Saluting the fighting spirit

PIONEERS OF fREEDOM

Saluting the fighting spirit

Yesura bittaroo, Esura bidevu,” which translates to, “we might have given up many villages but will not give up Esur.” This passionate slogan reflects the spirit of Esur, an unassuming village in Shikaripura taluk of Shivamogga district, that left an indelible impression on the freedom movement. It was the first village from the state to form an independent government in 1942, much before the nation gained independence from the British rule.  

Recalling the stormy past, 102-year-old N S Huchcharayappa, a participant of the Esur revolt said, “All villagers voluntarily participated in the freedom movement in the early 1940s. It was the period when Quit India Movement was gaining momentum. I was in my late twenties and was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals. I was in jail for nearly five years and was released on October 26, 1946.”

Narrating the saga of Esur revolt, he remembers Sahukar Basavanyappa, a landlord, who was instrumental in guiding the villagers to revolt against the imperial regime. He instilled a sense of patriotism among villagers and sowed seeds of rebellious feeling against the British. He conducted meetings, keerthanas, and prabhat peri on every Monday in the premises of Veerabhadreshwara Temple and ignited the fire of patriotism by narrating stories of freedom struggle from different parts of the country. The villagers, who had the highest regard for him, were greatly influenced by his inspiring speeches. 

Heralding freedom
As the yield from the land had dropped substantially due to various natural calamities in 1942, the villagers were not in a position to pay revenue tax. They then decided to retain their self-esteem and in an act of taking back their independence, decided not to pay tax to the imperial regime. Consequently, they decided to run their own government. Two kids, Jayanna and Mallappaiah, were made the amildar (administrative officer) and the sub-inspector respectively of the independent government. They deliberately chose kids as government heads as they believed that the British would not take disciplinary action against children. A board was set up near the village school, which read, “Esur has an independent government. The villagers do not pay revenue to the British. No officer can step into the village without permission from the independent government.”

Moving ahead, on September 26, 1942, the villagers refused to pay revenue to Patela Chennabasavanna and Shyanuboga Ranganathaiah , the government officials who came to collect the revenue. The villagers urged them to step down from their positions and take part in the freedom movement. When the officers refused, the villagers made them stand on one leg for long hours, a punishment of sorts, before setting them free.

In a bid to reclaim the lost territory, imperial forces, led by an amildar and a sub-inspector entered the village on September 28, 1942. Heated arguments were exchanged between the officers and villagers over the revenue issue and in the heat of the moment, the sub-inspector fired shots in the air. Fearing that their children might get killed, a group of villagers, including women, set into action. The subsequent scuffle between the police and villagers resulted in the death of both the amildar and the sub-inspector.

Consequently, the government officers along with 500 police personnel ransacked the entire village. Houses of people who led the struggle were set on fire. In order to save their lives, many villagers fled to other places in the taluk such as Hittala, Gama, Churchigundi. The government officers then made an announcement with false promises to villagers and  urged them to come back. But as soon as the villagers returned, they were arrested. Around 78 people, including women, were convicted for killing the two officers.

Ultimate sacrifice
After the legal proceedings, five villagers were hanged to death, 17 were sentenced to life imprisonment and the remaining villagers were awarded simple imprisonment. Of the five, K Gurappa and Ginahalli Mallappa were hanged to death on March 8, 1943 in Bengaluru Central Jail. Badakalli Halappa and Sooryanarayanachar were hanged on March 9, and Gowdru Shankarappa on March 10. With this, the ‘do-or-die’ episode in the history of freedom movement came to an end. A memorial has been built in the
village in honour of the martyrs. 

According to Virupakshappa, whose doctoral thesis was on Esur revolt, “The villagers were in constant touch with the frontline leaders of the freedom movement. Besides, the youngsters of the village who were studying in Shivamogga and other parts of the State were deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s call for participation in the struggle.”

According to D S Somashekhar, history professor, Tunga Maha Vidyalaya, Thirthahalli, “It is a subaltern revolt against the imperial rule during the Quit India Movement. It did not unfold in a single day and the sacrifices of these villagers are equally important as that of frontline leaders. It is the duty of every citizen of the country to recall their selfless service.”

Another history professor, Balakrishna Hegde of Kamala Nehru Memorial National College for Women, Shivamogga, said that though some historians have acknowledged the event as an important development and termed it as ‘Esur Tragedy’, it has not been recognised at the national level. 

Narayanappa and Lakshminarayana, residents of the village, are of the opinion that the once-dominant fighting spirit  amongst villagers is hardly visible now. The feeling of unity is missing. The plan of making this village liquor free did not materialise. “We want the government to set up a museum and develop a park around the memorial to commemorate the sacrifices of our ancestors,” they urged.

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