by Barendra Kumar
Quite a few articles have been published to elucidate the role of Indian Christians in Indian Freedom. The likes of J.C Kumarappa, Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, George Joseph, Joachim Alva, Violet Alva, Harendra Coomar Mookerjee, A.J John, Lambert Mascarenhas, Kali Charan Banerjee, Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Amrit Kaur, Pandita Ramabai, S. K. Rudra, Paul Ramasamy, Tharevtundiyilh Titus, Accamma Cherian, Joseph Baptista & several others are well known as Christian Freedom Fighters of India. M.V.Kamath, an RSS ideologue and a regular columnist in the RSS weekly the Organiser is a person with little sympathy for Christians. Yet in his autobiography he acknowledges that several Christians took part in the freedom movement and mentions the names of Cyprian Alvares, Joachim Alva, Marcel A.M. D’souza as Christian freedom fighters. He says: “It is necessary to state that many Roman Catholics I personally know of were very much in the freedom movement and national mainstream”.
However, there is very less information in public domain about the role of Christians from Odisha in the Indian Freedom struggle. From ‘Utkal Gaurav’ Madhusudan Das, Sailabala Das, Lal Mohan Patnaik, to ‘Rai Bahadur’ Samuel Das, Lakhma Jee Jachuck, Rajkishore Mohanty, there are numerous such Freedom Fighters from Odisha’s Christian community, who played an active role in India’s Freedom Movement. Information about all of them has been mentioned in my upcoming “ODIA CHRISTIAN LUMINARIES” book.
Lakhma Jee Jachuck was a Freedom Fighter from the Christian community of Odisha. He was born in 1871. He was popularly known as ‘Muni Aja’. After India gained independence, Lakhma Jee Jachuck was given the honour of hoisting the National Flag for the 1st ever time in Cuttack at the residence of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. Rajkishore Mohanty was another Freedom Fighter from the Christian community of Odisha. Rajkishore Mohanty was born in a non-Christian family but later embraced Christianity. Being a nationalist, he used to wear Khadi (handloom) clothes.
Lal Mohan Patnaik was a freedom fighter, a former MLA who went on to become the Speaker of Odisha Legislative Assembly. From 1946 till 1952, he served as the Speaker of Assembly. Thus he was the 1st speaker of Odisha assembly after India got independence. He was one of the eminent Christians from Odisha to join the National movement during pre-independence days. A devout Christian and an ardent Nationalist, he wrote “Jeevan Champu” and several other books like “Resurrected Odisha”. Lal Mohan Patnaik was born in 1891 in an Odia Zamindar family. He practicsed law at Berhampur and later joined Indian National Congress in 1921. Thereafter he plunged into freedom struggle and the movement for formation of separate Odisha province by merging the Odia speaking tracts. He got converted to Christianity and became active in Missionary activities in Berhampur & Cuttack.
After the Second Provincial elections in 1946, Harekrushna Mahatab became the Chief Minister of Odisha, while Lal Mohan Patnaik was selected as the Speaker of Odisha Legilative Assembly. Dr. Harekrushna Mahatab had described Lal Mohan Patnaik as “the peacemaker of a polity in ferment”.
Rai Bahadur’ Samuel Das was bestowed with the “Rai Bahadur” title of honour during British rule in India. ‘Rai Bahadur’ Samuel Das was an Indian Civil Service officer who served as the Secretary, Head of Education & Health. He joined as a deputy magistrate in Odisha Civil Service and was responsible for making all legal arrangements for a separate Odisha province in the Patna secretariat where he was posted from 1932 to 1936. He came to Odisha after the formation of Odisha province & was the District Magistrate of Cuttack during the crucial “Quit India” days. During the time of World War II, he was the Collector of Cuttack, under the British Government. Owing to his nationalist feelings and able administration there was no firing or bloodshed in the Cuttack district. He had a vital role in the unification process for the statehood of Odisha. He was the 1st ever Chairman of the Odisha Public Service Commission (OPSC). He contributed immensely in forming the Land Reform Act of Odisha, the first of its kind in India. He was a close associate of ‘Utkal Gaurav’ Madhusudan Das, the Founder of Modern Odisha.
