This article has genesis in an argument on who is the youngest martyr of the Independence movement. Bengal put in the name of Khudiram Bose, Tamilnadu suggested Vanchinathan, UP put forth Ashfaqulla Khan, Punjab’s pick was Bhagat Singh and so on.
To settle the dispute we volunteered to go searching for an authoritative source which would put the argument to rest. Our source was ‘ Who’s Who of Indian Martyrs’ ( Chief editor: P. N. Chopra; Advisory committee chairman: Y. B. Chavan, Ministry of Education and Youth Services, Govt of India,1969). What this book revealed surprised us. The youngest martyr in the Indian Struggle for Independence turned out to be the thirteen-year-old Baji Raut from Dhenkenal, Orissa.
‘Who is Baji Raut ?’ , we asked. Further inquiry revealed a saga of courage and determination rarely seen in a person so young of age. He stood for a national cause and gave his life for it.
Baji was born in 1925 in the village of Nilanthapur, Dhenkanal, Odisha. His father died early and Baji’s mother brought him up through meager wages earned by husking rice. Baji grew up in the times when Prajamandal had raised the banner of revolt against the King of Dhenkenal protesting the King’s oppressive rule. Supporting the King were the British forces. Prajamandal (Peoples’ revolt) was lead by Baishnav Charan Pattanayak.
The British and the King’s forces were pressed to arrest the Prajamandal leader Baishnav Pattanayak. The forces reached Bhuban village on 10 Oct 1938 on information that Bahishnav was camping there. The villagers refused to cooperate despite brutal atrocities from the King’s army. Houses were trampled using elephants and people tortured. King’s spotters reported to the forces that Baishnav has escaped after swimming across river Brahmi. The army gave hot pursuit, however, they were stopped in their tracks at the banks of river Brahmi.
It was then that the soldiers chanced upon Baji Raut, a 13-year-old, who was at the Brahmi river ghat with his boat. He was ordered to ferry the soldiers across the river. The young boy refused, for he knew that if soldiers crossed the river, Baishnav would be caught. Baji stood his stand despite being threatened by the soldiers. He was beaten up mercilessly but he refused to follow orders. Frustrated and affronted at the defiance of such a small boy, the soldiers shot Baji. The young boy had stood up to the mighty forces single handed with only his conviction and love for motherland as shield.
The villagers on hearing the murder of Baji, stormed towards the King’s soldiers. The soldiers seeing this escaped on Baji’s boat. As they oared away, the soldiers further fired killing two more people.
The dead body of Baji and others killed along with him were brought to Cuttack and the bodies taken for cremation in a massive procession lead by some of the stalwarts of the Indian Independence movement – Sarangadhar Das, Nabakrshna Chowdhury, Bhagabati Panigrahi, Gouranga Charan Das, Sudhir Ghosh, Surendra Dwivedy and Gurucharan Pattanayak.
Sachi Rautroy who was present at the cremation, wrote a poem Baji Raut, which has inspired generations of freedom fighters and those fighting for a cause. This poem is now a classic in Oriya literature and was translated to English by Harindranath Chattopadyaya. We reproduce here the first two lines from the poem:
E DESHA TIMIRA TALE E ALIBHA MUKATI SALITA”.
(It is not a pyre, O Friends! When the country is in dark despair,
it is the light of our liberty. It is our freedom-fire.)
India is a free nation today, because the pyre’s of many a martyr’s lit the flame of the independence struggle. Branolia salutes this young son of Odisha.