Laxman Nayak’s story is a testament to the outstanding contribution made by the tribal community during India’s freedom struggle.
If the sun is true, and so is the moon, it is then equally true that mother India shall be independent.
At the break of dawn on 29 March 1943, Shaheed Laxman Nayak said these words and became immortal. On the basis of a fabricated case of having killed a forest guard, Nayak was executed on the morning of that day in the Berhampur jail in Odisha.
Nayak was born in Tentuliguma of Koraput district on 22 November 1899. Right from when he was young, Nayak played an active role in fighting against the British rule. A social-reformer in the real sense, he proactively pursued the tribals in his region to help them get rid of their deep-rooted superstitions.
Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, he went on to join the freedom movement. Over the years, his influence expanded in surrounding areas such as Malkangiri. As part of the Quit India Movement, which began in August 1942, Nayak took charge of organising several programmes in these areas. An unprecedented mass awakening was created due to the surge of tribal movement in the region. On 21 August 1942, a large-scale procession was planned which would culminate with the hoisting of the tricolour on the top of the Mathili Police Station in Koraput.
As the procession reached the police station led by Nayak, the police forces began indiscriminately beating the peaceful protestors and then firing at them, which led to the death of five people and injury to 17 others. The following image is the archived copy of the report of the incident prepared by the Government of the day:
This image is a perfect illustration of the distortion of facts which was the order of the day during the British rule. By some accounts, Nayak was also presumed dead (presumably the reason why the fifth entry under Point D in the image says, “The name of the fifth person who died is not known.”) as he became unconscious due to profuse bleeding after being beaten ruthlessly by the police authorities. In a case for having killed a forest guard named G Ramayya (mentioned in Point E in the report), Nayak was falsely implicated and sentenced to death. The copy of the court order can be seen in the image below.
Till date, jail authorities have preserved the three cells in the jail where Shaheed Nayak stayed during his last days. In these cells, apart from his portrait, his literary works and letters written during the jail term have also been protected. On two days in a year, 29 March (the day Nayak was hanged) and 22 November (birth anniversary), as a mark of respect to the freedom fighter, visitors are allowed to visit these cells and pay their respects to this great freedom fighter.
Lives of heroes like Shaheed Laxman Nayak continue to inspire millions of people in the state of Odisha and across India. It is time we pay a fitting tribute to the man whom his people fondly called the ‘Gandhi of Malkangiri’.
The article including both the images have been retrieved from various reading materials published by the State Government of Odisha and its Official Archives.