-do hoarders. It was interesting to note, why Eram was the chosen place for these freedom activists. Eram under Basudevpur police station was a strategic place or citadel of different movements launched by the Indian National Congress in different phases. Freedom fighters and revolutionaries held thier secret meetings and public meetings here as the place was inaccessible and far from cities, surrounded by the Bay of Bengal and the two rivers Gamei and Kansbansa and during the monsoon this place was even more difficult to access. The Satyagrahis and the activists held meetings in the field at Eram, known as Melan Padia ( meeting ground). The Melan Padia was closed from three sides by Naana Pokhari (pond) in the east, a big house of Bhagirathi Panda in the west , the temple of Bakar Mahakali and a small pond in the north. After the declaration of ‘Quit India’ by Mahatma Gandhi on 8th August 1942, there was nationwide protest and agitation. The protests led to the formation of ‘Swadhin Anchala’ by the local peasants at Eram. The first meeting of Quit India Movement in this region was on 27th August 1942 where-in Aniruddha Mohanty, Kamala Prasad Kar and Gouranga Chandra Mohanty were the main speakers. Before a huge gathering led by Gouranga Chandra Mohanty the Swadin Anchala or Independent region was formed on 17th September 1942. The Swadin Anchala was named as ‘Banchhanidhi Chakla’ after the nationalist poet Banchhanidhi Mohanty. The independent region comprised of 26 villages of six panchayats with an area spreading across 19 square miles.
For the smooth and proper functioning of the independent government of Eram, a five member apex committee was formed with Gouranga Chandra Mohanty as the President, Kamala Prasad Kar as the Director and Supreme Commander, and Pravakar Tripathy, Anirudha Mohanty and Shyamasundar Panigrahi as members. The house of Arjun Biswal was named as Satyagraha Ashram and functioned as the official headquarter of the new Government. Each morning the independent national flag was raised in the headquarter. Houses of Krushna Bihari Tripathy, Krushna Chandra Pani and Banka Bihari Tripathy were designated as Court and Jail. Three Govt. Departments, namely army, intelligence and food supply department were formed. There were two branches of the Army Department such as Death squad and Peace squad. Ganesh Prasad Tripathy, as the head of the army, gave the call to his soldiers – ‘Karenge yaa Marenge.’ (We will do or die). Imagine! the leaders from the rural area had the guts to form a parallel government completely ignoring the British administration and the local zamindars. People of Kalinga were truly patriotic and brave was again evident in the country’s freedom struggle. What happened at Eram? On 28th September, 1942, six to seven thousand people had gathered that afternoon under an oath ‘we will die but not fear’, under the leadership of Kamala Prasad Kar on Eram’s Melana Padia to revolt against the British rule. The leaders, satyagrahis and locals from villages under Basudebpur police station had sole goal to achieve Swaraj. Such was the spirit of the people then that they were determined to fight against the colonial rule till the end. Af ter the format i on of ‘Banchhanidhi Chakla’, the activist threatened the local zamindar to cooperate with the newly formed Government. Out of fear, the local zamindar informed the police about the development of the new government and the threat they posed. The British police from the local Basudebpur police station, under the command of DSP Kunjabihari Mohanty marched towards Eram for enquiry and to arrest the culprits. Kamala Prasad Kar was removed from the meeting site and Ganesh Prasad Tripathy took over and addressed the huge congregation as it was learnt that the British police had premeditated to arrest Kamala Prasad Kar. While coming to the spot , the police unit had to drive the boat themselves to cross the river as boatman Kusha Tarai refused to ferry them. The field was echoing with the slogan ‘Vande Mataram’, ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, ‘Guli gula se nehi darenge, Lathi mar se nehi darenge’ (We will not fear the bullets, nor to the lathi charge). It is said that the local activist Mani Baj and Ratnakar Biswal snatched police kits by shouting slogan ‘You cannot carry the belongings of the slaves of the British Government’ from three Chowkidars and a special constable. Infuriated on hearing the exaggerated version of manhandling of policemen, the DSP Kunja Bihari Mohanty relaxing at the zamindar’s house, shouted “I shall perform human sacrifice today”. The Sub- Inspector Hema Chandra Panigrahi declared his determination to open fire and they both with the police unit marched to Melana Padia. On reaching the Melana Padia, they started firing indiscriminately at the congregation, killing 29. In this incident, Pari Bewa of Eram was the first woman to attain martyrdom in the police firing. Similarly, 13-yearold Bijuli Das of Padhuan was one of the youngest martyrs. Injured by the bullet, Mani Pradhan of Suan, requested to the police “Fire no more. Lay your arms. Freedom will also come for you and bring good to you”. But he was shot dead. 56 people lay on the field wounded with bullets on their body. Blood, stampede, screams and lifeless bodies took the centre stage. About another hundred escaped with injuries. Hundreds were beaten up mercilessly. As many as 304 shots were discharged in minutes as agonizing cries rose from every corner of the bloodshed field. Yet, even amidst the bloodbath some were heard shouting “We will die, but not fear.”
When the police retreated, the Eram Melana Padia appeared as hell, with blood, dead bodies and the wounded scattered over a wide area and with thousands of men and women bitterly weeping and cursing the oppressors for their wanton act. The ground has been aptly termed as Rakta Teertha (a place of pilgrimage tinged with blood of martyrs). Not to forget the contributions of freedom fighters with its related struggle and massacre, a martyr’s memorial (Saheed Stambh) has been built in Eram. According to the sources from the Revenue divisional Commissioner – E.C. Ansonge and the Inspector General of Police- B.A.O. Perkin without any enquiry reported to the Government that the firing at Eram was justified. Soon after the police arrested Kamala Prasad Kar, Anirudha Mohanty, Gouranga Chandra Mohanty, Pravakar Tripathy, Ganesh Prasad Tripathy and other leaders. Visualise the scene of the massacre, doesn’t the details of the macabre and ghastly act run you emotionally high? Irony of the fact on Eram firing, is that the centenary history of the Indian National Congress states that probably nowhere in India so many people were killed in a single police action during the Quit India Movement. Yet the massacre has not been given its due share of respect in the history of India’s freedom struggle which is truly appalling!! The questions which provokes my conscience are Why is the Odisha’s Eram episode of 1942 which is equated with Jallianwala Bagh massacare of 1919 not a part of our National history and curriculum in school? Why is 28th September not observed as a holiday, atleast in Odisha, as a mark of respect for the heroes who laid their lives? Have we maintained the martyr’s memorial in a suitable way for upcoming generation to remember the blood bath episode or otherwise as a mark of respect for the people who gifted freedom to us by sacrificing their lives? Do we live in a society where any political leaders claims their right to thrust their opinion on everything under the sun and can call for a bandh, however frivolous the reason maybe, but such an integral part of Odisha’s contribution to the freedom struggle is okay to overlook and possibly forget ?? These are questions which need to be pondered over, long and hard, but not to be left unanswered !!