Alluri Sitarama Raju
|Born||4 July 1897 or 1898|
|Died||7 May 1924 (aged 25 or 26)|
Koyyuru, Madras Presidency, British India
(present-day Andhra Pradesh, India)
|Cause of death||Summary execution|
|Resting place||Krishnadevipeta, Andhra Pradesh, India|
|Known for||Rampa Rebellion of 1922|
Alluri Sitarama Raju (4 July 1897 or 1898 – 7 May 1924) was an Indian revolutionary who waged an armed campaign against the British colonial rule in India. Born in present-day Andhra Pradesh, he was involved in opposing the British in response to the 1882 Madras Forest Act that effectively restricted the free movement of adivasis in their forest habitats and prevented them from practicing their traditional form of agriculture called 'podu', which threatened their very way of life. Rise in discontent towards the British colonial rule in the backdrop of the Non-cooperation movement (1920-1922) led to the Rampa rebellion (1922-1924) in which Alluri Sitarama Raju played the major role as its leader. Mustering combined forces of tribals and other sympathizers to the cause, he engaged in guerilla campaigns against the British forces across the border regions of present-day Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states in India.[a] He was given the title "Manyam Veerudu" (transl. Hero of the Jungle) by the local people for his heroic exploits.
Born into a Telugu speaking family as Alluri Rama Raju, he prefixed the name "Sita" to his in memory of a girl whom he loved during his youth and whose untimely demise at a young age left him heartbroken. He later took up sannyasa at the age of 18 and grew to become a charismatic leader of the downtrodden tribal people in the 20th century colonial India. As the leader of the Manyam rebellion or the Rampa Rebellion of 1922, Alluri Sitarama Raju led his forces against the British colonial rulers with an aim of expelling them from the Eastern Ghats region in the erstwhile Madras Presidency. During the rebellion he led numerous raids on the imperial police stations to acquire firearms for his under-equipped forces. After each raid, he would leave a written note in the station signed by him informing the police about the details of his plunder there including details of the weaponry he acquired and dare them to stop him if they can.
Police stations in and around areas of Annavaram, Addateegala, Chintapalle, Dammanapalli, Krishna Devi Peta, Rampachodavaram, Rajavommangi, and Narsipatnam were all targeted by his forces, which resulted in significant police casualties. In response to these raids and to quell the rebellion, the British colonial authorities undertook a nearly two-year long manhunt for Alluri Sitarama Raju that resulted in expenditures reaching over ₹4 million rupees then. Eventually in 1924, he was trapped at Koyyuru village in Chintapalle forests. There, he was captured, tied to a tree, and was summarily executed by a firing squad. A mausoleum with his final remains was built in the village of Krishnadevipeta in Andhra Pradesh.
Alluri Sitarama Raju was born into a Telugu speaking family in the current state of Andhra Pradesh, India. His father, Venkata Rama Raju, was a professional photographer who settled in the town of Rajahmundry for his vocation. His mother, Surya Narayanamma, was a pious homemaker.
His date of birth is disputed with some sources reporting it as 4 July 1897 and others as 4 July 1898. Details of his place of birth also vary, an official report suggests he was born in Bhimavaram, while several other sources cite it to be the village of Mogallu in West Godavari District. New reports suggest that the village of Pandrangi in Bheemunipatnam is his precise place of birth.
Venkata Rama Raju was a free spirited man with immense self respect and great love for freedom. He once chided a young Rama Raju for practicing the then prevalent custom of Indian people saluting the Europeans in acknowledgement of their superiority. Venkata Rama Raju died when his son was aged 8.
Rama Raju completed his primary education and joined High school in Kakinada where he became a friend of Madduri Annapurnaiah (1899–1954) who later grew up to be another prominent Indian revolutionary. In his teens, Rama Raju in accordance with his reticent and meditative nature contemplated taking Sannyasa. At the age of 15, he moved to his mother's home town of Visakhapatnam to pursue high school and university education. There he was enrolled at Mrs. A.V.N. College for the fourth form exam. While there, oftentimes he visited far flung areas in the Visakhapatnam district and made himself familiar with the struggles of the tribal people over there.
