Missing the Mahatma in 'RRR' was deliberate but historically flawed
A video clip at the end of the film ‘RRR’ recalls contributions of Patel, Bose and others but misses mentioning Mahatma Gandhi who influenced and inspired Alluri Sitharama Raju
The recent film RRR directed by S.S. Rajamouli presented the story of two marginalised and neglected figures from Indian freedom struggle, namely Alluri Sitharama Raju and Gond leader Komaram Bheem.
But the treatment was problematic. Alluri Sitharama Raju was portrayed as a British police officer who, only after his encounter with Komaram Bheem, decided to rebel against the Raj. But Alluri Sitharama Raju was never a part of the British colonial administration and he was inspired by the Noncooperation movement.
Similarly, Komaram Bheem was a leader in his own right and was continuing the historic resistance led by the Gonds against the British empire that began with the rebellion of Ramji Gond in 1857. In this post-truth era of ‘WhatsApp University’, the real story of these two great figures threaten to get buried under the false narrative shown in the film.
Alluri was the leader of the famous Rampa rebellion in the Madras presidency between 1922 and 1924. Born on 4th July, 1887/88 to Venkata Rama Raju and Suryanarayanamma at Pandrangi, Vishakhapatnam. Alluri lost his father, a roving photographer, at a tender age and the family was forced to move from one place to another in search of a living. Alluri had to drop out of school when he was in class V. Drawn to religion, he is said to have adopted the life of a brahmachari around 1918 and went on pilgrimages to the Himalayas and Nasik on foot.
Possibly it was during these pilgrimages that Alluri came in contact with the Ghadarite revolutionary Prithvi Singh Azad, who was arrested in 1914 following the failure of Ghadar Munity. Prithvi Singh was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment but escaped by jumping from a running train while he was being transported from one jail to another.
According to Alluri’s biographer Ponnaluri Radhakrishna Murthy, Prthivi Singh introduced Alluri to a revolutionary group operating from Chittagong. A British Intelligence officer also reported in February 1924, ‘the latest information about Raju is that he is a member of some Calcutta secret society which is engaged in the manufacture of bombs, etc., and that having come under the notice of the police, he returned to his native haunts’.
Alluri returned to his native state and settled down at a village named Krishnadevipeta. An ascetic with a flowing beard and with knowledge of palmistry, astrology and medical herbs, he gained popular acceptance among the hill tribes of Rampa region. Colonial reports suggest that he was considered ‘holy’ and revered as a god (devudu) by the hill tribes who believed he had returned to liberate them from the oppression of the Britishers.
With the passing of the Madras Forest Act 1882, traditional rights enjoyed by tribal communities over forest produce were severely curtailed. Podu (shifting) cultivation done by the tribals was banned, forcing many to starve. Customary rights enjoyed by tribals on forest resources like collection of minor forest produce were also taken away.
Opening up forests for commercial exploitation brought contractors to the region who employed tribals as labourers for construction and other activities. The workers were often paid less than the prescribed wages and there also emerged different systems of bonded labour, bondage that was often passed from one generation to other. Pushed to a corner, tribals were ready to revolt.
The non-cooperation movement launched in 1920 by the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi had captured the imagination of the people.
Alluri took upon himself the task of spreading the message of non-cooperation in the Rampa region. Under his charismatic leadership the hill folks of Rampa gave up liquor, boycotted British court and established local panchayats for administering justice in accordance with the Gandhian line of action.
When the non-cooperation movement was abruptly withdrawn after violence at Chauri-Chura, Alluri and the hill tribes of Rampa decided to continue their struggle. Under the leadership of Alluri, several hundred tribals attacked Chintapalli, Krishnadevipeta and Rajavommangi police stations on August 22, 23 and 24, 1922, respectively and looted 26 carbines and 2500 rounds of ammunition. The rebels also raised the slogan of ‘Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai’!
After this a series of attacks followed and the rebellion spread to adjoining areas which finally led to the declaration of martial law. Special police forces from Malabar and Assam were called in to quell the rebellion. The colonial police also declared cash awards of Rs. 1,500 for Alluri and Rs. 1,000 each for two of his lieutenants, Gantam Dora and Mallam Dora.
Despite the cash rewards, arrests, economic sanction and arbitrary imprisonment, the rebellion continued for two more years although punitive taxes running into several thousand rupees were also extracted at gun point.
The rebellion ended only when Alluri was captured and killed on 7th May 1924. On 6th June 1924, the British killed Gantam Dora and captured Mallam Dora. Later Mallam Dora became a member of parliament from Vishakhapatnam. Following their martyrdom Alluri and Gantam became part of the tribal folklore in the region and continued to inspire not just the tribals of Andhra Pradesh but also the broader nationalist movement.
The film RRR ends with a music video sequence in which homage is paid to several freedom fighters like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and others. The sequence deliberately excludes Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
The makers have little excuse for the omission. While Mahatma Gandhi had said about Alluri on record, “Though I do not approve of his armed rebellion, I pay my homage to his bravery and sacrifice”, Jawaharlal Nehru had written, “Raju was one of those few heroes that could be counted on fingers”.
By deliberately omitting Gandhi and Nehru from the list of freedom fighters, the makers of RRR not only supported the propaganda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) but also betrayed the memory of Alluri who was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.
(The writer is an independent researcher. Views are personal)
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)