A Padma Shri awardee, social reformer and politician, Sailabala Das, the first woman from Odisha to go to England for higher studies and the first woman from the state to be elected to the Rajya Sabha, was the adopted daughter of ‘Utkal Gaurav’ Madhusudan Das. Sailabala Das was the pioneer of women’s education in Odisha. In 1903, she formed the Utkal Young Men’s Association and the Utkal Young Women’s Association. She started a Hindu widow’s training school to train widows to become high school teachers.
On the political front, she started several branches of All India Women’s Conference. She established Odisha Nari Seba Sangha in 1941 for the social welfare of women. Indian National Council for Women held its biennial conference in Cuttack, under her leadership. Sailabala Das also became the first woman Honorary Magistrate of India, adjudicating over 600 cases a year. In 1927, when Mahatma Gandhi visited Odisha, her father Madhusudan Das, asked her to escort the Mahatma during the visit. At her residence that night, Mahatma Gandhi asked her to introduce charkha to women of Orissa. She refused saying it was not the sole method of economic emancipation. Industrialization processes had their benefits too or else motor cars and watches should also be discarded, she argued.
Sailabala Das made headlines when she breached the protocol and wore Indian saris while meeting King Edward, Queen Alexandra and the Vatican Pope. She refused to wear western attire for such formal meetings. Typical to her progressive flamboyance, Sailabala challenged the last bastion of conservatism when she entered the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri, fully aware that she was a Christian. She caused an unforeseen commotion in the history of the temple that had famously denied entry to Lord Curzon.
India’s first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad had persuaded her to be a member of the Parliament as she was elected from Odisha to the Rajya Sabha in 1952. The Government of India awarded her the fourth highest Indian civilian honour of Padma Shri in 1959. She was instrumental in the establishment of the first women’s college in Odisha at Cuttack, the main building of which was gifted by her. Fittingly, the college has been named Sailabala Women’s College.
Inarguably the greatest ever personality from the Christian community of Odisha, “Utkal Gourav” Madhusudan Das is regarded as the architect of modern Odisha who relentlessly toiled for the political, social and economic uplift of the people of the state. If Odisha is counted as a separate state in independent India today, the relentless efforts of Madhu babu, as he was known, was responsible. A statesman, freedom fighter, legislator, lawyer, journalist and writer, Madhusudan Das, without any debate, is the greatest ever personality to be produced by the state. Even the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi described him as a great Indian patriot who wore himself out in giving shape and reality to various nation building schemes. He was the 1st graduate and 1st advocate of Odisha. He is widely regarded as the “Founder of Modern Odisha”.
One of the doyens of the freedom movement, he was given the sobriquets ‘Kulabrudha’ which means grand old man and ‘Utkal Gourav’ meaning the ‘Pride of Odisha’. Das was the personal tutor of Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, former Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University and taught Janakinath Bose, father of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, at the Ravenshaw College, Cuttack.
He founded the ‘Utkal Sammilani’ which triggered a revolution in the political, social and industrial development of Odisha. As a result of his long political battle, the dream of a modern Odisha was realised on April 1, 1936. This day is celebrated as ‘Utkal Divas’. He was the first Odia to become a member of both the Legislative Council and the Central Legislative Assembly of India. He was the first Odia minister and also the first Odia to sail overseas. He founded the ‘Utkal Tannery’, a factory manufacturing shoes and other leather products in 1905. Earlier in 1897, he had founded the Orissa Art Ware Works. With his support, the silver filigree art of Cuttack rose to new heights. Some of his important poems include ‘Utkal Santan’, ‘Jati Itihash’ and ‘Jananira Ukti’. He was an influential speaker in Odia, Bengali and English. It is often said in Odia that Madhu babunka jibana Odishara ardha satabdira itihasa (the life of Madhusudan Das is the history of Odisha spanning a period of 50 years). Most people in Odisha agree to this statement.
(The writer of this article, Barendra Kumar is a motivational speaker, columnist, panellist, career consultant, who served as Editor-in-Chief of Trailblazer,a monthly motivational magazine and a member of Indian Speakers Bureau. He had previously authored the bestseller “CAN is the Word of Power”, & his upcoming book is “Odia Christian Luminaries”. He was awarded the ‘Odisha Youth Icon Award’ in 2015 by Odisha Diary Foundation)