India’s freedom movement and its Vizag connect is a story that not many of us know about. But when you hear the city’s historians narrate about the atmosphere that prevailed when the country was on the brink on being freed from the clutches of British rulers, it is certain to give you goosebumps.
“In Visakhapatnam, there was a sepoy mutiny against the British in 1780, way before the freedom movement had officially started,” says Edward Paul, an INTACH member, adding, “The city had had enough of the British and it was the first state in India to launch a sepoy mutiny. The Chief Minister of Odisha claims that his state witnessed the first freedom movement, but he’s wrong. The Old Cemetery in our city even has the grave of a sepoy, who was lost during the struggle.”
When Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement began, it was the Town Hall where the freedom fighters would congregate for meetings. “Opposite the Town Hall, there used to be a wide, sandy beach that is occupied by the Visakha Container Terminal now. It was at these locations that Visakhapatnam’s Salt Satyagraha took place,” he adds.
Gandhi visited Visakhapatnam five times between 1921 and 1946 to promote his message of ahimsa. “He addressed a large gathering on the Khaddar Movement at the beach opposite Town Hall on April 28, 1929. During that gathering, there were more women satyagrahis than men in attendance. Gandhiji was greatly moved when the elder daughter of KS Gupta, K Sarojini, who was hardly 10 then, donated her gold bangle to the cause,” says Jayashree Hatangadi, another INTACH member.
Before that, Gandhi had addressed a large gathering at the Waltair Railway Station in 1921 while returning to Calcutta from Vijayawada after a Congress session. He was accompanied by Maulana Mohammed Ali, pioneer of the Khilafat Movement, who was arrested at the Waltair Station. Vizagites revolted to prevent the arrest so much that Gandhiji had to pacify the crowd.
In the country, the 24-day Salt Satyagraha march began from March 12, 1930 and continued till April 6, 1930, as a direct action campaign of tax resistance and non-violent protest against the British salt monopoly. After the sepoy mutiny, the first real act of defiance came in the form of Salt Satyagraha from Vizag, she says, adding, “The Town Hall has had the honour of hosting some of the most important civic meetings during the Independence struggle. The Salt Satyagraha meeting took place there and salt was symbolically made in a small measure at the Town Hall beach to break the salt laws.”
Following 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 the now Vizianagaram to the beach opposite the Town Hall to manufacture and auction salt. “All leaders except Janakibai were arrested. She took over the leadership and during the auctioning of salt, she was so defiant that the then Tashildar Kothuru Paparao had to prick her hand to make her drop the salt that she had been holding in revolt. Janakibai joined her husband for four months of rigorous imprisonment and it was in the Bellary Jail that she delivered her first child,” says Jayashree.
It was then that another leader, Kapuganti Chidambaram, was also taken into custody. To instil fear among people, he was made to walk from the Hindu Reading Room to the One Town Police Station and 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.
After a long and hard struggle, India’s Independence was announced by Jawaharlal Nehru at midnight of August 15, 1947 and the atmosphere in Visakhapatnam was electric — the celebration continued for days together. Born in 1918, CV Ratnamani witnessed the euphoria first hand. She says, “They beat drums near the Kurupam Market for days after the announcement. We had suffered a lot at the hands of the Japanese during the Second World War and the independence we had gained was much needed. The British thought ours to be an insignificant and small city, but we clearly weren’t.”
All of Vizag dressed up in khadi to celebrate independence. The women adorned their hair with orange flowers, and put muggus on their arugus in the shape of Gandhi’s chakra in the colours of saffron, white and green, she says, elaborating, “That was the symbol on our flag back then but I don’t remember us hoisting flags. All the houses in One Town did draw muggu though. My daughter won a khadi langa-jacket with butterflies on it to the Kurupam Market because she felt as free as a butterfly.”
They didn’t really know what it meant to be independent yet though. “It was nothing like the regimented flag hoisting we have now. We just knew that the Britishers had left and we revelled in the fact that we had survived a fight and won back rights that were ours to begin with. The josh didn’t die down for days after the announcement,” she reminisces.
Source : TOI