Around this time, he became a friend of a rich man and developed platonic love for his friend's sister named Sita, whose untimely demise at a young age left him heartbroken. To make her memory eternal, Rama Raju then prefixed her name to his and came to be popularly known as Sita Rama Raju. He eventually dropped out from schooling without completing his course. At this instance his uncle Rama Krishnam Raju who was a tehsildar in Narsapur of the West Godavari district, and under whose tutelage Rama raju grew up so far, brought him to Narasapur and admitted him in the local Taylor High School. He however later gave up formal education but privately mastered the literature of Telugu, Sanskrit, Hindi, and English languages. Contemporary reports indicate that although he had an undistinguished education, he took a particular interest in astrology, herbal medicine, palmistry, and equestrianism, before becoming a sannyasi (religious ascetic) at the age of 18.
Indicative of his future as a leader, Rama Raju in his high school days was often found riding his uncle horses to distant hilly places and familiarise himself with various problems that were being faced by the different tribal people who were then living under the British colonial rule. He was particularly moved by seeing the hardships of the Koyas, a people of hill tribe. Fond of pilgrimage, in 1921 he visited Gangotri and Nashik, birthplaces of the holy rivers Ganga and Godavari. During his travels in the country, he met various revolutionaries in Chittagong. On seeing the socio-economic conditions of the Indian people, particularly those of the tribals, he was severely appalled and decided to build a movement for their emancipation from the British rule. He then settled down in the Papi hills near Godavari District, an area with a high density of tribal people.
Sitarama Raju initially became a Sadhu and practiced various spiritual disciplines to gain moral stature and spiritual powers. He also became an expert healer with herbs. During this time, the efforts of Christian missionaries to gain converts by any means amongst the hill tribes particularly annoyed him as he saw conversion as a tool to perpetuate imperialism. He continued living an austere life with bare minimum needs among the tribal people. Taking only food items like fruits and honey from them, he would return much of everything that was offered to him back to the tribals with his blessings. Very soon his charismatic nature gained him a reputation among the tribals of being someone possessed with holy powers, even a messianic status--a reputation that was bolstered both by myths he created about himself and by his acceptance of ones about him that were established by others, including those concerning his invincibility.
The people of the hill-tribes were an innocent but militant people who were made to pay a lot of dues for activities like grazing cattle, collecting fruit, fuel, and trading with outsiders. They were prevented from practicing their ‘Podu’ or ‘Jungle’ cultivation and their very traditional way of life was threatened. Rama Raju after seeing their exploitation, pleaded with the officials for mercy but it was all in vain. He then felt that the only way out is through rebellion.
Noting the grievances of the tribals and finding solutions to their problems, he then started to organise and educate them about their rights and prepared them for a fight against the oppression and tyranny of the forest and revenue officials, missionaries, and the police. Touring the forest terrains he gained an extensive knowledge of the geographical features, which later helped him in his future as a guerrilla warfare tactician. Around this time when the British authorities confiscated their ancestral properties, the Koya tribal brothers, Gam Malludora and Gam Gantamdora who were both freedom fighters joined the ranks of Rama Raju and became his lieutenants. As the oppressive practices of the British continued to become unbearable and rebellion became the last option for people to live free, Rama Raju became their natural leader. The Government then did try to win him over by offering 60 acres of fertile land for his ashram, but he rejected it and stood by the people.
Main article: Rampa Rebellion of 1922
After the passing of the 1882 Madras Forest Act in an attempt to exploit the economic value of wooded areas, its restrictions on the free movement of tribal people in the forests prevented them from engaging in their traditional podu agricultural system, a form of subsistence economy, which involved the system of shifting cultivation. The changes meant that they will face starvation, and their main means of avoiding it was to engage in the demeaning, arduous, foreign and exploitative coolie system being used by the government and its contractors for such things as road construction.
Around the same time of the Act, the British Raj authorities had also emasculated the traditional hereditary role of the muttadars, who until then had been the de facto rulers in the hills as tax collectors for the plains-living rajas. These people were now reduced to the role of mere civil servants, with no overarching powers, no ability to levy taxes at will, and no right to inherit their position. Thus, the cultivators and the tax collectors, who once would have been in opposition to each other, were instead now broadly aligned in their disaffection with the colonial power.
