Jajpur and the Indian Freedom Movement

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    Jajpur, located in Odisha, India, is a captivating destination steeped in Indian history. Every step taken in this town reveals fascinating surprises from the past. Once an administrative centre of many dynasties from the Bhaumakaras to the Gajapatis, Jajpur’s glorious past could be witnessed in its Buddhist sites and temples which date to as early as the 3rd century BCE. However, there is one more aspect associated with the town’s history that remains largely unknown to this day. Its contribution to the Indian freedom struggle.

    Like many Indian towns and cities, the historic town of Jajpur also played a pivotal role in the independence movement. Its tryst with the freedom struggle dates back to as early as 1857!

    Jajpur and the Revolt of 1857

    Under the Orissa province, Jajpur came under the rule of the British East India Company after defeating the Marathas in the Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-1805). But by the 1850s, the resentment within the Indians against the British reached its zenith due to their policies that took a toll on their lands, religion, professions and caste. This resulted in the 1857 mutiny, whose reverberations reached Odisha and specifically in Jajpur as well. The Zamindaris under the present-day Jajpur district: Balia, Golkund and Hirapur were confiscated by the British as part of the ‘Sunset Law’ of the Permanent Settlement. Under this law, 89 per cent of the total land revenue which was State demand (British) was to be paid before sunset. Failure of doing so led to the land sale to the highest bidder.

    Among the ones whose lands were confiscated was Ramakrishna Samanta Singhar, son of the prominent Odia poet Abhimanyu Samanta Singhar, who owned the Balia Zamindari. Along with Sruti Biswal and other associates, he mobilized all the Zamindars and people to fight against the British. But before it could turn violent, the British arrested Singhar, Biswal and the other associates and sentenced them to 5 years of imprisonment. However, after the declaration of Amnesty as a result of the transfer of power from the British East India Company to the British Government, they were released in November 1858.

    But Biswal didn’t stop, he continued to pester the British by being on the run after strangulating two British sepoys to death by his own hands. But as fate had it, he was finally arrested after a brief chase that lasted for almost six months, then tried and hanged in his native Chhatisdevi village (now in Jajpur) on 17 June 1858. Every year, 17 June is commemorated as Biswal’s sacrifice when people of Chhatisdevi dont cook food as a mark of respect. The field where he was hanged, is today known as ‘Phasi Padla’.

    The Gandhian Movement in Jajpur

    As India began awakening to the call of freedom struggle, path-breaking events such as the Partition of Bengal (1905) and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre (1919) became huge turning points, that prompted more Indians to take up the cause of their independence. By the 1920s, its impact reached the streets of Jajpur, where till 1947, the Independence struggle grew mostly through movements initiated by Mahatma Gandhi. As the spirit of freedom became prevalent after the creation of organizations like the Utkal Sammilan, it was not before the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922) that pro-independence activities began taking shape in Jajpur.

    As part of it, not only did people boycott foreign goods and burnt them, but also became active in the weaving of Khadi. Along with that, Khadi weaving centres were established in different parts of the present-day Jajpur district. This period witnessed the rise of the prominent Congress leader and social activist Gopabandhu Choudhury who left his affluent job as Deputy Collector after witnessing the British government’s negligence in the relief work during the floods in Odisha during the 1920s.

    Under the leadership of Choudhury and his progressive wife Ramadevi, Jajpur witnessed multiple meetings during the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930) and activities such as picketing in front of foreign cloth shops, liquor, and opium shops and cutting of date trees (from which date palm toddy is made).

    Choudhury’s social work reached the ears of Mahatma Gandhi who visited him and his wife during his sixth visit to Odisha in 1934. As part of his Padyatra (foot journey), Gandhi arrived at Bari village at Jajpur, where the couple set up a Khadi centre, which is now the famous Seba Ghara. What made it important apart from the production of Swadeshi goods, was the training imparted to women and underprivileged people on agriculture, apiculture, dairy farm, basket and mattress production.

    Jajpur and the Quit India Movement

    The climax of India’s freedom struggle at Jajpur arrived in 1942 during the Quit India Movement which was led by Gandhi. When the British termed Congress and its activities illegal, and also closed the Seba Ghara, arresting prominent freedom fighters like Pursuram Mohanty. Angered, people went completely against the Gandhian principle of non-violence and torched many administrative buildings including bungalows and courts. During this time, Chandikhol which today houses the famous Mahavinayak and Chandi temples was the main centre of Vanarsena, a group made of children. The group moved from village to village with anti-British slogans and patriotic songs in the east of the Jajpur region.

    India became independent from British rule in 1947. A number of freedom fighters such as Choudhury and Ramadevi continued to work for social upliftment in the region. It was largely thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of the patriotic residents of Jajpur, that a new chapter was written in the town’s history.

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