The forgotten warriors against British rule

Whenever one hears the name of Alluri Sitaramaraju, who led the Rampa Rebellion against the British in the Visakha Agency area during 1922-24, the first thing that comes to the mind is the athletically-built, intense and inspirational figure with a bow and an arrow. But he had many predecessors in the same tribal tract who had fought the British with the same ferocity. Sadly, they had disappeared into the pages of history.

Does the name Tammanna Dora ring a bell? May be it does only for a few historians, researchers or anthropologists who have dealt with the history of the Girijans in the Eastern Ghats. The name had sent shivers down the spine of the British officials in two phases from 1839 to 1848 and from 1879 to 1880.

P.D. Satyapal, AU anthropology professor, says Girijans are indigenous people with a distinct culture and they do not suffer any form of infringement or intrusion into their territories. Whenever, anyone made such an attempt, they rebelled ferociously, he says.

Under the British Rajthere were close to 40 major tribal rebellions across the country with the first one being in 1774-79, when the Halba tribe rebelled against the Company rule in Dongar in Bastar, Chhattisgarh.

The tribes inhabiting the Eastern Ghats between Rampachodavaram in East Godavari and GK Veedhi in Visakhapatnam district to Malkangiri in Odisha were no different.

Between 1839 and 1924, there were five major uprisings against the British rule in the region.

First Rampa rebellion

The first Rampa rebellion (1839 to 48) was led by Karam Tammanna Dora, a Koya Muttadar of Bandapalli.

The British took forward the Muttadar system (village headman), which was established by the Moghuls, and modified it by appointing Munasabdars, over the muttadars.

Supported by five other muttadars, Tammanna Dora formed a formidable armed group of 30 men and led a number of attacks.

As per historian David Arnold in his book ‘Rebellious Hillmen: The Gudem-Rampa Risings 1839-1924’ the deadliest attack by Tammanna Dora was in 1840, in which he in a daring ambush on a police party, killed 12 policemen and injured another 20.

For the next eight years, he became a hero and in the entire Agency tracts, till his mysterious disappearance in 1848.

Second rebellion

The second rebellion was in 1857-58 and the third was in 1861-62. But the fourth gained prominence with the re-emergence of another Karam Tammanna Dora in 1879.

While tribals believed that it was the same Tammanna Dora who led the rebellion from 1839 to 1848, David Arnold says that the later was a nephew of the earlier Dora. The 1879 revolt was a complex amalgam of elite grievances, economic factor and subaltern discontent.

Daring attack

On March 10, 1879, Tammanna Dora led a daring attack and captured Chodavaram Police Station and took the men captive. On March 13, he executed two policemen and this turned the uprising into a full-blown war between the British and Tammanna’s forces. The group faced the soldiers of the British Raj.

In March 1880, he broke through the British cordon to join the rebels in Malkangiri and they instantly gave him the status of liberator.

On April 24, 1880, he led another daring attack on Podeh police station and the tribals hailed him as ‘Raja of Malkangiri’. But thereafter his reign was short-lived and on July 25, 1880, he was tracked and shot dead.

The British decapitated him and preserved the head in carbolic oil and brought it to Rajahmundry to dispel the myth that he was the earlier Tammanna Dora.

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