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Friday, 27 January 2012

Heritage: Long walk to freedom

By Anindita Mitra | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

Vellore Fort

When we talk of India’s rich heritage, we tend to go back several centuries. We talk of the royal splendours and the temple architecture; we talk of the mediaeval trade ties and the courts where travellers from across the world convened. But we do leave out places where history was made for the nation that emerged as India in 1947. When you plan your next vacation, why not go see some of these places where people gave up their lives to make the nation come into being?

In Bishnupur district, 45km from Imphal, Moirang was the head quarters of the Azad Hind Fauj during World War II and it was here that the tricolour was hoisted first on the Indian mainland, by Colonel Shukat Malik along with Mairemban Koireng Singh (the first elected chief minister of Manipur) and other members of the Indian National Army.

The Kohima War Memorial in Nagaland is another must-see. Kohima was the battlefield between the Japanese forces and the Allied soldiers, where INA sided with Japan on the U-Go offensive directed against the British. The cemetery has 1,420 graves of soldiers who lost their lives here.

West Bengal
Calcutta has two places you must visit. The first would be the Barrackpore military barracks where Mangal Pandey, India’s first freedom fighter, sparked off the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The second would be Subhash Chandra Bose’s residence, now housing the museum, archives and library of Netaji Research Bureau.

Go about 140km from the city to visit Palashi too, where the famed Battle of Plassey took place on the banks of the river Bhagirathi. The last independent Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daulah, fought the British East India Company in 1757. He lost, and made way for British occupation.

The hotspot here is Balaram Gadi, near Balasore. The Budha Balanga river mouth (Buri Balam) was the battle ground between the great Bagha Jatin and the British.

Check out Cuttack Freedom Fighter’s Memorial and Janakinath Bhawan, the ancestral house of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the famed Ravenshaw College, now Ravenshaw University, which was a hotbed of ideas during the nationalist struggle.

Andoman and Nicobar islands
The Cellular jail, now a national memorial, is a veritable symbol of India’s freedom movement. Built in 1896 in Port Blair, it used to house freedom fighters from across the country. Every evening, there is a sound and light show about those brave warriors of India.

The Netaji Stadium in Port Blair is another place to see. Formerly the Gymkhana, it was on those grounds that Subhas Chandra Bose himself hoisted the tricolour on December 30, 1943. Andaman was under Japanese occupation at that time, and he made a visit as the head of the provisional government of the Azad Hind.

Tamil Nadu
Not many people know that Vellore was the first site of a sepoy mutiny in 1806 and the Vellore Fort was where it happened. It was at this fort that Tipu Sultan’s family and the last king of Sri Lanka, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha were held in as royal prisoners in the fort. Tipu’s family was moved to Calcutta after the Vellore Mutiny.

Tuticorin is the next stop, being a very active political site during the freedom struggle in the early 20th century. In 1906, one of the greatest freedom fighters of India, VO Chidambaram Pillai, launched the first swadeshi ship SS Gaelia in British India from here. Chennai has a lot to offer too. But not to be missed is the Theosophical Society’s headquarters in Adyar. The great advocate of Indian self rule, Annie Besant, served as president here.

As early as 18th century Kerala saw uprisings against the British; in Malabar, by Pazhassi Raja, till his death in 1805; in Cochin , by Paliath Achan, between 1809 and 1810, after which he was made prisoner and died in captivity in 1832; At around the same time of these rebellions, Veluthampy Dalava, in Travancore led the agitation against the British with support from Paliath Achan. For later day movements, if there is one spot not be missed, it is Payyanur, which came to be termed ‘the second Bardoli’ as it saw wholehearted participation in the Uppu Satyagraha (salt satyagraha) of 1930, Quit India Movement and Khadi propagation.

Mysore is on the top of the list, the fourth Ango-Mysore war between Tipu Sultan and the British being the decisive point when the British moved in after Tipu’s death.
It is actually Srirangapatna that deserves attention; this fortified town was Tipu’s seat and the Srirangapatna Treaty signed at the end of the Third Anglo-Mysore War, saw the British gain quite a lot of Mysore’s Malabar territory and turned Coorg into an East India Company dependency.

Your time in Gujarat should start with a visit to the historic Sabarmati Ashram, now housing the museum Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalay. On the banks of river Sabarmati, this national monument was Gandhiji’s residence for much of the time, and it was from Sabarmati Ashram that he started the Dandi march.But naturally, Dandi should be your next stop. Dandi, a village in Jalalpore district in Gujarat was the site of the salt satyagraha, led by Mahatma Gandhi, in 1930. On the coast of the Arabian Sea, it was to this place that he marched from Ahmedabad. Over those 390km and 24 days of the march, the entire nation erupted and people from all across the nation joined him. It was a turning point in India’s struggle for independence as Gandhiji’s subsequent arrest led to a widespread civil disobedience movement across the country.

Bardoli is Surat is not to be missed either; it was here that sardar Vallabhbhai Patel started the Bardoli satyagraha and enlisted the peasant population in the non-violent civil disobedience movement.

Punjab had participated in India’s struggle for independence from the very inception, starting perhaps with the Kuka or the Namdhari movement. But of the many martyrs who laid their lives, the one who deserve at least one visit by every Indian are those who died in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Visit Amritsar, go to the present day Jallianwala Bagh and see the bullet holes that still riddle the walls, the well where innocents jumped to their death. The site is a national memorial now, where thousands come to pay their respect.

This is by no means a complete list, because every corner of India contributed to the freedom struggle and men and women from every walk of life came forward. From Mangal Pandey to Matangini Hazra, there are more martyrs than we can count, so take this as a rough sketch and draw your own map of the freedom trail.

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