Tribal Money

Remembering Saheed Laxman Nayak, the “Gandhi of Malkangiri”

India gained freedom from the British Raj after a relentless struggle spanning some 200 years and sacrificing hundreds of thousands of her brave sons.

Some brave-hearts, however, got their due recognition while several others were left in almost complete oblivion. Shaheed, born in Odisha Laxman Nayak is one of those freedom fighters who has sadly been forgotten by the current generation.

Laxman Nayak, popularly called Gandhi of Malkangiri, was born into a Bhumiya tribe family on November 22, 1899 at Tentuligumma village of Boipariguda block in Koraput district. Laxman’s father, Padlam Nayak, was a ‘Mustadaar’, or tax collector, and the king’s representative in the village, under the local ruler of Jeypore.

Laxman spent his childhood playing, hunting and swimming with his friends. He never believed in casteism and untouchability. Even though people from his tribe were not allowed to eat with the Domb community, he often ate with his best friend Bhalu Domb without worrying about his father’s negative reactions.

Tentuligumma, located near the Kolab River, was an isolated village with no schools or hospitals and almost all the villagers were illiterate. However, Laxman’s father taught him to read and write.

At the age of 19, he married Ghasiram Bhuimia’s 17-year-old daughter, Manguli, from the nearby village of Sanagumma. The couple were blessed with a son, Raghunath, and a daughter, Kaushalya, within a few years.

However, Laxman’s heart could never be at peace seeing the atrocities committed on the poor tribal villagers by the police and local chief’s officers.

Kings led lavish lives by extracting money from the poor through heavy taxes. They also forced the poor and vulnerable tribes to work for free in their palaces, fields.

Over time, Laxman mastered the art of tribal witchcraft, herbal medicine and began working as a “dishari” (tribal priest). He also learned to use a firearm from a friend of his, Chandrakutia, of the Koya tribe.

Laxman was named ‘Mustadar’ after his father’s death in 1930. As the village chief, he always supported his people in every tragedy or difficult situation. His popularity also increased greatly as people in his villages and nearby villages often sought his help in curing illnesses and performing pujas.

During this time, he came into contact with a reputable congressman, Nilkantha Patra, from Baipariguda, Koraput district. Gandhi’s policy of non-violence influenced Laxman so much that he began to strictly follow all of its principles in all spheres of his life.

He also learned spinning after joining the Congress-run training center in the village of Nuaput near Jeypore in 1937. Due to Laxman’s popularity, hundreds of tribals from Matili and surrounding areas had also joined the Congress between 1941 and 1942.

When Laxman received news of Mahatma Gandhi’s call for nationwide peaceful agitation outside government offices as part of the Quit India movement on August 21, 1942, he, along with 400 tribal people, led a peaceful unrest outside the Mathili police station and refused to obey their banning orders.

When agitators tried to unfurl the national flag at Mathili police station, officials opened fire on congress workers, killing Satyagrahis and seriously injuring several others. Laxman also suffered serious injuries.

The cops not only brutally beat him, but also burned his mustache, after which Laxman fell unconscious.

He regained consciousness after long hours and walked 51 miles to Jaypore where he stayed with a Congress worker. He then went to the hills of Ramgiri to evade the police, but quickly returned to his village when he heard of the brutal police attacks on the villagers.

When he returned on September 2, 1942, the bloodhounds arrested him. He was then falsely implicated in the case of the murder of the ranger, G. Ramayya, who was deployed to Mathili police station to chase away the protesters.

Even though, Laxman told the court that Ramayya succumbed to gunshot wounds sustained in the police shooting, V. Ramanathan, Extra Sessions Judge, Koraput, relying solely on the fake police version, Laxman held guilty of inciting people to commit arson, rioting and beating Ramayya. to death during the demonstration. He was sentenced to death by the judge under article 302 of the CPI.

On November 16, 1942, he was transferred to Berhampur prison where he was held in the condemned cell. He was hanged on March 29, 1943.