Rakta Tirtha Eram: The Jallianwala Bagh 2.0 we shouldn’t forget

Procession conducted at Delhi

Another glorious chapter does not even feature in the annals of Indian history, thanks to the left-leaning historiographers. Seventy five years ago, on this day, 29 freedom fighters were killed by the bullets of British police in Odisha’s Eram.

Eram, known as Rakta Tirtha Eram (the pilgrimage of blood), is an isolated rural pocket of Odisha’s Bhadrak district (undivided Balasore district). The place bears the testimony of gallantry, patriotism and sacrifice. Eram massacre strikes a strong resemblance with Jallianwahla Bagh Massacre of April 13, 1919. After Jallianwahla Bagh, the second largest killing by British Police in the history of freedom movement of India took place in Eram. In fact, Eram massacre was the largest killing perpetrated by British Police in the entire period of Quit India Movement.

Situated in a picturesque landscape, Eram is surrounded by Bay of Bengal in its east, River Kansbansa in its north, River Gamoi in its south and again River Kansbansa in its west. The place used to be a citadel for freedom fighters since 1920s. Prominent freedom fighters like Utkalamani Gopabandhu Das and Utkalakeshari Harekrushna Mahatab had used Eram as a venue for public meetings to propagate freedom movement.

Eram played an active role in Non-cooperation movement in 1920 and Salt Satyagraha in 1930. During the Salt Satragraha, thousands of protesters defying the dictates of British government had reclaimed salts from seawater in Eram’s seasore.

Banchanidhi Monanty, a revolutionary-nationalist poet, was at the forefront of Salt Satragraha in Odisha. It was Mohanty who kindled the flame of revolution against the colonial British rule through his patriotic poems. He wrote:

“Swaraj bihune naghunchiba asa, Suruja bihune naghunchiba dukha nisa.”

(There is no hope against ills without Independence. There is no end to sorrows without Independence.)

“Kaha keun jati paichi mukati, kari hari, huri, guhari.”

(No nation got Independence out of mercy.)

The poet died of smallpox in 1938, but he continued to live on in the hearts of the people. Following his demise, people of Eram formed an independent state and named it as Swadhin Banchanidhi Chakla. Twenty seven villages and six panchayats were included into its jurisdiction with the plan to include larger area into its territory. The state had a President and a Prime Minister. It had its own Army, Judiciary, intelligence unit, supply unit, ammunition depot and a prison cell. The government of the said state had mandated that anyone found colluding with British would be punished. Such a development was very rare in the history of Indian Freedom Struggle. This had caught the Britishers by surprise.

The year was 1942.  The Quit India Movement broke out and Eram woke up to action almost immediately. The “Government of Eram” had issued Ordinance not to pay tax to the British Government, not to pay dues to the landlord, not to sell paddy to the British Government agents and to born the uniform of British cops.

On the late afternoon of September 28, 1942, a mass meeting was held at Eram melana ground (congregation ground) under the leadership of 24-year-old Kamala Prasad Kar, the supreme commander of the said state, to decide the course of action against the British Raj. Around 10,000 peaceful protesters attended the meeting under the oath – “We will die, but not fear.”

To thaw the agitation, a contingent of British Police led by then Bhadrak Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Kunjabihari Mohanty had marched towards Eram. As the police force approached the congregation ground, slogans like Vande Mataram, Inquilab Zindabad, British Raj murdabad, Mahatma Gandhi ki jai and Goli se nehin darenge rent the air from thousands of throats.

SDPO Kunjabihari Mohanty acted as General Dyer here and the police force opened fire on the peaceful protesters. As many as 304 shots were discharged within minutes. 28 freedom fighters were gunned down. Another freedom fighter succumbed to his injuries later. Among those who laid their lives include a woman named Pari Bewa, who was one of handful of woman martyrs in the freedom movement of India, and 13 year old Biruli Das, one of the youngest martyrs. Amid the carnage the brave crowd was heard shouting, “We will die, but not fear.”

As the sun was going down over the horizon, the British Police force retreated after exhausting their bullets. Following Eram massacre, atrocity of British Police continued in the region for several months.

Kamala Prasad Kar was arrested by British Police. He was convicted and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment. The freedom fighter breathed his last on September 14, 2002.

The British government had formed a Commission of Inquiry Eram massacre led by Revenue Divisional Commissioner (RDC) EC Ansonge and Inspector General of Police (IGP) BAO Perkin. Surprisingly, without even visiting Eram, the two senior British officials prepared a fake inquiry report from Bhadrak city justifying the wanton act.

Undoubtedly, such a revolution is special in the history of freedom movement in India. But unfortunately, the great historic event is yet to get its rightful place it deserves. It is high time the Government of India declared the site of Eram massacre as a national memorial.

–       Author is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He is the Director of Dialogue Odisha Foundation.