Rama Raju harnessed this discontent of the tribal people to support his anti-colonial zeal while also accommodating the grievances of those muttadars who were sympathetic to his cause rather than those who were selfish in the pursuit of a revived status for themselves. This meant that most of his followers were from the tribal communities, but also included some significant people from the muttadar class who at one time had exploited them, although many muttadars remained ambivalent about fighting for what Raju perceived to be the greater good.
To attract people's support, Rama Raju adopted aspects from the Non-cooperation movement such as promoting temperance, Khaddar, anti-liquor campaign, and the boycott of colonial courts in favour of panchayat courts. Though the movement died out in early 1922, it had by then reached the plains area as he was involved in propagation of some of its methods among the hill people to raise their political awareness and desire for change. These actions caused him to be put under the surveillance of police from around February of that year; despite this move, the fact that he was using his propaganda as a camouflage to foment armed uprising seems to have not been noticed by either the movement, or the political leadership of the British.
Although he was seen praising Gandhi on some occasions, Rama Raju actively encouraged the Adivasis to equip themselves with weapons and be versed with the methods of guerrilla warfare. During the course of a conversation with the Deputy Tehsildar, Malkanagiri, Rama Raju reportedly after praising Gandhi said violence is necessary and that he will continue his campaign till swaraj is established.
With his supporters, Rama Raju built strong and powerful troops of fighters. With the help of Rallapalli Kasannla, a non-cooperator and a Khadi producer from Tuni, Rama Raju, who had been reported to be a regular Khadi wearer provided only Khadi uniforms to all his troops. Sporting traditional weaponry like bow-and-arrow and spears, employing tactics like using whistles and beating drums to exchange messages amongst themselves, the revolutionaries managed to achieve spectacular success initially in their fight against the British. Realising that traditional weaponry would not be of much use against the British, who were all well equipped with modern firearms, Raju thought the best way forward is to take them away from the enemy and started launching attacks on their police stations.
Between 22 and 24 August 1922, Rama Raju led a troop of 500 people in the raid and plunder of police stations at Chintapalli, Krishnadevipeta and Rajavomangi. He gained possession of various weaponry from the seize—including 26 muskets, 2,500 rounds of ammunition, six .303 Lee Enfield Rifles and one revolver. He subsequently toured the area getting more recruits and killing a police officer who was part of a force sent to find him. A hallmark of these raids had been that after each attack, Rama Raju would sign a written note in the stations diary, giving details of the plunder there, complete with the weaponry he acquired, date and time of his attack, and dare the police to stop him if they can.
Rama Raju was reported to had instructed his followers to not attack any Indian combatant but only the foreign enemy. The instructions were so carefully followed that when a combined force of Indians and Europeans moved through serpentine mountain paths, his followers had let go the Indians but attacked only the foreign troops.
The British struggled in their pursuit of Raju, partly because of the unfamiliar terrain, and also because the local people in the sparsely populated areas were unwilling to help them but instead were outrightly keen to assist Raju, including providing shelter and intelligence. While based in the hills, contemporary official reports suggested that the core group of rebels dwindled to between 80 and 100, but this figure rose dramatically whenever they moved to take action against the British because of the involvement of people from the villages.
More deaths occurred on 23 September when Alluri ambushed a police party from a high position as they went through the Dammanapalli Ghat killing two officers, and thus cementing his reputation among the disaffected people. There were two additional successful attacks against the police during September. At this point after the British realised that Rama Raju's style of guerilla warfare would have to be matched with a similar response, and drafted in members from the Malabar Special Police who were trained for such purposes.
Attempts to persuade local people to inform about or withdraw their support for Rama Raju through both incentives and reprisals did not succeed. Later raids were carried out on the police stations at Annavaram, Addateegala, Narsipatnam and Rampachodavaram.
At Dharakonda, once when Raju was engaged in the worship of Goddess Kali, a team of special police launched an attack on him but failed in their objective. This incident raised Raju's profile among the tribals who then started to see him as someone endowed with divine powers.
During his raids, Rama Raju was ably supported by his trusted assistant named Aggi Raju, whose exploits were considered heroic. As the rebellion continued unabated, detachments of the Assam Rifles regiment were eventually brought in to quell it. To end the rebellion and to capture Alluri Sitarama Raju, the then district collectors: Bracken of East Godavari and R.T. Rutherford of Visakhapatnam, who had jurisdiction powers over the areas of rebellion employed all means possible, both fair and foul, from burning villages to destroying crops, killing cattle and violating women, all to no avail.
The situation was pretty serious, this must tell seriously on the prestige of the Government.
The agency commissioner, J. R. Higgins announced a monetary reward of Rs 10,000 for the head of Rama Raju, and Rs 1,000 each for his lieutenants Ghantam Dora and Mallam Dora. The fight continued for about two years capturing attention of the common people as well as the powerful officials across the country. In April 1924, to quell the ‘Manyam’ uprising, the British Government then deputed T. G. Rutherford, who resorted to employing extreme methods of violence and torture on people to know the whereabouts of Raju and his close followers.
As Rama Raju was mostly garnering support from the plains areas, the British cordoned off the hills and limited his influence between the regions of Peddavalasa, Gudem, and Darakonda. In spite of this, he tried to court more people to his side, particularly the Congressmen from the plains, but to his utter disappointment he found they had no sympathy for him and were against his actions on the ground that he violated the Gandhian principle of Nonviolence. Historian David Arnold however noted that the real reason why the Congress leadership did not support Rama Raju and the tribals was because the Congress leaders "themselves shared the same class interest of the zamindars and moneylenders" against whom Raju and his people were revolting. Reactions from other political entities was either unresponsive or negative.
After putting up a massive effort for nearly two years, the British eventually managed to capture Alluri in the forests of Chintapalle, he was then tied to a tree and faced summary execution by shooting on 7 May 1924 in the village of Koyyuru. A mausoleum with his final remains currently lies in the village of Krishnadevipeta, near Visakhapatnam.
Raju's lieutenant, Ghantam Dora, was killed on 6 June 1924, and his brother Mallam Dora was caught and imprisoned, who later after Indian independence became an elected member of the Lok Sabha in 1952 from Visakhapatnam constituency.
The efforts of Alluri Sitarama Raju in waging an armed conflict without any state powers against one of the most powerful empires has been recognised by all. The British government had grudgingly acknowledged him as a powerful tactician of the Guerrilla warfare that lasted for nearly two years, the fact that over ₹4 million was spent in those days to defeat him speaks for itself.
In 1929, during a tour of the Andhra region Mahatma Gandhi was presented a portrait of Rama Raju, responding to which at a latter date, he wrote:
"Though I have no sympathy with and cannot admire armed rebellion, I cannot withhold my homage from a youth so brave, so sacrificing, so simple and so noble in character as young Shri Rama Raju . . . Raju was (if he is really dead) not a fituri but a great hero. Would that the youth of the country cultivated Shri Rama Raju’s daring, courage, devotion and resourcefulness and dedicated them for the attainment of swaraj through strictly non-violent means. To me it is daily growing clearer that if the teeming millions whom we the articulate middle classes have hitherto suppressed for our selfish purpose are to be raised and roused, there is no other way save through non-violence and truth. A nation numbering millions needs no other means." — Mahatma Gandhi
Jawaharlal Nehru commented that, "Raju was one of those few heroes that could be counted on fingers." Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose noted that Alluri was fierce in his determination, and his unparalleled courage and sacrifice for people will ensure him a place in history.
Historian David Arnold in his book The Rebellious Hillmen: The Gudem-Rampa rising 1839–1924, noted that because of his name, the tribals used to evoke the image of the Hindu deity "Rama" in Rama Raju, an honorary which despite being a religious man he never asked for.
The Independent Indian government released a postal stamp in his honour at the village of Mogallu, which is considered by many to be his birthplace. The Government of Andhra Pradesh, besides building memorials at places associated with his life, granted a political pension to his surviving brother. In 2022, the Government of Andhra Pradesh carved out a new district named after Alluri Sitarama Raju from the erstwhile Visakhapatnam district with Paderu as its headquarters.